French Twist pix
Christian Lacroix and Cabinet Vincent Bastie turn a run-down Parisian bakery into a couture hotel
Ian Phillips -- Interior Design, 4/1/2005 12:00:00 AM
Brass sconces with plastic-coated cardboard shades illuminate each landing.
After Christian Lacroix moved to the Marais district of Paris in 2000, he would often walk past an old neighborhood bakery that had seen better days. "I'd ask myself, 'If it collapses, who'll renovate it? It will become pitiful,'" he recalls. Five years later, the fashion designer has transformed that building in the 3rd Arrondissement—his first interior design project—into a boutique hotel called Hôtel du Petit Moulin, or Little Windmill Hotel.
To create the new 17-room, 7,500-square-foot establishment, Lacroix also needed the building next door, which had housed a dingy boardinghouse with minuscule rooms and a bar. He brought in Cabinet Vincent Bastie to help connect the two structures.
"There were four floors in one building and three in the other, and they were not at all level," says Vincent Bastie, principal of his namesake firm. In some cases, floors were off by more than three feet. So the architect demolished the insides and created connections from scratch. "We built stairways on the second and third levels to link certain rooms to the corridors. Now, no two rooms have the same volume, and many have different ceiling heights," Bastie explains.
Rather than lament the 17th-century buildings' idiosyncrasies, Lacroix found a certain harmony in them. The misshapen character reminded him of "complex country houses" in the southern French city of Arles, where he spent his childhood. He also associated the buildings with those in, Jacques Tati's Mon Oncle, his favorite film. "The hero is a little boy who loves going to see an uncle, who lives in a small building 'with nooks and crannies," he explains. The Marais district is also famous for its cultural diversity, "people from all ages, countries, and classes," the designer says.
The hotel, then, should express the spirit of its own mixed heritage. So, he created a starkly different decor in each guest room—"not the same sink, same bathtub, nor the same lamp in any two."
His favorite room is a rather masculine suite with a concrete ceiling, brown fabric walls, green leather desk, and slate bathroom. "Strangely enough, it's one of the least popular with guests," he muses. "I think they find it too austere." In another, he indulged his passion for Marimekko, using textiles by the Finnish fabric house for everything from curtains to the bedding to walls. And because he has long admired the Blake's Hotel in London, the black lacquer on doors here comes from there.
Lest you forget that Lacroix's garments are renowned for their extravagant mix of prints, lace, and ornamentation, a few fashion references also come into play. A panel of wallpaper printed with a dress motif, for example, embellishes walls on stair landings. And mementos from his career in couture pervade the collage-style murals on walls in the salon, café, and three guest rooms.
Lacroix had the artwork digitally printed on tarpaulin, then mounted on walls. One replicates his couture drawings, down to his scribbled notes; it reads "Guimpe 1902 sur haut Adidas"—which translates loosely as, "1902 dickey over an Adidas top." Another depicts a coral cross from his jewelry collections. Mexican coin 'purses and a portrait by Antoine Raspal, a 19th-century painter from Arles, are among several images comprising the café's elaborate collage. "But there's nothing Absolutely Fabulous about this place," Lacroix insists, before adding, "At the same time, it needed a few touches."
Indeed, save for the artwork, the café is pure French bistro: tables, chairs, and the bar are salvaged from old Parisian restaurants. And restored from beige to its original black-painted masonry, the facade bears the word boulangerie in large gilt letters, as it did at the turn of the century. Another souvenir: Lacroix insisted on saving an existing fresco of a landscape, despite workmen's protests. "This is the first time I've really seen a project in three dimensions," he says. "It may not be monumental, but it's much more impressive for me than a suit, an evening gown, or even a whole collection."