To avoid over-cooking the my “Parisian post”, I decided to leave this little gem as an apéritif, as it were. While in Paris, I had the honour and pleasure of staying at the recently opened Saint James Paris hotel. Apart from being the only chateau-hotel in the city, this unique establishment also boasts some of the boldest, brashest, and most brazen interior design I have ever seen. As I walked through the front door, I was overcome by a stream of over-the-top adjectives. Sumptuous, contradictory, romantic, fresh, layered, whimsical, exotic, eclectic are just a few that describe the hotel’s recently transformed interior. Unsurprisingly, the visionary behind the hotel’s amazing transformation is as mysterious and whimsical as her designs. For an insight into the leopard and tartan prints, mirrored ceilings, “parquet carpetry” and hot air balloons, scroll down for a (text-only) copy of my feature on the Saint James Paris for Passport Magazine.
Elana Castle explores the whimsical and sumptuous interiors of the recently-opened Saint James Paris
Such is the rarity of a chateau in the heart of Paris, that when describing the Saint James Hotel to a colleague, I was asked why I’d chosen to stay in the French countryside on my visit to the city. Yes, Paris is blessed with many impressive, five star establishments – but none, I would argue, as unique in form and concept as the newly-opened Saint James Paris. A 48-key hideaway, the hotel occupies the hallowed and grand interiors of an 19th Century neo-classical chateau, perfectly located on the fringe of the charming 16th arrondissement.
Originally dedicated as a foundation, for close to a century the site served as a boarding house for brilliant but penniless students who filled its halls with scientific study and research. In 1991, the venue (by then a private gentleman’s club) was purchased by a prominent French family. In 2008, the family decided to undertake a wholesale refurbishment of the venue into luxury accommodation. Desiring a strong, individually-minded designer to drive the process, they engaged Bambi Sloan – by all accounts a completely eccentric and outlandish designer who had impressed the family with the variety and originality evident in her previous work. Sloan’s approach to the project was heralded for its boldness – to approach the new interiors with a healthy dose of stylistic respect but to bring a unique brand of “crazy chic” to the table.
Sloan’s input and vision have resulted in a hotel that is not really a hotel – at least not in the conventional sense. The lobby is not grand and formidable. You are unlikely to encounter swarms of visitors, overeager staff, or anything remotely gold plated. The location is not slap bang in the middle of the action. The service is not generic or staged. Rather, you are welcomed like an esteemed visitor to what Sloan describes as a ”unique residence belonging to an original, enlightened, pre-eminent 19th-century bourgeois family.”
The first signs of Sloan’s fanciful and decadent transformation appear in the entrance lobby. What was once an off-yellow and rather dull space, is now a bold black and white-painted entrance hall, complete with blood-red carpeting and bespoke full height glass chandeliers. Throughout the property Sloan has worked tongue firmly in cheek, pairing unexpected prints, objects and colours – Visconti leopard and panther prints with tromp-l’ eoil parquet herringbone carpeting; Arabesque prints with velvet draping; tartan with bookbinding wallpaper. In fact, the idea of the hotel being an “extravagant family townhouse” was Sloan’s idea and her execution has succeeded in bringing luxury, texture and a touch of whimsy to the once-jaded interiors. Admittedly, it’s all rather ‘Alice in Wonderland’ – but in a totally unexpected way, Sloan’s brazen approach has also served to revitalise the intricate original detailing and origins of the chateau. The suites, each one hidden behind the same red-painted doors, are all unique. Sloan has invented her own mini worlds in each one, filling them with the accoutrements of fictitious characters, hand picked furniture, curious objects and original textiles. My room, delightfully and indulgently black and turquoise was inspired by the work of Sloan’s greatest inspiration – Madeleine Castaing.
The intricacy and drama continues into the hotel’s other public spaces, the most significant of which is the library bar. Retained as the reference room for for the students, the room has an air of authenticity. The double-volume space, with mezzanine library accessed via a spiral stair, heaves with over 12,000 books, a well stocked bar and Pilou the house cat. The mood is a perfect antidote to the lobby. Once you’ve sunk into a well-worn leather armchair and ordered your rare vintage of choice, you’ll feel further submerged into your private world. In warmer months, you’ll have the added benefit of the generous outdoor terrace. Oversized Montgolfier balloons (a reference to the site’s history as the first Paris airfield) provide shade and a setting for an outdoor luncheon. And not to be outdone by any other establishment, there is also a luxury spa as well as a beautifully classical and heavily frescoed restaurant serving seasonal, fine French cuisine.
You’re likely to spend unhealthy amounts of time in this hotel. Bearing in mind that you are but a stone’s throw from some of Paris’s most beautiful sites, consider yourself warned.