Sunday, May 8, 2011

Luxury Design, Environments

Case Study: Le Meurice
By: Flora Gn

Parisian luxury hotels, renowned for their savoir-faire and characteristic decor, rate as some of the most beautiful environments in the world. The Meurice, a five start Hotel located on the prestigious rue de Rivoli, and an element of the elite Parisian Palaces, certainly seems to aim for ultimate luxury. By focusing on the entrance of Le Meurice in terms of its history, decor and overall impression, this essay analyzes why the Meurice qualifies as such. It is important to note that, when referring to “entrances”, I speak of the Meurice’s lobby, Dali restaurant and reception.

Hotel Le Meurice

The Meurice is located seconds away from the Place de la Concorde, and stands opposite to the Jardin des Tuileries. It belongs to the prestigious Dorchester collection, and rates as one of the few palaces of Paris. Its history begins when, in the early sixteenth century, upper-class English travelers were seeking for a place to rest between their travels from the UK to Paris. In 1771 Charles-Augustin Meurice, a local Frenchman, decided to establish a hotel, where the Englishmen could reside before arranging their coach-ride to Paris the following day. In 1817, Charles-Augustin Meurice’s son, named Louis-Augustin Meurice, decided to construct a similar hotel in Paris. It was not until 1835 that it was transferred to its current location, Rue de Rivoli. The intention was to establish a hotel that would incorporate English taste and savoir-faire to a French style and environment. The hotel became so imbued with the English culture that it was occasionally referred to as the “City of London”. In 1905, the hotel underwent its first extensive renovation, which was greatly inspired by Louis XVI styles and aesthetics. Today, this aesthetic still prevails, but since its recent renovation in 2007, it has been merged with a more contemporary approach and design.

Philippe Starck, Artistic Collaboration

The French designer, Philippe Starck, was asked to orchestrate this renovation. He created an environment that reflected the hotel’s history and contemporary design. Salvador Dali, who was one of the hotel’s regular customers, inspired Starck to design an entrance as elegantly eccentric as the surrealist master.

The Lobby

Upon entering the hotel’s lobby, one discovers a space covered in a lustrous marble alternating between various tones of blacks, greys and whites. The ceiling is perched well above the ground, and bares beautiful carvings. The walls, like the ceiling, are composed of stone of an off-white tone. Such delicate decoration already suggests the aesthetic richness of the space, thus reflecting a luxurious element of adornment. On the right-hand side stands a tall, gold-framed mirror covered in a large sheet of ice. It is covered in small engravings with people’s names, drawings etc. Every night, this layer is melted and frozen again for the next morning, so that the hotel’s clientele can start engraving new elements into the mirror. Apparently, it also symbolizes the hotel because the work is in constant renewal, all whilst maintaining the same base and values. It seems quite usual for a luxury hotel to have this type of ‘interactive’ environment, and, in this way, the Meurice distinguishes itself from other luxury hotels.

The Reception

After observing the lobby, I was directed towards reception, and was immediately drawn to a skewed painting placarded to the ceiling, right above the front desk. It depicted an arm, elegantly floating across the canvas. This painting is actually a close up of a portrait of the “Comtesse Regnault de Saint-Jean d’Angely”, painted by the artist François Gérard in 1798. This work was particularly impressive when standing at the far end of the 10.3 meter front desk, as its unusual angle structured the room in an anachronistic manner, further enabling the viewer to understand that they are not visiting any ordinary environment, but that of a luxurious, genuinely unique hotel.

The Dali

The Dali also underwent important changes during the renovation in 2007. Initially, the restaurant had a very classical feel, and perhaps felt more valued for its historic, antique style than for its value in terms of luxury and the experience this provides. Consequently, Starck modernized this space by merging antiquity, Dali and modernity to create a space rich in culture and aesthetics.

The Quality of Service

The quality of service is also characteristic of the Meurice’s luxurious status. When I asked one of the receptionists what she felt characterized the Meurice’s entrance, she replied: “It is a superb mix of Art, beauty and level of excellence in our savoir-faire”.

Cultural Importance

In an essay entitled “The Role of Culture in the Service Evaluation Process”, Anna S. Mattila, the author, analyzes the relationship between culture, environment and appreciation of service. Mattila explains that Western cultures are: “more likely than their Asian counterparts to rely on the tangible cues from the physical environment”. Thus, it is clear that a French hotel will strongly rely on the quality of their physical environment to qualify for luxury status, and this is precisely what the Meurice reaches by investing so much financial importance into the aesthetic quality of the environment constituting their entrance.

In conclusion, it seems that the Entrance of the Meurice, with its careful attention to decor, unique artistic collaborations, excellent quality of service and remarkable sense of extravagance successfully functions to create a true, authentic experience of luxury. What distinguishes this establishment from its competitors is also its ability to maintain the value of its historical essence by openly and atypically expressing it throughout the aesthetics of the entrance, which immediately sets the tone for a very exclusive, unique atmosphere, enabling it to be the real “Real Thing”.


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