French architect and designer Bruno Moinard was entrusted, with his team 4BI, the challenge of revisiting the public spaces of the famed five stars Palace the Plaza Athénée, located on the avenue Montaigne. A member of the Dorchester Collection which regroups an impressive portfolio of the foremost five stars hotels in Europe and the USA, the Plaza Athénée, inaugurated in 1913, closed down in 2009 to undergo a serious beauty lift. It reopened in 2014. Moinard’s answer to his various projects, which include private homes, retail spaces such as the Galerie Lafayette, the wine cellars for the prestigious Chateau Latour in Pauillac, the new design concept of the Cartier boutiques worldwide, cultural institutions such as the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, is both contemporary and timeless. His purist vision of interior architecture, his taste for understated luxury and great craftsmanship, his vast knowledge of the decorative arts set him off as the right man for the job. He tells us about the way he approached the spectacular renovation of the Plaza Athenée, an historical and glamorous Parisian landmark.
Did you have a particular wish when you started on this project?
I wanted to draw the Plaza Athénée towards a new modernity while preserving its amazing DNA.
How did you reconcile these two directions?
Time had left its patina on the Plaza. When one approaches a mythical establishment, it has to be with great respect and subtlety. Spaces with strong identities should first of all be “understood” so they won’t lose their soul with the opening of a new chapter. Renewing the Plaza involved a delicate work on details such as the black and white piping on the furniture, the platinum tones we favored for the light fixtures as more modern. We restored the mosaic floors in the Galerie and the Cour Jardin as well as the columns in the former. For those in the Lobby, I asked Aristide Nagean to design vases in sparkling glass that are fastened unto the marble. They add a lovely touch of glitter. In the Lobby, the floor of sunray cut stone is partially covered with a carpet. Its design echoes the crystals of the renovated platinum chandelier. The wood panelling has been restructured. The Concierge’s and the reception counters are in Calacata marble 15cm deep and tinted brushed oak with platinum decorative details. This luxurious “mise en scène” acts as a curtain raiser for Alain Ducasse restaurant situated in the back of the Lobby. In the Galerie, multiple light sources vary according to the time of day and night, highlighting architectural details and bringing a new intimacy to this majestic room.
What was your major challenge?
The challenge was to reinvent a mythical landmark.
How would you describe the Plaza’s new atmosphere?
A sophisticated atmosphere of understated luxury.
There is a subtle inside/outside connection between the Galerie and the Cour Jardin. How did you achieve this?
When I saw the Cour Jardin with the ivy running all over the walls and the geraniums boxes, I felt like establishing a bridge between the two spaces through decorative elements. Inside, platinum acanthus leaves decorate the furniture and wrap around the light fixtures, embroidered petals sprinkle the cushions. Leaves, in different shades of grey, are sprayed over the beige and cognac carpet as if the sun was playing with the foliage, reflecting it on the floor.
You reproduced some of the furniture and designed new pieces all through the public spaces of the hotel. What inspired you?
The Art Déco period and again nature through details such as the acanthus leaves or the metal cane backing of the armchairs evocative of garden furniture. I also brought into the lobby touches of the famous Plaza red from the awnings on the facade the Cour Jardin where red geranium boxes decorate the windows.. The soft atmosphere of sand, beige and platinum is animated by a couch upholstered in red while red geraniums petals are dotted about the cushions. Red was also chosen for the desk-pads on the reception counters.
Were all these pieces designed specifically for the Plaza?
My approach was very haute couture, whether we reproduced pieces and tweaking them with contemporary details, or creating new designs.
How did you go about uplifting the iconic Relais Plaza?
The challenge was to keep vibrant the mythical and sophisticated aura of this famous Parisian rendezvous inaugurated in 1936, while creating a new dynamic in tune with today’s lifestyle. Most important is the first contact when you walk into a place. As the street entrance was sort of bleak, we installed immediate glamour by redesigning the two doors and setting in between a mirror cabinet inlaid with Lalique delicate decorative panels. Inside, on the right, the bar counter was enlarged and expanded. Today, specially designed lamps are fastened on the counter, dotting it with soft halos which install an intimate atmosphere. Now guests can drop by the Relais for a quick, delicious snack without going through the process of a full meal. It also, over the higher dining platform set in the back brings more animation to the restaurant. The coffered sycamore double ceilings were tinted and varnished to reverberate the light. The old skylight set in the back of the main room, was taken down and replaced with a huge chandelier. The walls, covered in finely worked plaster, add an elegant fluidity to the space.The facade is highlighted with large glass panels decorated with Art Deco motifs inspired by the original set. Inside, a long sand blast glass ribbon runs along the windows all through the room playing with the lights from the street. The furniture was entirely reproduced thanks to the savoir faire of master artisans. My aim was to create an atmosphere of timeless chic combining the respect I feel for the past and my passion for modernity.
What is your approach to contemporary luxury?
Pure lines, rich textures, harmonious volumes, authentic materials, custom made furniture made by master artisans create a look that is very much of today without losing references to the past. This is, for me, the key to contemporary luxury.
Is there something special you would like to mention about the Plaza?
Yes. The 101 gouaches and collage of haute couture silhouettes I drew as a token to the 101 years of glamour the Plaza bestowed Paris. The Plaza stands as symbol of the best that has to be preserved at all cost!
Photos Jacques Pépion and Xavier Béjot