With an enviable position on Lake Geneva, the Hôtel Royal Evian in Evian-Les-Bains opened in 1909, housed in a belle époque building that gives it the feel of a vast ocean liner. The hotel underwent a substantial renovation from 2013-2015, a collaboration between François Chatillon, chief architect of historical monuments in France, and Marseille-born interior designer François Champsaur. This iconic destination has been brought up to date and now mixes contemporary luxury with opulent original features. Here, Champsaur explains how he balanced heritage with something more au courant.
How would you describe the Hôtel Royal Evian?
It is a unique place, steeped in culture, history and light. It embodies the art of French living that can be found in family homes. Being located at the foot of Lake Geneva there is immediately a magical quality to the place. I believe it has a sense of intimacy – you feel at home, while being sucked in by the splendour and intensity that emanates both from the site by the curves, volumes, materials and colours of the interiors.
How have you combined the historical legacy of the hotel with contemporary elements?
When you are confronted with a great historical place, it is necessary to be careful not to violate the soul of the place, and to qualify even the smallest of details without leaving anything to chance. The intervention in the architecture was deliberately discreet. The challenge was to magnify the existing, and to showcase architectural elements that were already in place with only minor adjustments.
What guided your choice of materials, colours and forms?
The hotel is such an esteemed, historical site, and it was essential to keep this in mind when choosing materials, which were mainly noble, French, non-industrialised materials. Throughout the whole project, I was constantly inspired by the pure majesty of the setting, both inside and out. It’s impossible not to be. Both are quite intoxicating in their own right.
How did you work with Francois Chatillon? Were your roles separately defined or did you work together?
Our roles were very distinct. François Chatillon’s architecture firm took care of the extension of the existing building to create new meeting rooms and the rehabilitation of all existing buildings. My team took care of all interiors, decoration, furniture and lighting.
Which historical elements have been restored?
All paintings and frescoes in the Grand Salon and the Les Fresques restaurant. In the bedrooms, the desks and chairs were part of the original furniture that have been restored, as have certain lighting fixtures.
Did you source materials or objects from any unusual places for this project?
That depends on your definition of unusual! We mainly wanted to support the work of French artisans, such as the blacksmith Pouenat for the furniture, French designer Eric Schmitt, crystal-maker St Louis, and Babled Studio.
The furniture was largely designed by myself specifically for this project, including the chairs, footstools coffee tables and lighting in the rooms; in the public areas, a large marble and wood bookcase in the lobby, tables for the bar and corridors, and a large suspension light for the lobby; and the brass chandeliers and sconces in the restaurant.