Inside the new Paris hotel inspired by the rebellious Memphis movement

·3-min read
Photo credit: Jerome Galland
Photo credit: Jerome Galland

It’s fair to say that La Défense on the periphery of Paris isn’t the first place you’d expect to find a hotel inspired by rule-breaking creatives. Nest, the new addition to the MGallery Hotel Collection, is firmly in the business of fun.

Perhaps there’s a parallel to be drawn between its context and key inspiration. Memphis, the Italian design collective whose debut collection caused a sensation at Milan’s 1981 Salone del Mobile, was a riotous rejection of sensible modernism.

‘It was a desire to revolt against the overtly sober design of the time,’ says the hotel’s designer Oscar Lucien Ono, whose own studio, Maison Numéro 20, is based in arty Saint Germain des Prés. ‘It’s the movement’s sense of fun that we were keen to re-explore and revive.’

Photo credit: Jerome Galland
Photo credit: Jerome Galland

Anyone familiar with Ono’s portfolio of theatrical hotels, restaurants and private residences would know that fusty and corporate was never on the cards.

Here, he makes his maximalist case from the outset – the oversized columns that greet guests the second they set foot through the door serve as homage to the totems synonymous with Memphis founder Ettore Sottsass.

‘I had no choice but to build my design around the existing columns,’ explains Ono, ‘so I came up with the idea of camouflaging them with trompe l’oeil marble and adding those iconic stripes.’

It’s both a testament to Ono’s resourcefulness and a taste of what lies beyond the lobby. With a rich palette and mix of marble, brass and velvet, this is Memphis with its sharpest edges softened.

Quite literally, too – between the curved lines of plush armchairs and the semicircles that show up in cabinets, mirrors and even set into walls, there’s hardly a right angle in sight. Nods to the movement’s playful geometry pepper the hotel’s common spaces and corridors, where ceilings painted in burgundy and inky blue help foster a cosy, cocooning feel.

The restaurant, then, comes as something of a surprise. Housed in an airy glass atrium, its cascading greenery, cane work panels and soothing tones of mint and teal border on the biophilic. Abstract murals by François Mascarello dot the walls, while brass gleams from tables, lamps and mirrors.

Photo credit: Jerome Galland
Photo credit: Jerome Galland

The same trompe l’oeil rugs seen in the lobby create the illusion of a black marble floor, and it soon becomes clear that Ono delights in doing clever things with carpets.

‘Bedrooms usually have two very mundane spaces void of all interest: the ceiling and the floor,’ says the designer of the graphic textiles underfoot. ‘But this carpet, with its myriad of motifs, circles, stripes and squiggles, is like an infusion of the Memphis DNA, bringing the rooms to life whilst remaining easy on the eye.’

Panelled in sleek mahogany, the 151 rooms and suites speak as much to the Milan of the 1950s as the design show that sparked it all three decades later. Bespoke banquette seating is set into square nooks, while larger suites feature 50s Louis Paolozzi chairs, sourced in Italy – the eagle eyed will spot the same design in the private dining room.

Bathrooms are unashamedly retro, with their buttery yellow walls and sinks hewn from pink marble. It’s all a stark contrast to the world of gleaming glass glimpsed through the windows. ‘At night, when all the lights are on, it’s absolutely stunning,’ says Ono.

Photo credit: Jerome Galland
Photo credit: Jerome Galland

Creating this pocket of pure fantasy in the city’s corporate heartland feels like something of a coup. ‘If any project is to be successful, you need an element of madness. It’s only by breaking the mould that a venue becomes truly creative.’ It’s a sentiment that speaks to the Memphis philosophy like no other. From £145 per night.

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