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Step inside Anouska Hempel’s exquisite Parisian boutique hotel, Monsieur George

Legendary interior designer Anouska Hempel talks to Effect Magazine about her jewel-like Parisian bolt-hole, Monsieur George

Hotels, at their best, are portals. They hold the power to transport us to a heightened version of reality, a stage for us to act as elevated versions of ourselves. Monsieur George, tucked in a relaxed side street off the Champs-Élysées, is exactly this – a perfect combination of vision, design, location and execution by the dreamweaver-general herself, Anouska Hempel. “I wish for people to be in spaces of utter beauty,” Hempel tells Effect. “That is how I design.”

Hempel is no stranger to this. The former actor has been designing hotels since 1978, when she transformed the boutique hospitality industry with Blakes in London. A romantic rookery of shadowy corners and dim corridors, Blakes was a hotel for private trysts, not public showboating. It also rewrote the grammar of design, not just for a generation of hotels, but for a generation of interior designers. Decades on, Monsieur George demonstrates that Hempel’s instincts are every bit as keen.

Hempel’s brief for Monsieur George – a 46-room, 5-star boutique hotel on Rue Washington in the 8th arrondissement – was to create a timeless yet modern hotel with a family-home atmosphere. That sounds straightforward enough, but entering the world of Anouska Hempel is like stepping into Rick’s Café in Casablanca: hers is a searingly romantic rendering of life. For example, here’s Hempel on her first encounter with Umbert Saltiel, the owner of Monsieur George: “It was an accidental meeting at The Franklin in London, where I met a glorious, lovely man adorned with a large fedora and smoking a cigar. It was accidental, consequential, and simply fantastic.”

I wish for people to be in spaces of utter beauty. That is how I design.

Anouska Hempel

Thus, a ‘family home’ in Hempel’s hands becomes a sanctum of emerald velvet, hanging lanterns, geometric marble, exotic plants and shimmering tiles. And it’s the latter that formed the starting point for her design process: “It was a visit I had to Marrakesh, where I fell in love with a single green tile in the markets, originally imported from Fez,” says Hempel. “A lot of my work starts from a small piece of inspiration, and from this tile we built the concept, the design and the feel that is the Monsieur George.”

Emerald-green velvet seating with brass bag holders and Moroccan floor tiles at Galanga Restaurant, Monsieur George Hotel, Paris, interior designed by Anouska Hempel - Effect Magazine
Emerald-green velvet seating and Moroccan floor tiles at Galanga Restaurant, Monsieur George Hotel, Paris, interior designed by Anouska Hempel (Photo: Gaelle Le Boulicaut)

Morocco also inspired Hempel’s concept of the hotel as an oasis. The restaurant and bar areas are indeed oasis-like in the morning, transfiguring through lighting alchemy into a space of intimacy and enchanting shadows at night. “We made the Monsieur George a compact jewel we popped into Paris,” says Hempel. “Lighting has always been of huge importance in my design, and the contrast between the rich, dark green tiles and background, with hanging pumpkin lanterns, greenery, and lamps, all comes together to make a wonderful and mesmerising space within the hotel.”

And while Monsieur George is highly instagrammable, that would be to miss the point: it’s the individual experiences of each guest, in the moment, that Hempel places firmly at the centre: “You always must think of the people who live and breathe and enter your spaces. Make them look the best that they can with the correct lighting, and you are halfway there.”

The hotel provides an abundance of such moments. The entrance is a beguiling green jewellery box set in a solidly smart Haussmann building of white stone with black detailing. Inside, the lights of hanging North African lanterns glint off myriad mirrors, black marble and tiles. Ground-floor passageways are warmly monochromatic, with marble plinths, chevron borders and geometric marble floors which, in a nice detail, continue into the lift.

While the hotel leans towards a dark colour palette, the Franklin suite on the sixth floor is a dazzling minimalist cream concoction which recalls the designer’s earlier work at the Hempel Hotel in London’s W2. Mansarded in the Parisian style, the suite leads out onto a small roof terrace with views on one side over the Eiffel Tower, and on the other, Montmatre.

The Benjamin Franklin Suite at Monsieur George in Paris by interior designer Anouska Hempel in Effect Magazine
The Benjamin Franklin Suite at Monsieur George in Paris contrasts to the darker palette of the rest of the hotel, recalling interior designer Anouska Hempel’s earlier work in London’s former Hempel Hotel. The mansard suite opens onto a bijoux roof terrace with views of the Eiffel Tower (Photo: Gaelle Le Boulicaut)

Then there are the Chequers rooms, with hand-painted chequered wooden floors – unusual, and with a striking effect. The chequered theme extends to the mirrored headboards, which continue the Hempel technique of clean, monochromatic lines, softened by rich textiles, wicker and bentwood notes. The Windsor rooms, as elsewhere in the hotel, favour heavy drapery over French doors and windows that feature crisp rattan shades, brass window furniture and wrought-iron balconies. These window arrays are a Hempel signature; they are detailed, layered, yet unfussy, solid and extremely elegant.

The Garden Suite has its own small courtyard garden with a vintage Deville stove set into a corner. The suite itself is on two floors – it’s quite rock and roll, with a big square granite bath which has probably seen some interesting evenings, and a cosy but sumptuous bedroom with evocative jallu screens and an abundance of green velvet.

The Monsieur George’s layered, detailed design extends to the drinks and food. The house cocktail list (including a ‘Lady Anouska’ in honour of Hempel) is thoughtful and considered, and the ones we tried were very well balanced and mixed. We ate elsewhere – though dinner is reputedly excellent – but the eggs and coffee at breakfast were faultless.

We made the Monsieur George a compact jewel we popped into Paris

Anouska Hempel

Valentin Brietz, Monsieur George’s director d’hotel, is a charming, attentive and courteous host, hyper-aware of every cushion, every quirk, every brass light switch in the property, and he’s an insight into the intricate work that goes into the execution of keeping a show like this on the road. Brietz, together with his technical supervisor and housekeeping supervisor, tour the hotel constantly, ensuring not a pixel is out of place, mindful of the care that design at this level requires in order to maintain the effect it exerts on its guests.

Windsor Suite at Monsieur George, interior designed by Anouska Hempel – Effect Magazine
Windsor Suite at Monsieur George, interior designed by Anouska Hempel (Photo: Gaelle Le Boulicaut)

And while a hotel’s design is not the same thing as the organisational machine running it, there’s an authenticity that goes with Anouska Hempel, and it’s nice to think that it permeates through to the whole culture of the hotel. Whatever exactly it is, they’ve got it right.

“In each city, we adapt to something that may be missing and experience all that is new,” says Hempel, who has created something genuinely different in Paris with Monsieur George. “To me, this is pure pleasure, and it opens up one’s heart and soul. I set out this way in my design and the effect is the outcome of doing just that.”

Monsieur George Hôtel & Spa, 17 Rue Washington, 75008 Paris, France

Anouska Hempel Design

Read more: Design | Interior Design | Anouska Hempel | Design Hotels | Paris | France