Agathe Labaye Architecture Layers Residential Comfort With French Flair at the Hôtel de Pourtalès
Agathe Labaye loves going to hotels. “Being in one is like a
moment out of time,” the architect says. “They should transport you away from your daily life, yet be restful. They should be surprising but also reassuring.” A hotel that Agathe Labaye Architecture recently redesigned certainly has a surprising history. Located in a prime Paris location between L’Église de la Madeleine and Boulevard Haussmann, the property first opened in 2010 under the name No Address. With an entrance tucked away on an inner courtyard and no public spaces except for a small lobby and a basement gym, its major selling point was its discretion. No
Address attracted the likes of Madonna, Prince, and Leonardo di Caprio, but nevertheless remained decidedly hush-hush…until one night during fashion week in October 2016. It was then that thieves broke in, tied up Kim Kardashian West, and made off with over $10 million worth of her jewelry.
Not surprisingly, the boutique hotel closed its doors soon
afterward, reviewed its security arrangements, and laid low for several years. When the decision was made to reopen, it was with a new name, Hôtel de Pourtalès, and a fresh look by Labaye’s firm. Her task, however, came with some complicated restrictions. No structural work was allowed, and the renovation had to be completed in four months. The project entailed refreshing 11 guest rooms and suites, which span not only multiple floors across 13,000 square feet but also two buildings—with very different aesthetics. One is a seven-story building from the early 1960s that is pared-back and modernist. The other is an ornate four-floor mansion built in the 19th century by architect Jacques Félix Duban for the Swiss-born diplomat Count James-Alexandre de Pourtalès. Duban conceived it in a neo-Renaissance style with flamboyant arcades, pilasters, and friezes that nod to Tuscan palazzos. Labaye’s greatest quandary was how to link the two buildings together. Unable to make any significant architectural alterations, she decided to play with color instead, creating a chromatic gradation that runs across the different rooms and floors. They include brick, sage, and saffron—tones she refers to as being “calm but assertive, natural, earthy, and vegetal.”
Further coherence is provided by the selection of furniture, which remains remarkably consistent throughout. True, there are a number of antiques in the suites in the Duban building, such as a Chinese apothecary’s chest with an almost countless number of small drawers. But otherwise, Labaye adopted a distinctly modern approach, selecting iconic 20th-century pieces by the likes of Pierre Paulin, Charlotte Perriand, Gerrit Rietveld, and Carlo Scarpa. They mix with contemporary furnishings by Antonio Citterio, Naoto Fukasawa, and Elisa Ossino, light fixtures by up-and-coming and established talents, such as Pool Studio, Garnier & Linker, Studio Drift, and Michael Anastassiades, as well as a custom line of tables and benches Labaye conceived in tandem with her life partner, artist Florian Sumi.
Their aim was to associate an industrial aesthetic with that of craftsmanship. For the most part, lacquered metal legs act as a support for marble tops. A handful also feature special textural finishes devised especially by French artisan Pierre Bonnefille. There is great attention to detail. “One hallmark of our work together is always keeping visible the elements that connect the different parts,” Labaye explains. “We design each screw, each bolt, and they in turn become stylistic elements.” Labaye also peppered in artwork—sparingly but impactfully—several by French artists. In one suite, a sculpture by Arman of a violin encased in Plexiglass is painted ultramarine blue in homage to Yves Klein. In other suites, Xavier Veilhan contributed two sculptures of architects (one of Claude Parent, the other Norman Foster). There’re also works by Antoine Henault, Yoan
Sorin, and Alexandra Utzmann.
The overall result certainly embodies the architect’s love of simplicity. “I’m attracted to rigor,” she asserts, “the notion that you can make do with very little. I prefer precision rather than spectacle.” That said, the hotel stills retains a certain touch of drama. One of its most breathtaking suites is the penthouse duplex topping the 1960s building. It has a glazed ceiling over the living area and 360-degree views of the city from its terrace; Labaye compares it to a “bastion”
or “turret.” The duplex on the second floor, meanwhile, features its own private garden and a soaring living room with a nearly 20-foot-high ceiling. It’s anchored by a dreamy abstract fresco commissioned from Redfield & Dattner, a local decorative-painter duo. “I wanted a vast landscape as a reference to the presence of large-format paintings in interiors from the 19th century, when the Hôtel de Pourtalès mansion was originally built,” Labaye explains. “It feels reminiscent of a pre-Raphaelite painting.”
Elsewhere, she commissioned ceramicist Charlotte Jankowski to create a small collection of dishes with a special enamel they developed together. Such associations are central to all of Labaye’s projects. “I don’t believe in the notion of an architect or a designer being a semi-godlike figure touched by a sort of creative genius,” she says. “For me, collaboration and teamwork are key.”
Pauline Grapa; Clarisse Tranchard; Morgane Oudin-Maury; Benoit Giard; Tony Regazzoni; Géraldine Guillaume: Agathe Labaye Architecture. Pierre et Jul Paysagiste: Landscaping Consultant. Brionne Industrie: Metalwork. Van Den Weghe: Stonework. Altais: General Contractor.
Product Sources: Maxalto: Sofa (Penthouse), Armchairs (Madeleine). Zanotta: Cocktail Tables (Penthouse). Studio Drift: Pendant Fixture. B&B Italia: Daybed (Penthouse), Bed (Garden Duplex), Cocktail Table (Pourtalès). Cassina: Dining Table (Penthouse), Armchairs (Penthouse, Garden Duplex), Dining Table, Chairs (Garden Suite). Knoll: Dining Chairs (Penthouse), Chairs, Sofa (Opéra), Cocktail Table (Garden Duplex). De Padova: Dining Table, Chairs, Sofas (Garden Duplex), Sofas (Pourtalès), Armchairs (Garden Suite). CVL Luminaires: Pendant Fixture (Garden Duplex). Charlotte Jankowski; Prin: Ceramics. Serge Mouille: Ceiling Fixtures. JNL: Floor Lamp. Pierre Augustin Rose: Sofa (Madeleine). Pierre Frey: Sofa Fabric. Flos: Pendant Sphere. DCW Éditions: Floor Lamp. RUBN: Sconces (Guest Room). Socialite Family: Chair. Foscarini: Pendant Fixture (Garden Suite). Throughout: Stepevi: Rugs. Bisson Bruneel; Camengo; Casamance; Delius; Sahco; Vescom: Curtain Fabric. Argile: Paint.