April 1, 2012

Up, Up and Away: The Saint James Paris by Bambi Sloan

The imposing 1892 mansion that is now the Saint James Paris was built by the widow of President Adolphe Thiers near the Bois de Boulogne, on what had been a field used to launch hot-air balloons. Originally a residence for scholarship students supported by her Fondation Thiers, the mansion served that purpose for 94 years, after which it became one of the London-based private St. James’s Club’s international outposts, simultaneously operating as a hotel open to the public.

Under new management, the hybrid has been returned to its historical roots-with some delightfully eccentric twists-by Franco-American decorator Bambi Sloan. She took the mansion’s Napoléon III style, which she describes as “a pileup” of elements, as her starting point. Then she piled on her own flourishes, having fun with winks at ballooning, scholarly books, Paris rooftops, British menswear, and more. In the monumental lobby atrium, balus trades and columns painted white with black trim were inspired by Cecil Beaton’s Royal Ascot costumes for the film version of My Fair Lady.

Trompe l’oeil carpet is a constant. On the atrium’s two upper levels, it looks like classic château stone flooring. In some guest rooms and suites, carpet imitates herringbone parquet. In the restaurant, carpet is faux leopard. Each room is unique, furnished with antiques and old portraits, often flea-market finds. One suite, where Harris tweed suiting covers the walls, also features chairs with tweed upholstered armrests and suede elbowp atches. Another suite’s ubiquitous toile de Jouy depicts hot-air balloons. For a circular stairwell off the lobby, Sloan designed wallpape rfestooned with balloons manned by charming monkeys in human attire. In the garden, a multicolored mock-balloon serves as the cocktail bar.

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