Once a haunt for hedonists,
Paris’s Les Bains gets the
boutique hotel treatment.
By Mikki Brammer
The streets of Paris are richly fabled, but
the labyrinthine rues of the Marais are
especially laden with history. Stroll down
the diminutive Rue du Bourg-l’Abbé, for
example, and you’ll encounter an architectural resident with a rather colorful past.
It was originally built in 1885 as
Les Bains Guerbois, a private thermal
bath house founded by François Auguste
Guerbois—who also owned the bohemian
mecca Café Guerbois in Montmartre,
beloved by Édouard Manet and Émile Zola.
That clientele soon began to also frequent
the baths, including Marcel Proust, who
enjoyed regular steam sessions alongside
local workers from the nearby Les Halles.
In 1978, the ailing building was
resurrected as the nightclub Les Bains
Douches, which, designed by a relatively
unknown Philippe Starck, became a
playground to glitterati including Yves
Saint-Laurent and Catherine Deneuve.
The club closed in 2010, after which the
tattered property briefly functioned as
a temporary artist space. In 2014, construction began on the 39-room boutique
hotel Les Bains, which opened in April.
In a city where new buildings aren’t
always welcomed into the urban fabric,
boutique hotels in old buildings are relatively common, but they aren’t always
done well. While Hotel Molitor opened to
fanfare last year, many argue it lacks the
soul of the original edifice that housed the
iconic Piscine Molitor. Owner Jean-Pierre
Marois’s vision for Les Bains was equally
precarious—a hotel that seamlessly
referenced the building’s varied incarnations, without falling victim to gimmick—
and he enlisted the star lineup of architect
Vincent Bastie and interior designers
Denis Montel and Tristan Auer for the task.
In spite of the design pedigree, it’s
hard not to expect the odd aesthetic
stumble when hearing the hotel’s concept.
Yet, most aspects of Les Bains exist in
relative harmony. There are nods to the
original baths throughout the rooms,
including complimentary loofahs, personal
hammams in the suites, marble bedheads,
and brushed-concrete textures. The most
notable design thread, however, stems
from Starck’s iconic black-and-white
checkered dancefloor, crafted from
kitchen tiles (a cost-saving measure for the
then-fledgling designer). This tile fixation
begins in the lobby, where ornamental Art
Nouveau patterns are given a pixelated
update; the motif morphs a second time
in the restaurant-bar, where it finally
becomes the famous checkerboard. Up-
stairs in the rooms, Starck’s tiles make an
unexpected appearance, embellishing