In the public spaces Starck laid down a custom-designed carpet with an intricate tree-branch motif and set out a mix of furniture pieces ranging from Arne Jacobsen’s 1958 Egg Chair, upholstered in cognac-colored leather, to a wildly polychromatic hand-beaded chair from Africa that looks like a small throne. Lower profile, but no less welcome, are the streamlined sofas, ottomans, and side tables where guests and visitors relax over drinks and light snacks in Le Grand Salon, the lobby area. There is also that perennial Starck favorite, a long communal table (for 16), adjacent to the bar at one end of the expansive, high-ceilinged salon, which is something Starck first introduced at Asia de Cuba, the restaurant by the entrance of the Andrée Putman–designed Morgans Hotel in Manhattan. Also off Le Grand Salon is a wood-paneled bookstore stocked with some 700 art publications.
For La Cuisine, the hotel’s French restaurant, Starck invited a group of contemporary artists to hand-paint porcelain plates for which he designed tall vitrines that line one side of the generously scaled dining room. A glass wall faces a garden where, on one level, trees and shrubs supply a verdant visual respite and, on another, herbs for the restaurant grow in neat black troughs. To Starck’s credit, no tricky, three-legged chairs with awkward arms, no too-clever-by-half cutlery detracts from the work of executive chef Laurent André. Also contributing to the aesthetic success of the restaurant, where Starck personally selected the photographs and prints that adorn the walls and square columns, is artist Stéphane Calais, who, at Starck’s invitation, assumed responsibility for La Cuisine’s white ceiling, now a simultaneously subtle and sprightly mix of biomorphic and geometric shapes and colors that recalls the work of Alexander Calder, albeit in two dimensions and with a more sophisticated palette. There is a second, smaller, Italian restaurant, Il Carpaccio, which Starck oxymoronically designed as part grotto, part solarium—with seashells embedded in the walls, ceiling, and chandelier.
Although the French now take their no smoking laws as seriously as Jean-Paul Belmondo once took his Gauloises, Le Royal Monceau does have a cigar bar, La Fumée Rouge, that, as the name suggests, is lined in bordello-red leather panels. It is fronted in glass and looks out onto a glazed wall of individual humidors that are remarkably reminiscent of safe-deposit boxes in a bank vault.
Still in construction is the spa, “Le Spa My Blend by Clarins,” including an 85-foot subterranean pool, slated for completion in early 2011. Next door is the hotel’s exhibition gallery and, upstairs, the hotel’s apartments, which measure up to 4,100 square feet.
Le Royal Monceau is Starck’s third hotel in Paris, the city where it all began for him in 1982 when he snared the commission to design the private offices of then president François Mitterand at the Élysée Palace, followed in 1984 by Café Costes, a cleverly designed trilevel café in Les Halles that catapulted him from relative obscurity to international fame. It has been a happy homecoming for Starck, who, in 2007, was invited to remodel the restaurant, bar, and ground-floor reception areas for the Hôtel Meurice, overlooking the Tuileries Gardens, where he drew his inspiration from Salvador Dalí, a frequent guest at the venerable 1835 hotel for more than three decades. A year later, Starck completed the new 170-room cheap-chic Mama Shelter, an altogether different endeavor in the far-flung 20th Arrondissement, near the hauntingly beautiful Père-Lachaise cemetery, where everyone from neurasthenic writer Marcel Proust to exhibitionistic rock legend Jim Morrison is buried.
Meanwhile, back on Avenue Hoche, where the doormen at Le Royal Monceau are dressed in gray morning coats and black felt top hats, which make them look as if they had just arrived from Ascot, Starck is waxing poetic about what is surely his most sophisticated, most mature, most nuanced…most satisfying work to date. “I think we have invented in Le Royal Monceau a new concept called ‘Mental Space,’ ” the designer says. “It is no more about interior design style and trends. It is more about making air in vibration like music, giving to the air a spirit like a perfume.” And just to put the final nail in the coffin of minimalism, Starck adds, “The guest rooms are not empty. They are full of a feeling, a spirit, a presence, as if someone invisible is welcoming you.” Which would explain why underneath the glass that tops the wooden desks in the guest rooms, the maps of Paris have been very subjectively annotated with must-see spots boldly highlighted by the designer himself.