An exclusive look inside J.K. Place Paris, hotelier Ori Kafri’s first property in nearly six years. Spoiler alert: it was worth the wait.

By Hannah Walhout
January 09, 2020
Courtesy of J.K. Place Paris

A teal velvet armchair draped with an orange cashmere blanket. Assouline art books on a Chinoiserie tea table. A Classical nude standing on a geometric colorblock carpet. Some might call it overwhelming — but at J.K. Place Paris, a just-opened hotel that infuses Left Bank eccentricity with Italian bella figura, it's entirely intentional.

Courtesy of J.K. Place Paris

In the lobby, a black marble clawfoot fireplace is framed with spear-shaped red-leather wall sconces, created by Jacques Adnet — who designed furniture for Hermès — and salvaged from the flea market in Saint-Ouen. In fact, the hotel contains hundreds of objects gathered from Parisian markets: Chinese theater costumes, Tom Ford reading lamps, a mirrored chest by David Hicks. This aesthetic is something of a J.K. Place signature. The Paris townhouse is the fourth project by hotelier Ori Kafri, and his first outside Italy — and as with its sisters in Florence, Capri, and Rome, its interiors are the work of Florentine architect Michele Bönan. To furnish this former government building in the 7th Arrondissement, Bönan and team went out collecting once a month for more than three years.

“I first heard of him when he designed Ferragamo’s Gallery Hotel Art, which totally reinvented the concept of a hotel in Italy,” Kafri told me over Negronis in the living room lobby. “It was genius and unexpected and people criticized it because it was too modern. I thought, If this architect is good enough for Ferragamo, he’s good enough for us.”

Courtesy of J.K. Place Paris

Kafri’s love for boutique hotels like Gallery is part of his origin story in the business, and why he’s so damn good at it. One conversation with him will reveal he has been cataloguing them for years — storing meaningful experiences or inventive touches in his brain for future reference. “I fell in love with hospitality as a student,” he told me. “Traveling was always a part of our family.” Knowing that his father’s dream was to open a hotel, Kafri took an internship at the Lungarno in Florence, his hometown. “In a hotel, the world comes to you. You meet people from all cultures, ages, nationalities, religions.” At Lungarno, he said, “I saw the relationships they made with guests, how they became a point of reference in the city, how they helped people discover Florence and fall in love with the city through their eyes.” In 2003, he opened the J.K. Place Firenze — the J.K. stands for Jonathan Kafri, his father and collaborator — to do the same, and better. Capri followed in 2007, and Rome in 2013, each earning a devoted following for J.K. Place’s particular brand of Italian hospitality and unprecedented luxury.

Courtesy of J.K. Place Paris

So why Paris? When I asked Kafri this question, he corrected me: “It’s not, Why Paris? It’s Why not?” While he noted that Paris is somewhat of a proving ground for hotel brands with moxie — “It’s the city that everyone compares things to” — the real answer comes from somewhere deeper. “The first trip I took with my dad was to Paris, and that’s where I was inspired to work with him,” he said. Kafri later returned, and had a transcendent experience when he caught sight of the Arc de Triomphe down the Champs-Élysées. “Something happened,” he said. “I felt a certain energy, an emotion that I haven’t felt in my life again. I think Paris was always inside of me.”

J.K. Place, an unmarked door on Rue de Lille is, in many ways, the most exciting hotel opening Paris has seen in years. For one thing, it's a welcome arrival on the bohemian Rive Gauche, which has few luxury players and even fewer boutique options. But moreover, it injects a bit of Italian warmth into a destination that can be a bit difficult to crack. In this city of broad boulevards and immense squares, many of the most celebrated hotels are Haussmannian behemoths with hundreds of rooms. Kafri hopes to bring a new perspective: “Italian identity and heritage is crucial,” he told me. “I’m trying to hire as many Italians as I can so we don’t lose that identity.” His goal was to give the French property a sense of place, without sacrificing the mentality that has made J.K. Place an Italian icon. “We need it to feel Parisian,” he explained, “but with an Italian heart.”

Courtesy of J.K. Place Paris

Each of the 29 rooms is unique, while still united by the common thread of Kafri and Bönan's artistic vision. “The hotel should feel like it’s full of things you gathered on your travels,” Kafri said. The handmade Italian beds, mother of pearl cabinets, and heated slate bathroom floors are not vintage, of course. But many elements were inspired by flea market finds. If the team found something they liked, they worked with an Italian firm to replicate it — from the low-slung chairs to the oversized metal door pulls. The rooms and suites contain everything you need, but you don’t see much of it; the walk-in closet can be closed off completely from the rest of the space, and less-than-beautiful things like toilet paper are hidden behind trap doors or in beautiful boxes. Even the essentials are treated with a luxurious touch, like Dyson hair dryers in their own custom leather cases, shave kits from Le Marche, and amber room fragrances by Lorenzo Villoresi. A J.K. Place signature: most rooms have griffe du lion marble fireplaces.

Courtesy of J.K. Place Paris

The building is centered around a glass enclosed courtyard restaurant. At breakfast, the tables are laden with fig tartes, madeleines, and other precious patisserie; when the sun sets and Paris lets its hair down, the airy space transforms into a sultry outpost of Miami restaurant Casa Tua, a formidable entry into a dining scene long lamented for its lack of good Italian restaurants. Here, it attracts a crowd not unlike that in Miami (expect glitter, gold, and beautiful people) but the food is, by many accounts, in a league of its own. Chef Michele Fortunato serves Italian-ish dishes with a delicate touch and some creative updates: cheesy "Scotch" quail eggs over carrot purée; ricotta gnudi, dressed with pine nuts and velvety black-eyed peas; a perfectly-cooked bistecca crowned with caramelized foie gras. They don't mess too much with perfection, though — the wine list is packed with Italian favorites, and the olive oil is straight from Tuscany. 

Courtesy of J.K. Place Paris

Soon, the hotel will unveil a subterranean Sisley spa, complete with fitness center and marble-and-tile swimming pool. The team is also putting the finishing touches on their very own bateau mouche — the French name for the famous riverboats that ply the Seine. Unlike most, packed with tourists and helmed by a guide on a megaphone, this boat will have luxuries like a below-deck movie theater and a dining room with an open kitchen. It will be available for guests as part of a program of curated excursions that will soon begin rolling out. Kafri mused about the possibility of leading guests on a shopping tour of the fish market at Rungis — Paris’ famously hectic wholesale market, the largest in the world — and then bringing guests on board for a seafood lunch cooked by a private chef.

Courtesy of J.K. Place Paris

But for all its amenities, the thing that has made J.K. Place one of the most beloved names in luxury is its people — whether they are recommending a local bistro, booking a tour of the Louvre, or joining you for Crémant and truffled peanuts at the bar. (This sounds like a press release talking, but trust me, it’s not.) There are no fees for things like the minibar, so you can snack with abandon and feel comfortable asking for help. Those who feel uneasy about white-gloved butlers and silent service staff — hallmarks of "luxury" in a more outdated sense — will find no ostentation or exploitation here. Everyone introduced themselves to me, joked with me, and helped connect me to my fellow guests. Kafri summed it up: "We want this to be your home.” If only. 

To book: jkplace.paris, doubles from $885.

J.K. Place Paris provided support for the reporting of this story.

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