Paris has historically served as muse to artists who flocked in from all over the world to taste a bit of la bohème the city was (and still is) well known for. Visitors to Paris head to the many museums and art galleries that are world-famous looking to immerse themselves in the many different artistic movements and styles. For those who want to take the immersion one step (dimension?) further, there is a boutique hotel in the 11ème arrondissement dripping with surrealism just waiting to tickle and twist all your senses: Hotel Exquis!
Hotel Exquis is the brainchild of boutique hotel chain Elegancia Hotels and French artist Julie Gauthron. Inspired by the “exquisite corpse” method of creating art, the hotel was created by Gauthron and artists assembled by Paris-based art collective Le M.U.R. using thrifted furniture from Paris’s well-known flea market at Saint-Ouen and refinished in thought-provoking colours and patterns. Each floor was designed by a different artist in a style that is completely independent and random. What emerges is a hotel filled with wonder and flights of fancy ready to offer a unique experience to each guest. Let’s enter the magical world that is Hotel Exquis!
Why Hotel Exquis?
Hotels offer a beautiful oasis away from home, a place to call your own for a short bit of time. While there are a lot of hotels in Paris that will offer this oasis, there are few that will transport you into a living piece of quirky art that embodies Paris on many levels. First, surrealism blossomed in Paris in the early 20th century. Second, the furniture throughout the hotel once lived elsewhere in Paris. Last, but definitely not least, the artists that created this surreal hotel decorate the walls of Paris and were assembled by 11ème-based artist promoters Le M.U.R. That’s local to the 3rd degree in case you were counting!
All that hyper-local bend aside, the idea of a hotel built by artists adding layer on layer, expanding on what their predecessor started (which is the idea behind the “exquisite corpse”) reminded me of a game I used to play in high school. We’d create sentences by adding a verb, adjective, noun, etc to a piece of paper that would do the rounds and eventually create as many sentences as there are people, the results of which often had us laughing it up. We used to call it scattergories (even if it didn’t resemble the board of the same name), but just a few minutes on Hotel Exquis’s website taught me that it was in fact the exquisite corpse! How unknowingly avant garde of us 15-year-olds!
Even if you aren’t a fan of surrealist art and their playful method of creating art, you have to admit that the entire aesthetic is pretty fascinating on its own. That’s what I thought when I first read about Hotel Exquis, and as a lover of concepts (and branding), I knew this would be a mind-bending ride that I was TOTALLY looking forward to jumping on.
The 11ème arrondissement (a.k.a. Bastille) has gone down in history for being the epicentre of the French Revolution, when the French Republicans stormed the Bastille Saint-Antoine. The area is now home to the funkiest of Parisians. While Rue Oberkampf is known as the heart of the 11ème’s nightlife, Rue de Charonne has gained steam in the bourgeois bohemian “bobo” chic circles with several hip shops, bars, and restaurants settling in. Avenue Ledru Rollin is lined with all manner of furniture, fabric, and design shops, so it only makes sense that this gritty yet vibrant area is home to the artistic Hotel Exquis. Yes, the area remains gritty in some pockets, and you’ll find a checkerboard mix more characteristic of a New York or Toronto neighbourhood, but the gentrification is in full swing and the streets generally pretty safe (speaking from the experience of walking back to the Hotel after midnight). The Hotel occupies prime real estate, located almost directly across two of the hottest (read: hot enough for Beyonce, Jay-Z, and Romain Duris) restaurants in Paris today: the “reservations required” Septime, and sister “no reservations” restaurant, Clamato. Hot enough for you? It was for me!
Lobby & Reception
The Hotel Exquis lobby and reception greets you in a bright red with splashes of purple and yellow popping all over. True to its surreal ethos, the lobby houses vintage sofas and armchairs reupholstered in a paint splattered fabric and is lit by bubble light fixtures. A door at the end of the lobby leads to a spiral staircase decked out in pots of green plants, effectively creating a spiralling garden both within and outside the walls of the hotel. A pretty good introduction to what lay awaiting on the floors above!
Each floor at Hotel Exquis is designed by a different artist/artist collective, offering experiences unique to 8-16 guests at a time. The rooms come in four types ranging in size and budget: Intimiste, Intemporelle, Insolite, and Inédite. But first, you must take the glass elevator to your floor, which takes you on a journey through the different worlds created by the artists. Our room, the Insolite room, was on the hotel’s 2nd floor, designed by French street artist Thom Thom. The floor was decorated in shades of green, with images of dragonflies and leaves dancing across the wallpaper. Green just happens to be my favourite colour, so I couldn’t wait to see what awaited behind our door.
We stepped into a room that I can only describe as a 3D piece of jungle art. The walls were papered in a leafy motif with monkeys and berries. The vibrant colours and motifs invited us to explore further, which is when we discovered the true pièce de resistance: the bathroom. (This is a sentence you don’t offer hear!) The bathroom lights were off however tiny specks of light burst out of the room when we opened the bathroom door to peek inside. Those specks of light were actually tiny fibreoptic cables installed in the tiled walls so the entire place felt like stepping into a starry nightscape. The room was on the cozier side (both size and comfort wise) but with all that fantastic art, I honestly didn’t notice!
While the hotel lobby, elevator, guest rooms, and even stairwell draw you into a world created by the commissioned artists, the dining room is where the artists step into the limelight. A gallery wall wraps around the bright red dining room displaying all the artists in various stages of creating the hotel. The furniture is a mix of industrial materials and pretty details done the Hotel Exquis way. The bar at the back of the room hosts a wide spread of food: breads on one side, charcuterie and cheese on the other, with salads, muffins, cereals in between. The essential selection of teas sit next to the coffee machine serving some pretty tasty espresso-based cups.
Considering this was springtime in Paris, the weather report was something we checked every morning just to see what the day would bring. (We quickly learned to never leave “home” without an umbrella!) It’s for that reason that we truly appreciated the day’s forecast handwritten on the glass elevator’s wall. The elevator ride downstairs was not only adorable with all the graffiti but helpful as well! (Talk about service!)
While nearly everything in the hotel is a piece of art in its own right, the art doesn’t stop there. An easel is set up in one corner with a box of charcoals available for the guests use. On our way out, we were encouraged to leave a little piece of our own art, which I couldn’t resist doing. I sat down to recreate the doodles I most often doodle. (I drew an eye, lips, and an upside down nose for a little surrealist twist.)
Hotel Exquis took us out of the ordinary, if even dreary reality of the overcast and rainy day we arrived, and, as if waving a magic wand, splashed colour and fancy all around us. The art hotel way surpassed my surreal expectations and delivered a space that is so unique, I doubt I’ll ever find another hotel like it! If you fancy yourself a bohemian or are interested in the life of one, I can tell you that Hotel Exquis can help you find a home away from home in the beautifully freespirited side of Paris!
Portjam & Co. and Bessie & Coco Photography were guests of Elegancia Hotels, a boutique hotel chain based in Paris. All opinions in this review are my own.