The Hi Life
Taking guest accommodations to the next level at Hi in Nice, France
Ian Phillips -- Interior Design, 6/1/2003 12:00:00 AM
Hi is no ordinary French hotel. In some guest rooms, the bed is separated from the bath by a huge projection screen. In others, you get to sleep on a table. Sounds kooky? It's meant to be. (Not to mention that Hi's name derives from the word for a mark on the body of a koi.) "We're proposing an alternative to today's hotels," asserts co-owner Philippe Chapelet.
To achieve this goal, Chapelet and Patrick Elouarghi—who previously owned and operated a hotel-château in the Anjou region of France—called on up-and-coming designer Matali Crasset. Since working with Philippe Starck at Thomson Multimedia, Crasset has decked out the Paris office of ad agency Red Cell and created kitchen appliances for Tefal, highball glasses and tumblers for Cristal Saint-Louis, and light fixtures for Artemide. Earlier this year, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London honored her with a solo show.
One of the notions Crasset most often explores is that of hospitality. However, the Nice building that houses Hi was anything but hospitable before her intervention. Despite a five-star location near the Promenade des Anglais, the property was a no-star guest house. The 1930s structure featured a stairwell covered in depressing gray roughcast and rooms that were "small, badly laid out, and full of unspeakable furniture," she declares. "I carried out a complete metamorphosis."
Initially, that involved reducing key count from 50 to 38 and adding 20 balconies and two private terraces, each with a whirlpool. Crasset even managed to build a swimming pool on the roof—a technical exploit achieved by distributing the pool's weight over the top of a new concrete elevator shaft. As for the facade, she painted it off-white, put in large aluminum-framed windows, and uncovered an original concrete canopy above the main entrance. "The idea," she explains, "was to be rather discreet with the exterior to save the surprise for inside."
Surprising it certainly is. "Guests should feel not at home," says Crasset. "We're offering them a completely different experience from the usual." To that end, practically everything can be modified. On the mezzanine overlooking the bar, furniture moves to accommodate reading, playing chess, or listening to music. The bar below is encased in an enormous cage of laminated birch plywood, and the floor is coated with a resin normally used in hospitals and industrial settings. The ceiling of the elevator is a purple-filtered light box.
Crasset decorated guest rooms according to nine very daring concepts. In the Indoor Terrace rooms, for instance, she grouped all furniture on an iroko deck in the middle of the space. In Strates, she placed everything at different heights. The toilet perches in full view, on a 3 1/2-foot-high platform; the shower is raised 2 1/2 feet. Digitale's walls are painted in blue squares like giant pixels, and the wardrobe and bathroom's melamine-framed doors resemble computer-screen pop-up windows with the words wear and breath appearing in aluminum cutouts directly above. What first appears to be just a sofa in Happy Day is actually half a bed, the other half being hidden in an alcove behind doors. White & White rooms, meanwhile, "take existing furniture archetypes and give them other functions," Crasset says. The bathtub has a canopy like a four-poster, and the bed consists of a mattress placed on a table, with one of the table's drawers serving as a nightstand.
Virtually everything on the premises is by Crasset, from the Technocorner rooms' Sofablaster sofa, with its integrated speakers, to the omnipresent Hi pendants and sconces, conceived in collaboration with a glassblower in Verona, Italy. Rendez-Vous and White & White's lava bathtubs, now manufactured by Aquamass in Belgium, were developed specifically for this project. For Hi's self-service café, Crasset designed interconnecting porcelain plates, bowls, and cups called Link.
Missing, on the other hand, are hotel staples. There's no gym, just a "wellness center" with massage tables and a Turkish bath. There are few desks in the rooms and not a mini-bar in sight. Instead, machines on each landing dispense refreshments. "That way, people don't stay locked up in their rooms," explains Chapelet. "They have to get out and explore." What they'll find, he hopes, is less hip hotel and more "house of happiness."