Blue pastels and precious silks
By Gery de Pierpont
Recreating a 18th Century atmosphere
The Caron de Beaumarchais hotel in the heart of the Marais district has become a must stop in Paris. Its reputation which has crossed the Atlantic attracts many visitors, particularly Americans, the British and now Asians. But then it is in an ideal location, just a stone’s throw from the Place Des Vosges and the Cité, even though it differs significantly from International hotel standards.
However, the hotel offers its guests an absolutely unique experience. The opportunity to stay in the Paris of the Age of the Enlightenment. An escape behind the cloak of time, under the attractive, seductive gaze of Madame de Pompadour and her protégé, Pierre Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais. This is the dream child of Alain Bigeard, who designed this “chocolate box” hotel at the beginning of the 1990s, with the aim of reviving the ambiance of an attractive 18th century residence. The location – a former hotel in the heart of Paris – was a perfect choice, with its fine period rafters and rough hewn cellar walls. The rooms then underwent redecoration with furnishings reflecting the period of Louis XV and the delicate style that was its hallmark, varying between flamboyant pink and pastel blue.
It is here that the hotel owner, who could have got away with imitation décor and “fake old” features had the flair and talent to bring each room to life with works of art and period items from the Age of the Enlightenment: portraits, lamps, clockwork birds, statues, first editions of literary works, period sheet music, engravings and writing desks … one of the most astonishing items is this 1792 piano forte and very fine sculpted harp, which serves to remind us that Beaumarchais – when still quite young – was a professor of music to “Mesdames”, the king’s daughters. I particularly like this fine gaming table, fitted with pewter candlesticks, which brings to mind a game of cards which some elegant young ladies have just abandoned.
These fine examples of “elegant French living” can be seen, somewhat unexpectedly in the hotel lobby, just behind these two old display cases. Guests here are initially welcomed in a lounge. There is no reception desk or lobby as you might expect. You enter the Caron de Beaumarchais hotel as if it were a friend’s house, a bit like stepping 250 years back in history.
Even the breakfast parlour, with its attractive stone walls, is a delight to its visitors with its period furniture. As it proved impossible – for a 3-star hotel worthy of the name – to recreate end-of-18th century bathrooms (at that time it was not fashionable to indulge in lavish baths for fear of exposing one’s clean skin to “germs”), P. Bigeard has had the bathrooms painted in the delicate blue shades of ancient tiles.
Should you bump into him during your stay (often accompanied by his Scottish terrier, famous on Facebook), do ask him how he chose the curtains for the hotel which, inspired by motifs of the period, are remarkable reproductions. You will never sit down on a chair without first fingering the damask, and admiring the skilfully woven motifs produced by the great silk French manufacturers.
And because the hotel bears his name, I would strongly recommend you do a little research on the fascinating life of Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais, who was a clockmaker, harp builder, man of business, courtier, playwright, founder of the first Authors’ Society, diplomat, royal spy, ship owner and purveyor of cannons … a fascinating character, extremely skilful and resourceful (probably abandoning ethics on occasion), a royalist through opportunism before becoming a revolutionary. To re-read The Marriage of Figaro or the Barber of Seville, with your back comfortably propped up against a vast pillow on a bed in one of these rooms, bathed in a cosy warm light, is a moment of utter delight “into history”.