Monday, January 8, 2018

Travels with The Style Saloniste: The Lowell Hotel, New York

The Lowell, in the heart of New York’s Upper East Side, was recently updated by designer Michael S. Smith. And there’s a chic new restaurant, Majorelle, and a popular new bar, Jacques. The Lowell’s location makes if a favorite of cosmopolitan travelers and transcontinental business leaders. 

This week I spoke to designer Michael S. Smith exclusively about the design of The Lowell hotel. 

Positioned perfectly and conveniently on East 63rd Street at Madison Avenue, The Lowell hotel, is considered a second home for many guests, who take up residence for weeks or even months at a time.

Dina de Luca Chartouni , the co-owner and design director of The Lowell has a vision for the hotel that is rich in both comfort and style, and she sets the residential tone. She is the quintessential New York woman, born and raised in the city and a graduate of Barnard, and dedicated to creating an environment in which guests instantly relax.

Built as a luxury apartment house in the 1920s, The Lowell is a rare small private New York hotel with just 74 rooms and suites.

The seventeen-floor hotel was recently updated and renovated by Los Angeles/New York designer Michael S. Smith who carefully built on the residential feeling with individual décor for penthouses, as well as for all suites. His approach was to curate painting and photography collections, and to arrange furniture in a practical, residential style. Antiques and one-of-a-kind vintage pieces enhance the ultra-private rooms.

Frequent guests of the hotel (some take up residence for spring and summer, others for the fall cultural season) often have special requests for ideal furniture arrangements.

Sixty percent of the hotel is dedicated to spacious suites that are ideal for family visits. Many have terraces and kitchens as well as wood-burning fireplaces that are unusual amenities among hotels in New York. Several suites have outdoor terraces from which Central Park may be viewed.

Like a film director, Chartouni has assembled a dream team including general manager Heiko Kuenstle, restaurateur Charles Masson, interior designer Michael Smith, and architect Mark Pinney. Together they made a statement that is design-driven in the guest rooms as well as in a new culinary universe anchored by a restaurant called Majorelle with a bar, Jacques, and a guests-only Club Room as well as an outdoor dining terrace.

When the recent renovation was completed, I spoke to California designer Michael S. Smith to learn more about his philosophy of design for The Lowell.

DDS: What was the feeling you wanted to create for the hotel?

Michael S. Smith:
I wanted to orchestrate an instant classic. People who know The Lowell love it. It has a loyal, very European following, with charm and a real sense of tradition – very classic. I wanted to do something that in your mind’s eye looks like it’s always been there. I was also inspired by apartments that Maison Jansen designed in New York in the 1950s and 1960s. A universal, classic, timeless and elegant look.

DDS: The color palette?

Michael S. Smith:
Natural materials – limestone, marble and stucco – dominate the color palette. The owners of The Lowell love a pale blue, green palette, which is great because that is one of my favorites as well. I used those colors to give the space a very soft, clean and fresh look. The design and palette are neoclassical, inspired by the idea of a classic New York City apartment.

DDS: Inspirations?

Michael S. Smith:
I love the classic idea of a celebratory hotel – a place for special occasions like a proposal, a birthday or a chic Saturday night dinner. I see The Lowell as a dream urban hotel, inspired by many French elements. I did not want to make it too theatrical because some guests are there often.

DDS: What are your favorite design ‘moments’ at the hotel?

Michael S. Smith:
I love the new paneled rooms – they are magical. It’s almost as if you couldn’t imagine them not being there before. They feel solid and built into the building. I also love the inlaid floors, especially the ones based on a classic Jansen design from the 1960s. The mirrors in the dining room were etched by Nancy Lorenz in her ‘Fireworks’ pattern. Intellectually your brain knows how mirrors work, but mirrors feel magical and other-worldly.

DDS: Michael, thank you. It has been a great pleasure.

Note: Diane Dorrans Saeks collaborated with the designer to create, “Michael S. Smith Elements of Style’ published by Rizzoli in 2004. The book has been a best-seller, and went into nine printings. Designers today tell me that this is a book they refer to most frequently.

Flowers of The Lowell

Guests who arrive early in the morning may be fortunate to meet Yasmin Kantakis, the artist who creates the very lavish flowers in the lobby at The Lowell. 

Yasmin has been creating beautiful seasonal floral displays at The Lowell for over twenty years. Recently she combined majestic and fragrant Casablanca lilies and tiger lilies, with peonies in a pastel palette, and guests lingered to admire the flowers and capture images.

Charles Masson does all of the flowers for Majorelle – it is his passion and he is known for his lavish arrangements. He selects the most beautiful seasonal flowers—and arranges them generously, colorfully, and with great branches and leaves and fronds to add texture and height. Glorious.

Majorelle at The Lowell

Charles Masson, after forty years of service at La Grenouille, opened Majorelle at The Lowell.

The restaurant is beloved by locals, who drop in often, sometimes more than once a day.

The entry is framed by Botticino and Carrara marble columns, and features a custom patterned gray and ivory marble floor, vaulted wood arched ceilings, and deep blue hues of silk velvet on the chairs and banquettes. 

Jacques Bar at The Lowell

The adjacent Jacques bar is an intimate space with French oak wood paneling, an antiqued mirrored ceiling, and a marble bar.

The Club Room, which features a library of art books, has French oak parquet floors, hand-painted paneling, a wood burning fireplace, dedicated bar, and handcrafted crown moldings, all by Smith.

“It’s a new era for The Lowell, one that adds to the level of luxury, comfort and elegance that defines us,” said Chartouni. “This excellence is and always will be my passion and our ultimate mission.”

Designer Michael S. Smith

Images published here courtesy of The Lowell, New York, used with express permission.


Monday, January 1, 2018

Where to Stay on The Left Bank Now: The Privately-Owned Relais Christine Is My Latest Left Bank Favorite

Newly redesigned and decorated by Paris designer Laura Gonzalez, the Relais Christine has a rare and very charming garden and private sunny courtyard.
Since 1979, the Relais Christine has been one of the Left Bank’s best-kept secrets. Newly renovated, the ultra-private hotel has the warm and welcoming atmosphere of a family home with the refinement and amenities and polished service of a top luxury hotel. It’s quiet, hidden away on a secluded one-way street, opposite a private cinema showing classic films. It has some of have the most charming and inviting rooms and suites in Paris.

The Relais Christine reopened its doors post-renovation with a meticulously designed style imbued with French romanticism. Classic Parisian styles preserve all the classic codes (old furniture, 18th-century patterns, wallpaper and fabric by iconic brands such as Pierre Frey, Hermes, Le Manach, Braquenié, ) enhanced and rejuvenated by the choice of contemporary materials such as brass and marble.

Laura Gonzalez has redesigned the ground floor reception and lounge areas with a virtuoso blend of historic character, intimate ambiance and luxurious decoration. Charming and discreet spaces wrap guests in a mantle of comfort or simply make a wonderful place to read by the fireside.

At any hour of the day and evening, guests gather and relax with a cup of tea and a pick-me-up, a glass of wine or a Champagne aperitif. 

The Relais Christine pays tribute to the site’s dramatic centuries of history—and gives them a subtle tweak. This challenge was brilliantly met by noted French decorator Laura Gonzalez.

There is a new spa under the vaults.

The effect is modern and elegant and it feels entirely French and totally Parisian.

I love the lively colors Laura selected. They are the marine blues and leaf greens you see at Versailles, and the ruby and golden tones favored since Louis XV. When I stayed there, I especially appreciated the very French style of adding bolsters on sofas, and adding padded comfort to linen or twill headboards so that reading in bed feels cozy and quiet.

Pillows are trimmed with custom-crafted brush fringe, and edged with custom-colored cording and piping. Wall lights shimmer with a wash of gold. Sofas are large and relaxed.


Each of the 48 splendidly unique rooms and suites projects a resolutely chic and intimate universe: collections, paintings, antiques, cosy velvet, warm woodwork and noble materials, Toile de Jouy print in one room, canopy beds in another, beautifully lit Carrera marble bathrooms. The welcoming rooms are infused with warmth. At the same time they are practical and highly functional. 

When Gonzalez renovated the property, she first imagined the property as a whole, obsessing over the DNA of the place and its history and style. She drew inspiration from old stones of the (no-longer-extant) 16th-century friars’ college building upon which the hotel was built. Some excavated historic architecture is viewable in the basement near the fitness center.

Decorating Details

Laura Gonzalez was given the brief to ‘make it intensely French’ and ‘update the interiors’ and ‘keep our residential look’ and ‘make it comfortable’.

Using all French fabrics and fabricators and lighting and silhouettes, Gonzalez captured precisely the right tone—with traditional French favored colors and codes and proportions and motifs.

Curtains are tied back with large-scale tassels, and all the hardware has boldness and heft. Upholstery is generous in proportion and elegant in its detailing and shape.

Within Walking Distance

Location of a Paris hotel is extremely important to me.

I like to be able to walk out the front door—and within minutes I am at a favorite café, or at the Louvre, or walking into an antique shop of a fabric showroom, or enjoying lunch with a friend, or picking up French magazines or London newspapers at the newsstand off the rue de Buci (or a book at Taschen).

Close to Relais Christine:
• Museums and other cultural sites: Musée du Louvre, Musée d’Orsay, Monnaie de Paris, Notre Dame de Paris cathedral, Saint Chapelle, Conciergerie.

 Strolls to the Luxembourg Garden, Ile Saint- Louis, Latin Quarter. The banks of the Seine and the bouquinistes are a block away.

• Shopping: boulevard Saint-Germain, rue de Rennes, rue du Four, rue Saint -Sulpice, Bon Marché.

• Art galleries.

• Mythic cafés (Café de Flore, Deux-Magots, Procope...) and Michelin-star gastronomic options. 

Services and Features

• Relais Christine has 48 unique rooms and suites. Some are 2 stories, some with terrace in the garden or in the courtyard, some for up to 4 persons, many connecting. 

• Some suites connect. Garden suites have their own terrace (potentially for sun-bathing).

• Cozy lounges in the garden. 

• In the reception is an Honor Bar, which is perfect for that evening when you bring a friend back to the hotel for a drink and to great your family. There’s a library for an impromptu private meeting.

• Guests may enjoy tea in the lounge—or coffee.

• Buffet breakfast.

• Room service 24.

 7 GUERLAIN spa with exclusive treatments, fitness, sauna and Jacuzzi .

• Concierges are Clefs d’Or.

• The hotel offers free WiFi. For anytime refreshment, a free in-room Nespresso machine and bottled water. 

 Rooms and suites are air-conditioned and equipped with a mini-bar, safe, and Bluetooth Marshall speakers. 

• Free parking and in the summer and good weather, free bicycles. 

• A car available for rental.

Relais Christine images are courtesy Relais Christine.

3 Rue Christine 
75006 Paris, France
T: +33 (0) 1 40 51 60 80