Mama Shelter – Paris
Hotel design is a blend of spaces of commercial, personal and domestic character, which are both public and private at the same time. It’s a space in which a personal and distinctive story can be woven into a total hospitality experience and as such it is of interest to everybody, whether guest or host, and the chain of people involved in making every guest’s stay a perfect one.
By: Ruth Arad | Architect and Interior Designer specializing in hotel design – 14/02/2016
This is the second blog in a series written in my travels around the world in the wake of hotels that excel through unusual design. Hotel and hospitality design has been my discipline and business for about a decade, and I invite you to come along to wonderful, faraway places. In each blog, we’ll take a short trip together toward extraordinary experiences that will be etched into your memory; each trip will be accompanied by professional explanations to add meaning to the hospitality experience.
In January 2016, a visit to the Maison & Objet exhibition takes me to Paris. This is the most romantic city in the world, full of inspiration and tradition, but a small fear lurks within me following the terrible trauma the city underwent in the terrorist attacks in November. There are those in Israel who will say that we’ve adjusted to living life in the shadow of terror, but Paris has not known terror as routine, and the terrible attacks threaten the values ingrained in the heart of the city and the French nation – the nation of liberty, equality, fraternity.
The last time I visited Paris, it was a different city, an introspective one. A city that did not facilitate interpersonal communication if you aren’t a French speaker. Yet, here, now, a few years later, the reality has changed. This time Paris received me graciously and my visit was filled with chance encounters laced with humour – chats with strangers seated in cafés, the staff at the hotel where I stayed, and people strolling alongside me in the street. Even the waiters were polite and actually offered English menus!
As part of the change that Paris is undergoing, you see a heavy police presence on the streets. At the entrance to public buildings there are security personnel who open bags for inspection, which in some way reminds me of home. On one occasion, travelling with friends in a taxi, we were going along a street where policemen were preventing traffic from passing through, but as soon as the taxi driver told the policeman that his passengers were Israelis, the cordon opened as if tapped by a magic wand.
In times like these, there is a sense of a need to find a place of shelter, or to at least know where a place of shelter awaits you in a foreign city.
It was this idea that led the Trigano family to establish the Club Med chain in 1954 to provide a response to people’s need for a place of rejuvenation and pleasure after the period of the Second World War. Years later, the Trigano family forged new meaning when they established Mama Shelter Hotel in Paris and half a dozen other cities. In the intervening years, the Club Med hotels turned into a vast chain that was acquired by the Chinese, freeing up the Trigano family to reinvent itself by setting up the Mama Shelter chain of unique boutique hotels.
When Serge Trigano set up Mama Shelter with his sons Benjamin and Jeremie in 2008, they chose iconic French designer Philippe Starck to create a hotel that foments a sense of belonging and protection.
Mama Shelter’s ubiquitous mother hen Credit: Mama Shelter
The founders dreamed of a place where guests could meet, share and exchange ideas, always aware that they were in a city that could provide a container for their dreams while serving up abundant and quite irresistible hospitality.
The vision paved the way to locales in which values of peace and humanity could be achieved between people. This idea seems particularly enchanting against the backdrop of the reality in which we live today, and the Hotel offers a unique experience from the moment you enter it and until you leave it.
As I entered the Hotel, the reception team greeted me with a smile and amiability that made me feel that I had been right in choosing a hotel based on its values. Correct recruitment makes all the difference – here the staff are polite, personally charming, and identified with the Hotel to an extraordinary degree. In my many travels around the world, I have found that even a hotel that is superbly designed, to say the least, cannot offer a superb hospitality experience if it falls short on excellence in its levels of service.
The welcoming reception staff at their desk Credit: Mama Shelter
The Hotel is dark and dramatic, entirely painted in black. Philippe Starck worked in collaboration with Moroccan calligraphy artist, Tarek Benaoum, who created texts and illustrations on the ceiling of the space. This decorative element continues from the lobby into the restaurant and bar space, and continues in the floors where the guest rooms are located. The texts themselves, and the compositions, were carefully selected, and their messages match the vision of creating a social milieu, evidenced in the social encounters on the ground floor, while the rooms above the public space are, as it were, a secondary outcome.
Friendliness is at the heart of Mama Shelter Credit: Mama Shelter
The calligraphy theme follows through all around the Hotel Credit: Mama Shelter
The rooms have been cleverly and simply designed. The chosen colours and textures broadcast drama, humour and mystery. Black and white calligraphy has also been incorporated into the design of the carpet, which forms an interesting and dramatic contrast against the restraint of the walls. One of the walls in every room is of exposed concrete, and juxtaposed against it are walls painted to an astonishing quality in a silken black matte paint with the slightest of sheens.
Bedroom in black and white Credit: Mama Shelter
The built-in camera of the 27” iMac that serves as a focal point in the room allows guests to create a video documenting their stay, turning it into a celebration that can be communicated through the virtual reality and social media that are so popular today. Masks of illustrated cartoon and superhero characters are on hand to join the party including, Superman, Batman, Bugs Bunny, Tweety Bird, Donald Duck and others...
An exposed concrete wall is common to all the rooms Credit: Mama Shelter
A view of a headboard with masks at the ready Credit: Mama Shelter
A wonderful hen appears in the design as a repetitive element. She’s to be found on the business card through to the back of the chair in the work corner; she’s on the wall-hanging media screen and her imprint is splashed across a fabric that forms a wall covering in public spaces. You’ll find her too in a large, framed picture above the fireplace. Wherever she is, her eyes are covered, so although she’s in ever-present, protective attendance, she doesn’t invade your privacy.
“Mama loves you – Do you love me too? Yes, I do.”
GBH, the London-based design and advertising agency responsible for the branding, has taken an approach that is both unusual and full of charm, and has succeeded in differentiating the chain through a mixture of friendliness and community, wrapped in a style that is both eclectic and jam-packed with surreal humour. It’s safe to say that in their work they have successfully created a blend that abounds in humour, style and chic.
Views of Mama’s hallmark hen abound Credit: Mama Shelter
As appropriate to veteran hoteliers, who understand the value of branding, the Hotel’s creators chose to carry Mother Hen’s messages through to the bathroom, where the branding on the house toiletries and liquid soap dispensers bear messages such as:
Mama loves you from head to toe
Mama likes to keep it pure
Triptych of bathroom and wardrobe views including door sign Credit: Mama Shelter
So, if you’re now really curious, you can take a peek on Instagram of real happenings there, and then all that remains is to go there and create your own unique experience and keep it forever as a souvenir.