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A Parisian Hotel Designer Creates a Space of Her Own

May 26, 2023

by design

Dorothée Meilichzon has infused her 19th-century apartment with a sense of hospitality.

In the living room of the interior designer Dorothée Meilichzon's Paris apartment, a 19th-century gilded mirror hangs over poufs she designed for the Hôtel Bachaumont, and a vintage mirrored console and travertine tables from the Paul Bert Serpette market in the northern suburb of Saint-Ouen.Credit...

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By Kurt Soller

Photographs by Clément Vayssieres

"THIS IS DESIGNED exactly as I would do a hotel room," says the French designer Dorothée Meilichzon, standing in her bedroom, which is hidden behind the open kitchen of the 2,400-square-foot apartment she shares with her husband and their two young children. Accessed through a pair of double doors, with small brass knobs, that can be flung open cinematically — Meilichzon was inspired by Catherine Deneuve's fiery domestic fantasies in Luis Buñuel's 1967 film, "Belle de Jour" — the room is a warm, contemporary cocoon that contrasts with the original parquet floors, filigreed crown moldings, nearly 175-year-old stained-glass windows and other period details that define the otherwise classical Parisian apartment.

Here, several of the walls are a rich sienna, their hue echoed by many similar purplish browns throughout the bedroom, whether in the velvet curtains, the fuzzily abstract framed textiles by the Moroccan studio Lrnce or the heavily veined marble double sink in the adjacent en suite bathroom. But it's the bed itself that ultimately conjures the dream of hotel living: Against a wall clad in black-striated African teak is an arched headboard in soft, subtly patterned beige wool with white embroideries. It seems perfect for leaning against while, say, reading by the light of the sconces flanking the pillows, the lamps set at the ideal height above outlets for charging your phone and floating wooden shelves upon which to set your book before falling asleep.

"Everybody knows me for my bedheads," says Meilichzon, 40. "But that's only because one of my clients told me that, when you see pictures of a hotel room, the beds all look alike: It has to be white; it has to be clean. And so the only way to brand a room is the bedhead." She learned this not long after she established a hospitality design firm called Chzon (a shortening of her last name) in 2009 and began designing cocktail bars and restaurants before working up to full-scale Parisian hotel projects: cozy but colorful, moodily lit places like the Grand Pigalle, Bachaumont, Panache and Hôtel des Grand Boulevards, often in nascent residential neighborhoods. Over the years, their lobbies and wine bars became de facto living rooms for not just guests but locals. (Many of her projects were, and are, for the boutique French hospitality company Experimental Group; her husband, Olivier Bon, 40, is one of its founders.)

Today, with more than 60 completed projects, including the departure lounge of a recently renovated terminal at Paris's Charles de Gaulle airport, and eight concurrent international hotel commissions — among them a sustainable coastal retreat in Portugal's Alentejo, followed by a rammed-earth ground-up build in Corsica — Meilichzon still conceives of all the headboards herself, all distinct but identifiably hers because of their whimsical shapes and fabrics. Along with a half-dozen or so freelancers, she oversees every aspect of a project, from the lobby layout to the graphics on the do not disturb signs to the materials and colors of the staff uniforms. She prefers to hire young interior architects, typically those under 30 who might look at her blankly when she references Studio 54 or the American hotel and nightlife impresario André Balazs. In hospitality, "we have to be connected with the new generation because they’re my clients tomorrow," she says. "They go to hotels more than we did, and they spend more money than we did."

STILL, IF HER bedroom reminds her of work, the rest of her home is, in many ways, an escape from it, a traditional refuge that is, she says, a "very bourgeois apartment." Situated in the 10th Arrondissement — "old Paris," she says, like the genteel 16th in which she was raised — the apartment is near the Chzon studio, a mile or so north from more touristed areas like the Marais. The apartment's near the top of an eight-unit building that, she thinks (there's no documentation), was constructed around 1850, meaning it barely precedes the Haussmannian era, the style of which still defines the vast majority of Parisian buildings. She used to live in one of those nearby, and this older place is now arranged similarly, with a long central hallway that leads to separate areas for sleeping, cooking or hosting.

When Meilichzon bought her current apartment in 2020, following the first wave of pandemic lockdowns and while pregnant with her second child, she wanted to simplify it, shifting the locations and sizes of some rooms and removing step-ups to make it all one level. She retained most of its historic details, from the intricate gilded mirrors and brass door handles to the slightly wavy poured-glass terrace windows with their gueule de loup ("wolf's mouth") interlocking casement mechanisms. The sunny front of the home, which faces the street, is now given over mostly to a formal living room, with four travertine coffee tables and an antique fireplace, and a butter yellow-painted study, which they "never go in," she says. In back, there's a large, almost trapezoidal kitchen and dining area with arched entryways (a Meilichzon trademark, calling to mind French Art Deco) leading to the couple's bedroom; a compact children's wing ("In France, we don't have toys everywhere, so that's why they’re separated") with two more bedrooms for her and Bon's children, Joseph, 8, and Onyx, 1; and a tiny, nook-like library with little more than African teak shelving and an undulant custom settee upholstered in an abstract Pierre Frey floral fabric where Meilichzon goes to hide from the family and read.

Within this mannered layout, the designer has lightened the mood by incorporating contemporary pieces — fiberglass Roly-Poly chairs by the British designer Faye Toogood; an imposing 7-by-4-foot stainless-steel island in the kitchen from the Italian manufacturer Abimis — alongside others that she had custom fabricated using materials and shapes often born out of her hospitality projects. In her baby's room, there are curtains with the same geometric pattern as a 360-foot-long fresco she had produced for the airport, and many of the strangely shaped seating pieces throughout are things she drew herself after noticing that bespoke items were much harder for others in her industry to copy. However, she has no plans to sell these items — nor to take on residential design projects, which she's never accepted, fearing that other people's taste and belongings would disrupt her vision.

In that way, the apartment is just for herself, her family and her friends, who come over many evenings to drink aperitifs in the kitchen, sit for dinner at the big round marble Florence Knoll table and then smoke cigarettes afterward out on the shallow wrought-iron balconies. "It's not supposed to be pretentious," she says, speaking of her own space as much as the ones she makes for others. "It's hospitality."

An earlier version of this article misidentified the designer of Dorothée Meilichzon's dining table; it was designed by Florence Knoll, not Eero Saarinen. The error was repeated in a photo caption.

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Kurt Soller is the deputy editor of T: The New York Times Style magazine. @kurtsoller


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