One of the unique features of the Hôtel du Palais lies in its workshops. Indeed, there are few hotels in France which possess their own workshops dedicated to the restoration of Suites, rooms and furniture.
Working side by side in the Hôtel du Palais workshops are numerous different craftsmen, all playing their part in the restoration of the Palais' suites and rooms.
For the last 20 years, the Hôtel du Palais has lovingly refurbished its interior, acting as guardian of its heritage and of the memory of its owners, Napoleon III and Princess Eugénie de Montijo.
The restoration of a room at the Hôtel du Palais requires a high level of homogeneity in the furnishings and upholstery, and above all a strong team spirit. "In the workshop, Philippe, Virginie and Romain deal with the furniture, Céline is in charge of the application of gold foil, while Guillaume, Sophie and Maryse work with the upholstery.
When a room requires renovating, certain choices must be made. Should the furnishings be kept, restored or changed? Will the furnishings be moved to give the room a different ambiance? What materials and patterns will be used in the room? While some furniture is renovated, some is new when it arrives, and is patinated and dyed to be in keeping with the room's theme. Once the project is finished, the team presents the result to the general manager, who has total confidence in their work.
The average total cost of restoration ranges between €12,000 and €15,000 for the upholstery alone, while the restoration of an entire suite or room costs between €90,000 and €350,000! Each room is therefore tailor made.
The restoration of furniture
Philippe (seconded by Romain) is a specialist in Napoleon III period. He began his career in Paris in 1977 after having worked for his father, and is now a furniture restorer, varnisher and cabinetmaker. It was during his time in Paris that he made his the motto: "Make many mistakes now to make fewer later". Strong of almost 35 years of experience, Philippe decided to lend his expertise to the Hôtel du Palais.
He describes this job, very close to his heart, as a work of both experience and patience. "It's a bit like yoga for me", he often says. At the Palais, all of the furnishings are in the Napoleon III style. This style, born under the Second Empire, draws influences from many other earlier styles: Louis XV, Louis XVI, and also Louis XIV and First Empire. In order to restore these furnishings, the restorers use the technique created by André-Charles Boulle, famous cabinetmaker to Louis XIV: two types of wood are cut in superimposition.
A single design is placed on top and the whole 'stack' is cut with a saw, in order to obtain in a single operation both sections of the piece, to be assembled in positive and negative. Philippe and Virginie use this technique with dyed wood or ebony, rosewood or pearwood, into which they inlay tortoiseshell, now an extremely rare material.
The same 18th century preparation procedure is still followed today: take down the bronze pieces, restore them to their original form, gild them...
In addition to his work as a cabinetmaker, Philippe also works as a varnisher. For this he uses the shellac padding varnishing technique, which also appeared during the 18th century.
All of this restoration work is done by hand, as it was originally. Here, nothing is automated. Animal glue (nerve, bone or fish, historically sturgeon) is used to stick the pieces together. A technique which was also invented by the famous Boulle. In order to join two materials where one is rigid, like brass, and the other can be bent, for example wood, this flexible glue is necessary. Glue applied two centuries ago can therefore be re-liquefied in order to unstick the wood in a piece of furniture which needs to be repaired! No nails and no screws are used, apart from for bronze pieces.
The renovation of a room always follows the same procedure, respecting the Napoleon III style. Fabrics, often coloured, new materials and linen, roman blinds or Japanese screens give the room a modern touch.
The fabrics come from a selected 50 suppliers from all over the globe, to decorate the rooms of the Hôtel du Palais: silk from Asia, damask from Italy, trimmings and braids from France, cotton and linen from the United States... When asked where they find their inspiration, the upholsterers reply "In our heads!" Information from the internet or from books supplements their imagination.
A long-term endeavour
Each year, between 6 and 8 rooms are completely renovated. For each room, it takes on average a month and a half to complete the work, a period during which the room is taken off booking schedules.
A tailored work executed with the utmost finesse, which gives each room its uniqueness, authenticity, and ensures the conservation of the hotel's heritage.
An idea of what the next room will look like? Seagulls and butterflies have been suggested…