Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Guest House from Another Galaxy; TRAVEL

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Guest House from Another Galaxy; TRAVEL

Article excerpt

Byline: CHRIS MUGAN

A new retreat along Nice's Promenade des Anglais has redefined the boutique hotel

ONCE associated with a certain conservatism, Nice has hipped itself up in recent years as Parisians, fedup with the high cost of capital living, have migrated south for warmer weather and a slower pace. By day, huskies drag their Rollerblading owners to the cafes that face the flower market in Cours Saleya.

When night falls, new bars such as Bay Cafe, its design as calming as a Zen temple, and the opulent Before, vie for custom with expat pubs.

None have the impact of Nice's latest lodgings: the 38-room Hi Hotel.

Unveiled at the beginning of April, it could be a guest house from another galaxy among the stuffy palaces that line the Promenade des Anglais.

Set to rewrite the boutiquehotel rule book, Hi is the product of Paris duo Philippe Chapelet and Patrick Elouarghi - former owners of a gourmet grocery store and a Loire Valley chateau.

Last year they bought the then rundown hotel, situated minutes from the beach, recruiting Paris-based product and furniture designer Matali Crasset to let her imagination run wild within. Famous in design circles for making seats from laundry bags, Crasset wowed visitors to the V&A with her exhibition Unpacking Design last month.

"We asked Matali to surprise us," recalls Chapelet. " Normally the journey ends when you reach the hotel, but we wanted it to continue."

Surprise is an understatement when you arrive.

Instead of fussy porters, one calmly conscientious staff member - dressed simply in black, sitting behind a tiny table rather than an imposing desk - occupies the foyer. Finished in stark concrete, it is offset by Crasset's citrus-coloured chairs, as if a nine-year-old had run riot in Dr No's lair.

These show playfulness, but also her belief that good design should be used rather than simply admired. Sharp angles allow the chairs to slot together for a private tetetete, with arms in which to rest laptops. "We want the feel to be more like a guest house," says Chapelet, without irony.

Ambient music washes through public spaces - accessed by staff from a vast database of tunes from pioneering dance label Fcomm.

Hi's owners have made a unique and exclusive deal with the French record company to supply CDs for the rooms and sounds for the basement bar.

Hi's foyer leads to a balcony from where you gaze down into this space and view Crasset's extraordinary basket-like construction that forms an intimate alcove.

Radically, there is no restaurant - the bar serves delicatessen-style snacks in Thainoodles mode, prepared locally by top caterers Hediard.

Waiters are on hand until midnight, when food becomes self-service, while a word with the night-duty staff ensures access to the drinks cabinet. …

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