Some days ago, Christian Liaigre, a master of interior design who left an indelible mark on contemporary design, passed away. Therefore, I decided to give an overview of his projects, without claiming to have fully treated the topic, just a point of view on the work of one of the most interesting interior architects of the last 30 years. It is not easy to explain why his projects were so special, especially when seen from 2020. However, if we take a step back and go back to 1990, everything becomes clearer.
Hotel Montalembert: a boutique hotel in Paris
In 1988, Christian Liaigre designed the Hotel Montalembert in Paris. The first boutique hotel on the Rive Gauche, Paris, Hotel Montalembert represents an important chapter in the history of interior architecture between 1980 and 1990. Although public spaces were not the most important part of his work (or perhaps because of that), Liaigre left an important mark on hotels.
What was so special about the interiors of Hotel Montalembert, then? They simply redefined a new idea of simplicity in design. After all, we were fresh out the Eighties, so exuberant and colorful in fashion, and even in interior architecture in some way. Well, perhaps not so colorful – Memphis aside – but not with that idea of sophisticated sobriety conveyed by Christian Liaigre’s projects.
Already in the project for Hotel Montalembert he showed his ability to combine different sources of inspiration and transform them into an immediately recognizable style. At the end of the Eighties, neither boutique hotels nor hotels with “home-like” interior design were so popular. Moreover, the overall impression consisted in extremely simple shapes that let materials define the surfaces. (Today Hotel Montalembert is no longer as it was in the 1990 project, as it has already undergone other interventions and some by Liaigre himself).
Christian Liaigre drew his inspiration from the tradition of French craftsmen, cabinetmakers and smiths of precious metals. Quite distant from the conceptual minimalism of other architects of the 1990s, the spaces designed by Liaigre were neither empty nor white. On the contrary, his in-depth search on materials allowed him to create a different environment every time, in line with the different philosophy it had to reflect.
The Mercer Hotel: home away from home
This was also the case for The Mercer Hotel in New York, the hotel that made André Balazs famous (who relaunched the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles and launched The Standard Hotel in several cities) and was a turning point for the hospitality sector worldwide. And the hotel that, also thanks to Christian Liaigre’s design, became an international icon. We have to keep in mind that The Mercer opened in the second half of the nineties. Until then, there was no “hotel cult” like today. And there was not this expensive and exclusive model of hotel with small rooms in a cast-iron building in SoHo. Liaigre added to this picture sober furniture and finishes in natural colors and materials, neutral plasters, and woods of different colors depending on the space.
More recently, Liaigre decorated other hotels in New York: the Edition Hotel and the Public Hotel, owned by Ian Schrager (also owner of Royalton, Paramount, Gramercy Park).
Discover the Public Hotel and other hotels in New York here
In the meanwhile, Christian Liaigre designed countless private homes. Among them, a large apartment for Rupert Murdoch, who wanted an apartment “like The Mercer Hotel” (as Liaigre said). Actually, the apartment was very big and there was something of the spirit of The Mercer, which was not the spirit of the Mercer but Liaigre’s design, able to interpret spaces depending on the client and the place.
That’s why his interiors are always different, depending on the clients’ personality and the location. Because the Hamptons are the Hamptons, New York is New York, Paris is Paris, and son on. And all his projects shared a simplicity curated down to the last detail, a material research ranging from local woods to bronze, up to fine marbles, a palette including endless shades of neutral colors.
Christian Liaigre: the luxury of simplicity
In Liagre’s projects, simplicity and essentiality do not mean minimalism. The right word may be essentiality. An essentiality built on the French tradition of interior decoration, reinterpreted with contemporary elements, influenced by Japanese precision and the light of the tropics. In this way, essentiality became a new version of luxury, which gradually became a new standard for interior architecture in the years to come. It would have been nice to see Liaigre at work in 10 years, to see how his work would evolve. Unfortunately, it will not be possible. [Roberta Mutti]