David Feld On Lessons From The Finest Hotels

Design and décor lessons I’ve learned from the great hotels of the world.

Sleeping Around
Lessons I’ve learned from the finest hotels in the world.

I have always wanted to live in a grand hotel. My mother probably should not have given me all of those Eloise books. But it’s too late. I’m a hotel whore.

I have bedded down in most of the great metropolitan hotels in the world. A stay at Claridge’s in London feels like going home to Grandma’s (if she were a slightly dotty duchess); the Hassler in Rome, which has a decadent grandeur that is much like the city itself, perches atop the Spanish Steps, providing phenomenal views; at the Oriental in Bangkok, after a 27-hour flight, I was whisked through customs by the hotel management, and my laundry arrived tied with bouquets of lilac orchids. It just doesn’t get any better than that. Or so I thought.

Until recently, I had never stayed in the hotel to end all hotels, the Ritz in Paris. I had never even gone into the bar. It is not as if one might peek casually into the lobby, for it has none. Cesar Ritz, the hotel’s illustrious creator, did this to discourage “riffraff” from loitering about. It works, for it discourages almost everyone from entering, unless you have a room key waiting. I have spent more time in Paris than in any other city, so to not have passed a night at the Ritz was a sinful omission. Last year’s haute couture women’s collections provided reason to book my first stay at the Ritz, ground zero for the spring shows. At $800 a day for a simple room, it wasn’t much more expensive than any other five-star Paris hotel.

Upon my arrival, the assistant manager led me to a pair of rooms that can only be described as “haute boudoir.” Although they were small, their ceilings soared like the 18th-century palace the Ritz once was. A gilt bucket of champagne was chilling, perfect fruits were piled into a large pyramid, and two lovely flower arrangements sat on the coffee table in my tiny sitting room. The desk held a small blue-leather datebook and a stack of stationery, both bearing my initials, embossed in gold. The bed was dressed in peach Porthault linens. My luggage arrived with two cheery maids, who immediately unpacked for me. Clothes that were even slightly wrinkled were whisked away, to be returned a scant hour later, perfectly pressed and stuffed with peach tissue paper.

My marble bath, although not large, had everything anyone could need. American baths have become obsessively large these days and are often less efficient than the Ritz’s perfectly planned, albeit smaller, one. One of several medicine cabinets was stocked with helpful items I might have forgotten: a nail brush, a fresh comb, bath salts, and a bottle of the Ritz’s own  men’s cologne. There was also a thick terry cloth robe embroidered with my initials. (I was sure they were going to give it to me at checkout, but I was told that it would be stored and put out upon my return.)

The next morning, breakfast arrived with frightening speed (I’d barely hung up the phone). The china was lovely, and there was hot milk for my coffee. On my second day, and every morning thereafter, they remembered to add extra croissants and that I prefer strawberry jam. In the most curious display of attention to detail, my daily newspaper was ironed flat.

The reason people love great hotels is because they actually live better there than they do in their own homes. Which begs the question of why? While the Ritz has a staff of 600 for 200 guests, you and I do not. When I come home every evening, I don’t find a white-satin eiderdown comforter over my bed, plumped pillows, or a mass of fresh towels in my bath. Unlike the snowy robes available for purchase in the hotel gift shop, we can’t pack up our favorite Ritz fille de chambre. Still, our bedrooms and baths should be a place of sanctuary.

We check into hotels to get away, to rest, and to hide out. It takes so very little to accomplish this at home: a freshly turned-back bed, a carafe of spring water on the bedside table, a cluster of flowers in a vase in the bath. A great hotel’s soap is always good, hard milled, and sized correctly (large for the bath, small for the sink). Do likewise at home. It’s demoralizing to slip into a hot bath at the end of a long day, only to find a pathetic little crescent of worn-down Zest in the dish.

The Ritz sorts its signature peach sheets by “vintage” so that the colors all match. How many of us crawl into an unmade bed every night, with a motley variety of mismatched linens? I shudder to think. While we don’t have to be as obsessive about matching colors as the Ritz, a little attention to how the bed is dressed makes the difference between a luxurious night’s rest and a fitful one. Gather your linens up once a week and trot them off to a laundry that specializes in large piece goods, such as Sunshine Laundry on Maple Avenue. You’ll get them back pressed, folded, wrapped in brown paper, and tied with string. The only thing missing is a sprig of lilac orchids.

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