When it was established in 1972 by Air France to serve its far-flung customers, Le Méridien was a single 1,000-room hotel in the heart of Paris. Today, a number of mergers and de-mergers later, its outposts have spread across the globe, with over 100 sites everywhere from Tampa to Taipei.
The aesthetics of art and design don’t necessarily translate across the world, however—presenting Le Méridien design director Julie Frank with the challenge of balancing nuaced cultural specificity with international high style. We spoke to Frank about how she uses contemporary art to create spaces that can appeal to the distinct sensibilities of world travelers.
How did you select the works in this Artspace collection?
The selected works gave me the sort of visceral reaction that one can’t really explain. Two of the pieces—the William Kentridge and Ralph Gibson—are because I have affinity for both these artists. (Like Kentridge, I’m South African, and Gibson is one of the artists associated with the Le Méridien brand.) And, as Magritte has always been my favorite artist, the Neo-Surrealist bent of the Mark Kostabi piece resonated with me.
How could you envision displaying them in a Le Méridien hotel suite?
When we choose art for the hotels, we ensure that it’s related to the city where the hotel is located, and that it supports the brand’s passion points. We want the selected artwork and the property to be empathetic, with the piece inspired by its context and location.
What kind of art is best suited to create the desired effect?
I would say art where the content isn’t too literal and entails some sense of discovery.
How is the decorating approach for a hotel suite different from that of a domestic space?
I think that this gap is actually closing as we strive more and more to make our hotel spaces feel residential, like the “best version” of home. Obviously, with hotels, we have to be more conservative in our choices than we could be in a domestic space. But engaging the guest with the design selection is the key consideration. We want the art to feel accessible and inspirational, something that our guests would want to have in their own homes. As a brand, our mission is to “unlock the destination,” and the artwork is chosen to deliver on this promise.
Do you prefer figurative or abstract art for the highest-end spaces?
Personally I prefer abstract. It compels the guest to engage with the piece and allows for discovery and a new perspective.
What are challenges of choosing art for these deluxe environments?
Art is subjective, so the challenge is finding works that are accessible to everybody experiencing them. Designing a hotel entails many voices in the selection of all items. Between the owners, operators, and designers, there is a wide span of ideas about what constitutes good art and aesthetic value. We have to listen to differing opinions, all the while keeping in mind that the end goal is engaging the guest. Adding and maintaining a consistent Le Méridien brand makes it, at times, one of the more polarizing phases of a project.
How would you go about choosing works for the presidential suite, the toniest room in any Le Méridien?
We would definitely draw on the context, and if we can find a local artist too that’s a double win. It’s about finding the right pieces that complement the design, create interest, and feel integral to the spaces they are in. The right art piece is an integral part of the overall experience of the space.
How should art be incorporated with décor—as in furnishing and design objects—in a hotel room?
All elements should work together to make a coherent design scheme. We extend our definition of artwork beyond the conventional notion to entail other elements, such as custom graphic patterns. All these elements work together to transform a normal design scheme into a Le Méridien design scheme.
How can artwork set the tone for the room? Is a work of art ever the starting point for a room design, or is it always the coda? Do you have any specific examples?
It can be the point of departure, but it really depends on how the design evolves. I think of one our other brands at the St. Regis in New York. The mural at the King Cole Bar is both iconic and the jumping off point for the rest of the space. But there is no set route for design—each project is unique.