Hotel Jules, Paris
The Hotel Jules sits, somewhat anonymously within the Grands Boulevards of the 9th arrondissement, a short stroll from the Gare du Nord on the busy rue La Fayette. This mainly commercial area is one of Paris's rather less charming districts – somewhere between Oxford Street and Midtown Manhattan – caught between the grandeur of Opéra and the edgier inclines of Pigalle and Montmartre.
Typical of its location, the Jules is in a Haussmannian building – a plain stone façade, six nondescript floors and unified with its neighbours. It's fair to say, though, that its interior goes beyond anything Haussmann could have predicted; be prepared for a cacophony of colours and styles as soon as you step inside.
In the last year the hotel has been extensively modernised to look – if the contradiction is not too great – more vintage. New buyers employed design hotel-pioneer and president of Paris-based GLA Hotels, Grace Leo, to recreate Hotel Jules from the inside out. She changed it from a functional stopover, slightly frayed at the edges, to a contemporary and stylish place to stay.
Her mission was to "step outside the constraints of fashion", avoid the popular deco hotel style, and mix and match design ideas. It starts with the black-and-white chequered carpet straight from the Sixties that blasts its way from the entrance through the lobby towards the reception desk. Then there's an assortment of eclectic furniture – a rocking chair, leather stools, tables with brightly coloured lacquered tops – in between. Everything is lit by disc-shaped lights hanging from the ceiling which are (or so the promotional literature explains) reminiscent of Camembert cheese. It's an inspiration that was lost on this particular guest, but it says something about the spirit of fun that imbues Hotel Jules.
The style is too diverse to be pretentious, and the amalgamation of eras – with influences from the Fifties to the Seventies – makes it clear that Grace Leo had a bit of fun putting it all together. Her designers certainly weren't going for understated, as the giant floor lamp dwarfing the receptionist confirms. (The receptionist, incidentally, stands behind a desk constructed of a collection of materials in black and white that resemble travelling trunks. You get the idea.)
There isn't a restaurant, although there is a breakfast room in the basement. At the other end of the day, though, it's worth stopping for an aperitif in the bar upstairs. You'll share the space with a full-size stuffed peacock, green feathers thrusting towards the floor, eyes gazing outside. And while the bright liquid-filled decanters adorning the 1950s-style bar are a little alarming, they epitomise what Hotel Jules is all about: they are antiques, but what fills them is a bit of modern-day fun.
St-Germain might be well-heeled and Montmartre romantic, but Hotel Jules is emphatically in the most central location in town and is a very handy 10-minute walk from the Eurostar terminal at the Gare du Nord. South is the Louvre, St-Germain and the boutiques of the Marais; boho Pigalle and Montmartre are uphill to the north; and west is the chic Champs-Elysées. Also, the city's best department stores – Printemps and Galeries Lafayette are on the doorstep, so you have but steps to transport your shopping bags back to your bedroom.
The six floors of 101 rooms span standard to superior via deluxe, with six additional junior suites. Three quarters have been refurbished to date (they're aiming to finish the rest by the end of the year) so make sure to ask for a "modern contemporary" room when booking.
On the wall of most rooms hang the signature lips of Hotel Jules, but other than that the bedrooms are toned-down versions of the décor downstairs. It's all pretty easy on the eye, from the stylish wicker chairs to the clean lines of the vanity table with its three-part mirror.
We were in a deluxe room, which had a very comfortable double bed, a sofa that doubled up as a single bed (superior rooms have a spare roll-away bed), a roomy walk-in shower and doors that opened up onto a balcony overlooking the busy boulevard below. The walls were a subtle eggshell blue, and decorative flourishes were confined to accessories – the bathroom mirror encased in a leather roll-down travel-bag attached to the wall, a crumpled wastepaper bin and an oversized table lamp.
Hotel Jules 49-51 rue La Fayette, Paris, France (00 33 1 42 85 05 44; hoteljules.com)
Double rooms start at €150; Continental breakfast costs an extra €14 per person.