Expect your sense of vision to go into overdrive when you enter the new Parisian quarters of Maison Baccarat. The imposing hôtel particulier, located a short sprint from the George V hotel on a quiet block in the 16th arrondissement (11 Place des Etats-Unis), used to belong to Parisian social butterflies and arts patrons Charles and Marie-Laure de Noailles. The fashionable couple kept pre–World War II gossip columns fueled with the goings-on at their salons, which were frequented by their close friends Salvador Dali, Man Ray, Jean Cocteau, and Luis Buñuel.
Not surprisingly, Philippe Starck, the prolific designer entrusted with the renovation of the 6,000-square-foot multipurpose space, tapped into the building’s former surrealist energy. The result is a shimmering crystal palace that is part Alice in Wonderland and part Beauty and the Beast: a crystal chandelier plunged into a large glass aquarium in the foyer, a hallway lined with giant mirrors leading to a main staircase illuminated by fiber optics, two femmes fatales parsing poetry holographed onto huge crystal urns.
Starck, who was given carte blanche, put the skilled Baccarat artisans through their paces. Among the pieces they created are 900-pound crystal columns and a magnificent 42-foot-long crystal boutique table, which can be custom ordered and scaled down to a more useful size. In fact, there are plenty of opportunities to part with money, from crystal chopsticks for s23 ($27) to a candelabra for s88,500 ($105,000).
A salon on the first floor is devoted to the new line of jewelry; another to the latest in chandeliers. The VIP room is intended for discreet purchases. While the first floor is a fantasy romp for design hounds, the meat and potatoes for the Baccarat buff is upstairs in the museum rooms. Here are rare pieces from Baccarat’s historical collection: Czar Nicholas II’s custom-ordered giant candelabra stands next to crystal thrones created for India’s maharajas. Precious accessories, such as the dessert plates made for Coco Chanel with etchings of delicate seamstress scissors, are kept behind glass cabinets. Huge, colorful modern canvas murals covering the walls in one of the galleries conceal original shagreen walls, remnants from the luxe de Noailles days. Try to sneak a peek, if the guards let you.
If the visual bombardment has produced sensory overload, then head to the Cristal Room restaurant, the city’s latest rendezvous, where dinner reservations are booked three months in advance. Chef Thierry Burlot’s cuisine is extraordinary yet simple, and the boudoir-like rooms of pink fabric against earthy brick resemble a cameo brooch. Dominating a private dining room is a jet-black crystal chandelier that twinkles in the crystal candelabra candlelight. The room is a shining example of Starck’s ability to nod to the absurd without going overboard.