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Night at the (Contemporary Art) Museum

Stay a few days or a few months in the Rooms of Rome, a hotel that's as much art gallery as luxury residence.

A far cry from the polish and pomp of the Pantheon Iconic Rome Hotel and Hotel Eden, Rome’s newest hotel is purposefully difficult. It’s unruly, un-Instagrammable, and, on first glance, unrefined. And that’s exactly how visionary architect Jean Nouvel, who created the Rooms of Rome in collaboration with Fondazione Alda Fendi–Esperimenti, likes it. The property, which consists of 24 apartments available for stays ranging from a few days to a few months, is as much a hotel as it is an art gallery—confronting guests with the kind of boundary-breaking modern art the Fondazione has been so successful in championing.

As you might expect, the Rooms of Rome is not really designed with the average well-heeled visitor of the Eternal City in mind. Sure, it is nestled into the ancient Velabro neighborhood, a quick walk away from the Arch of Janus, Temple of Vesta, and Palatine Hill (and many rooms boast views of each). But it is also at the heart of the newly minted Palazzo Rhinoceros, a centuries-old square transformed into the immersive new headquarters for Alda Fendi’s nonprofit arts foundation.

Fendi and Nouvel have carefully restored the crumbling palazzo and carved out three floors for the residences, reserving the ground floor for flexible exhibition and performance spaces, the fourth for an outpost of the Russian-French fusion Caviar Kaspia restaurant, and the fifth for a rooftop lounge. Much of the façade has been left unchanged due to the building’s listed status, but peek into the windows or walk by at night when its exterior becomes a luminous work of art, and you’ll catch glimpses of the creativity that flourishes inside.

Each of the 24 residences, which range in size from studios to two bedrooms, is unique—featuring different layouts and designs inspired by its hundreds of years of inhabitants. Instead of scrubbing back these layers, Nouvel puts them on full display: Walls are rough, featuring exposed brick or layers of peeling paint that creates a surprisingly stylish patina, and patches of original tiles are left on the floor, accented with tiles in complimentary patterns or highlighted by smooth polished concrete. Furniture is sleek and unobtrusive—save for the floor-to-ceiling window coverings, which have been turned into large-scale art pieces that often feel like a mirror into another dimension, reflecting the room as Nouvel found it back to its current occupants (or out onto the street below when they are closed). Bathrooms, kitchens, and cabinets also serve as art pieces themselves, housed in sleek steel boxes with panels that open to reveal the room within—a shining, stark contrast to the 17th-century walls they are built into.

When guests are not out hitting the city’s arts circuit or enjoying a private guided tour of the Vatican, they can wander through the exhibitions on the first floor (some of which will be done in partnership with the Hermitage Museum). And, through a series of à la carte experiences available through the Rooms of Rome, guests will be able to assist with performances or take an art class—the ultimate way to round out a quirky, creative take on the classic Roman holiday.

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