For years now, I have been dreaming of one day having my own little Bed & Breakfast in Provence, surrounded by history, nature and art. Not sure if it will ever happen but I will always keep dreaming! But if I never get to have my own place, I know that there is at least one that embodies my fantasy to almost a tee – La Maison du Frêne. This B&B is a jewel tucked away in the small and whimsical village of Vence, where Matisse lived and painted!
It’s rare to find hotels where luxury and comfort fuse together in a natural, unique and accessible way. Entering La Maison du Frêne is like entering an art gallery where new and old co-habit tastefully. In a world where chained-brands, fast food and fast fashion have become the norm, it’s so exciting and gratifying to find an untapped treasure. The surroundings of the hotel are beautiful with an old museum across and the valley to the left. The building is very normal looking so imagine our surprise when upon entering the building we got greeted by no other than Jeff Koons and Arman! From then on it was just one discovery after another – sculptures from Hockney, Gilbert and George, hundreds of Hermes ties bundled together in a frame, winks to Andy Warhol and Picasso, just to name a few. Honestly trying to describe every detail won’t do it justice. You just have to see it with your own eyes.
There are 4 suites, each with a different theme and original collection of art. Ours was Suite La Chapelle, the most romantic suite of the hotel, overlooking the famous ash tree of Vence!
From the moment I met Thierry and Guy I knew I was at the right place! Thierry is the Brand while Guy is more reserved.
Thierry, Hair Dresser to celebrities in the likes of Yves Saint Laurent, Madame Betancourt, Stella McCartney, Catherine Deneuve (just to name a few) and Guy, General Director to Sofitel, retired in 2003 and moved back to Provence to begin their new chapter. Thierry sold his successful Carita salon in Paris and bought this building without any specific idea or strategy – they didn’t want a hotel or a ‘hosting house’ (Thierry despises them!). They both new that they wanted a boutique hotel to share their taste and passion with interesting and inquisitive people like them. After one year of renovation, Thierry opened La Maison du Frêne while Guy was still in Paris. He was told by everyone that his business plan would never work because he doesn’t have a pool. But Thierry hates backyards and pools! He wanted to be on the street side, he wanted Art (he’s a big art collector), he wanted something different.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
I don’t! I like something, I buy it immediately and mix it with everything else, then we just see if it works or not. I buy pieces everywhere I go – US, Asia, Europe, everywhere. I can’t stand it when everything matches, like in fashion where the shoes and purse have to match with the belt, etc.. I like eclectic. I love to go to bazaars. I’m not Zen! I love colors and abundance.
Who are your clients? How do you find them?
They are foreigners for the vast majority. In the beginning I used to turn down people all the time because I didn’t like any of them! It was always empty! I just didn’t feel it. I didn’t want to share my things with people I didn’t like. We have a museum right across and in the summer time, I would always leave the windows open and people would look inside thinking it was an art gallery. One day I started getting a lot of English guests but I didn’t understand why. They told me that La Maison du Frêne was all over the British newspapers (Time, Herald …). I was all over the UK because journalists who came started writing about us. From then on, it kept growing organically.
Do you still turn down guests?
Not so much anymore but we made our site a bit complicated to only attract like-minded people. Today I still turn some people down if I don’t like the way they sound on the phone for example. It’s about a feeling, the instinct.
We never wanted a main entrance for instance because we would become too obvious.
We want our guests to feel at home and comfortable. They have an entry code and can come and go as they please. Some of our guests come back every year. We eat together and hang out. The hardest part is to charge them because we get attached to them – makes it a bit complicated because we have to generate money in the end.
Have you ever had any problems with any of your guests?
NEVER! Once I thought one of my clocks had been stolen but I found it 2 weeks later tucked away in a dresser, probably because it was too loud! No one has ever stolen or broken anything. I don’t even think about it! Our clients are like us, exactly how I wanted it.
I’m sure you have inspired a lot of people!
I get calls all the time asking me for decorating advice. But I tell people to let their imagination lead the way and not to be nervous. It’s hard to give advice on something that is so personal.
How many pairs of glasses do you have? You’ve had a new pair every day so far!
I don’t count anymore! I’m known for my glasses! I’ve been buying them from the same store in NY for years now. They just send them to me when they get something they know I will like. I’m obsessed with that store! A lot of celebrities go there because it’s so special. It’s called Moscot and they’ve been in business since 1915. Some of their glasses date from 1920, 1930!
Thank you Thierry and Guy for opening the doors to your sanctuary to us! We cannot wait to come back.
As you have probably guessed Thierry has very strong opinions and isn’t shy about sharing them. That is probably one of the keys to his success. He stays true to himself no matter what others may think of him.
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