Edouard, tell us a bit about yourself. How did Le Barn come to be?
Le Barn was the result of a lot of thought but, above all, I’d say it came from a desire. As a hotelier, I could never find a good fit when it came to an escape from Paris with my family. The choices were pretty boring: old, renovated chateaux with spas, overly elaborate restaurants… Everything seemed to me either old-fashioned or flashy, a thousand miles away from a desire for friendliness in a space that reflects our generation. It’s in this context that I met William Kriegel, a French-American entrepreneur who introduced himself by telling me he’d never become a hotelier…but who became my partner in this magnificent project. William had founded the Haras de la Cense, one of the premier places for the study of equitation and equine behaviour. He was looking for a place to host his clients. At that moment, our paths crossed. He had the land, and I had the idea. We were going to turn it into something together! Paradoxically, we weren’t looking to build a hotel around equitation.
What does the word Barn mean?
The name Barn came from a trip to Montana. William had a fabulous ranch there for raising cattle in a sustainable way. Three very impactful days made me realize that in certain places, something fundamental can sometimes be missing: sharing it with others. Words cannot describe what I felt in these places, but I had only one desire: to return with those I loved. William’s agricultural facilities are all labelled, and it was in front of the inscription “BARN A” that we found the name of our hotel.
How would you describe Le Barn’s spirit? Who’s your target audience?
Our wish was to create a space for everyone, a sort of gateway to nature, a place to share with family, friends and colleagues. A multi-purpose space.
In the Yvelines, we were on the verge of creating hotel rooms in a former hay barn - the red star of Île de France and Montana spoke the same language.
Who came up with the decor for the rooms?
It took me quite a few years to bring this project to fruition, but I think the whole process took shape when you look at what makes it so successful. Everything was guided by our lifestyle. I could make a random list of ingredients, but once again the final flavour came from the team we formed and surrounded ourselves with. A thousand details gave rhythm to our conversations. Here are a few examples: As a child, I spent a large part of the year in Martinique. Every day, we’d open the big shutters in our house, on windows that looked out over the Rocher du Diamant. From that came the idea to open most of the windows to the outside. Another day, we were discussing the choice of curtains at Le Barn. I was wearing a Barbour jacket, which doesn’t even have the right to walk through the door at home (but I love it!). I pressed it against the window and suggested that we make all our curtains like that. They’re blackout, but they still let a very soft light filter through. It’s raw…it’s Le Barn! The tiles you can see punctuating the changes of space within the sheepfold came from my grandfather’s house in Normandy. He had removed them in order to put carpeting in his room in 1978, and then stored them in the garden for 40 years. Here, they have their new place even though they gave me two months of lower back pain and ruined the shock absorbers on my car! (Laughs) Along with Antoine Ricardou, founder of the be-pôles agency, we’re passionate about sailing. So we thought about the layout of Le Barn in terms of the functionality found on boats, where space is limited. We wanted plywood so that function could take over the aesthetic aspect and because the eye appreciates the legitimacy of function even more so when it retains its appearance. Finally, the old sheepfold needed heat. Where we are today. Since the forest is a just few metres away, we naturally sought to use this resource to our advantage. The wood-burning stove is designed for heat, and I can assure you that it is extraordinarily efficient. So everything retains its beauty but, once again, it’s only a facet beyond what it was originally designed for.
And what about the place itself? What style were you looking for from the start?
There wasn’t one single thought which dominated the architecture of the space; it was the team we formed with be-poles and Daphné Charles-Le Franc, our landscaper. It’s very different. We often tend to believe that spaces work best when they have someone’s signature look. But that’s a mistake in my opinion because people come and go, but a hotel needs to resonate in a more permanent way. A well-designed project was felt from the first working meeting. We laughed so much, our eyes sparkled and our ideas were always fresh. Our personalities complemented one another’s without any one person wanting to take over, as is often the case when you’re talking about ideas. We all worked with the same end goal in mind: Le Barn.
n ideal place to go for groups of five, six or more?
For families coming with children, we came up with attached rooms with dormitories. Children will be thrilled to be together, and parents can keep an eye on everything from right next door. This makes it possible to come with cousins and friends. Once again, function led the design. Each bed is numbered in order to avoid the eternal debate over who sleeps where. There’s storage under the beds so dirty socks can be hidden away, and the bathrooms are equipped with a bathtub and shower so both children and adults can return home on Sunday night all freshened up!
Le Barn: a “Kid-friendly” hotel?
It’s a “Happy Parents” place above all! It’s all about getting together for a good time and escaping everyday life. Couples can let their children dine with other children at the hotel, in the company of young girls who supervise them in small groups. From time to time, we see a small convoy of “mini me’s” go into the restaurant to steal a kiss at the adults’ table, but most of the time, they’re extremely engaged in a good movie, a wild game of ping pong or a fight between Lucky Luke and a Marsupilami. On Saturday mornings, we organise the “good riddance”. Together again, the children can do their homework under the guidance of a specialized supervisor. An hour later, there’s only one thing left to do: have fun! Numerous activities are offered depending on the season, from treasure hunting to horseback riding, including mixology workshops or vegetable picking in our large garden. All these leisure activities allow children and parents to meet up and have a good time together. At Le Barn, we also discovered something totally crazy: the weekend doesn’t stop on Sunday at 11:00 at check-out time! Once again, we put ourselves in our guests’ shoes by not imposing a departure time so people can more fully enjoy themselves.
Tell us about your restaurant and your menu which changes daily?
For our food, we always focus on the season as well as on local suppliers. We got our vegetable garden up and running this year, which will produce more and more for the restaurant. We’re very happy to integrate these fruits and vegetables into our menu according to what’s ready for harvest. This allows us to vary the enjoyment! Every Sunday, we organise our big Sunday dinner. This is when we fire up our huge barbecues and our rotisserie to serve food that’s once again generous and friendly. Attention, The Socialite Family: beginning in October, we’ll be putting our dishes in the big leagues with the opening on Saturday evenings at the Clark so that Alexis Le Tadic, our chef, can delight our guests with a unique menu which he’s dreamt of sharing!
What’s next for you?
With this desire and this first success, Le Barn will soon be conquering new lands, without being intrusive, simply by slipping into a new natural space just as we would do under a fresh quilt. Where? It’s a surprise! But what I can tell you is that our team has only one desire: to continue to have fun and to share it!
Photography: Constance Gennari – Text: Caroline Balvay – Translation: TextMaster @thesocialitefamily