Amazing Grace

Hotelier Grace Léo-Andrieu

There are no chocolates left on the pillows in Grace Léo-Andrieu's hotels. "I rebel against them," says the outspoken hotelier, whose properties include Paris' Lancaster and Montalembert and the newly renovated Royal Riviera in St.-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. "I just don't want to follow everybody else."

Actually, it's vice versa. For more than 20 years, Léo-Andrieu has been the fiercely creative trendsetter responsible for some of Europe's most sophisticated small luxury hotels. Despite growing up the daughter of a hotelier in Hong Kong, she never imagined herself in this profession.

"There weren't huge expectations of me," she recalls. "In school I excelled in domestic sciences. I got high points for cooking Welsh rarebit." Léo-Andrieu later moved to the United States and attended the Cornell Hotel School. After graduating, she oversaw Warwick International Hotel's expansion into North America and Europe. "It was exciting, but definitely a sink-or-swim situation."

Clearly a swimmer, Léo-Andrieu made her name in the late '80s as the pioneer of the designer boutique hotel. The intimate 56-room Montalembert and the elegant 19th-century Lancaster were quickly hailed as the movement's quintessence. Whether fashioning classicism in the Loire Valley (Château de Noirieux), relaxed chic in St-Germain-des-Près (Bel Ami), or sexy modernism in Dublin (she served as design consultant on the Clarence, owned by the rock band U2), she says that "each property is made to measure." Like a great couture gown, the stitches remain invisible. A guest might never know, for example, that the plants growing in the Lancaster's garden are imported from five continents, forming a Zenlike oasis off the bustling Champs-Elysées. Intuitively, Léo-Andrieu weaves together periods, styles, and colors, breathing completely new energy into each space.

The exquisite Royal Riviera, with its fanciful striped awnings and circular drive, evokes F. Scott Fitzgerald's Tender Is the Night. (Its fantastical decor was inspired by nearby Villa Kerylos.)

As for what's next? Léo-Andrieu reveals little. "By now, everyone has jumped on the boutique-hotel bandwagon," she says. "I was ahead of my time, so I have to try to stay ahead."

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