Putman's Pershing Hall

Andrée Putman's hotel design

The idea that a hotel is a 'home away from home' is completely false, even absurd," says French designer Andrée Putman. "Hotels should be like geishas. They distract and enchant you with their beauty, but they're not reality." Putman's design for the recently opened Pershing Hall, near the Champs-Elysées, embraces this philosophy with dramatic public spaces, tranquil rooms, and a fantastic garden that grows . . . well . . . up.

Whether fashioning boutiques, private residences, or restaurants, Paris-born Putman is known for her daring, innovative designs. "I longed to do a hotel in my hometown," she says, and Pershing Hall, an exquisite 19th-century townhouse with courtyard and majestic staircases, proved a perfect venue for implementing her whimsical vision. The public spaces (including an elegant, formal restaurant and a sleek lounge with mezzanine) display a bewildering fusion of patterns, textures, and shapes. Transparent glass-bead curtains throw pearls of light onto heavy wooden doors; floors flow smoothly from Italian glass-mosaic into white stone into stained oak; modern multicolor light fixtures illuminate the ceiling moldings. "I like different materials together," she explains. "The unexpected gives a space its energy."

By comparison, the 26 guestrooms, equipped with of-the-moment Bang & Olufsen TV/DVD units and unlimited Internet access, appear subdued though no less distinctive. Decorated primarily in white with warm wood paneling, they showcase some classic Putman touches, such as floor-to-ceiling mirrors, brightly lit baths, and smart sliding doors masked as mirrors or wood paneling between rooms. The furnishings, all custom designed, include square ceramic sinks, futuristic light columns, and beds with large cushioned headboards.

Pershing Hall's pièce de résistance is the so-called vertical garden that hangs over the courtyard, one reason the chic outdoor patio is usually booked for lunch. Rising six stories, this phenomenon of Asian ferns, grasses, palms—almost 250 species in all—warrants an immediate double take. "It's quite amusing," says Putman, who, with the help of botanist Patrick Blanc, turned a blank concrete wall into a completely original natural wonderland. (It's spectacular at night as well, lit by fiberoptic cables that wind beneath the foliage.) Amusing, distracting, enchanting, and not even remotely reminiscent of home. Caveat emptor: This perfect backdrop made the inconsistencies in service on a recent visit seem even more glaring. We hope that the staff—who often worked at, let's say, a rather leisurely pace for a luxury hotel—will soon become as fine-tuned as the surroundings. Rooms, $340-$900. At Rue Pierre-Charron 49; 33-1-58-36-58-00; fax 33-1-58-36-58-01; www.pershinghall.com.

Hotel prices show high-season rates from the least expensive double to the most expensive suite.