Assouline Libraryat Hotel Café Royal
“I try to find the common thread in the geometric patterns of each library,” Alex Assouline explains. “Once I have discovered this, I can begin to play and find ways to disrupt the environment with the varied, vibrant colours of our titles.”
The curving white stone colonnades of Regent Street sweep into Piccadilly Circus. Through an archway and onto Air Street lies the entrance to Hotel Café Royal. Inside the newly refurbished lobby an ethereal column of glass and light, a bespoke Murano chandelier, hangs from the ornate ceiling. Behind this, on either side of the main desk, wide shelves display brightly covered books by luxury publishers Assouline, whose flagship store, Maison Assouline, is located just across Piccadilly. Arm chairs, low coffee tables, rugs and intricately decorated screens are gathered around the shelves, forming calm, secluded reading spaces, which feel more than just a few metres from the clamour of Piccadilly Circus. Across the lobby a long reading area leads to a café, where the book collection continues. Weighty, beautifully crafted hardback titles on Asian art, Queen Elizabeth II, Panama hats, watch design, Ibiza style, Mughal emperors, Havana cigars, and Axel Vervoordt follow one another in quick succession.
Hotel Café Royal’s library was created in collaboration with Alex Assouline, the Vice President of Assouline – and son of founders Prosper and Martine – who has carved his niche in the family business by creating bespoke libraries for hotels, stores and living spaces, including Tiffany & Co’s flagship Fifth Avenue store in New York. “I try to find the common thread in the geometric patterns of each library,” Assouline explains. “Once I have discovered this, I can begin to play and find ways to disrupt the environment with the varied, vibrant colours of our titles.”
Deeply inspired by the interiors of Maison Assouline and his parents’ house in Paris, Alex Assouline designed his first library as a commission for a friend, but steadily, the process grew into a structured part of the Assouline business, called Curated Libraries. Like the Maison Assouline flagship store, his libraries encompass accessories such as candles, leather book sleeves, exotic curiosities and other objects. “Upon entering one of my libraries, I want people to feel instantly inspired,” says Assouline. “I want them to not only enjoy the aesthetics and beauty of the library, but to also feel comfortable there; able to discover new perspectives through the captivating images and text within our books.”
Hotel Café Royal’s distinct heritage informed the book selection, and continues to do so, with titles rotating on a weekly basis. A distinguished café and meeting spot since 1865, and once considered the finest wine cellar in London, the tables of Café Royal have been consistently frequented by royals, prime ministers, artists, writers, musicians and film stars throughout its history, right up to its modern iteration as a grand hotel. Today, on the walls of the café, a photograph of David Bowie, Mick Jagger and Lou Reed, deep in conversation around one of its tables, hangs next to portraits of patrons Oscar Wilde and Virginia Woolf. “We have always been a place where great minds would convene, converse and celebrate,” Lucy Wheeler, Creative Manager at Hotel Café Royal, explains. “We wanted the new library to express this creative heritage, so we worked very closely with Alex Assouline when selecting the books and chose to represent the seven arts – film, photography, gastronomy, literature, dance, sculpture and music.”
“I’ve grown up surrounded by these books,” says Alex of the rows of volumes, lit from behind in their grid-like spaces within the shelves. “They’re woven into the fabric of my life.” Now, they weave through the stay of each guest at Hotel Café Royal, and into the fabric of this unexpectedly quiet, contemplative corner of London.