Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Illustrious Style of Ritz

the original Ritz on Place Vendome in Paris, opened in 1898; photo by Vlastula; wikipedia

classic old Ritz Hotels usually decorated with a lot of royal blue, seen here on an embroidered towel, it manages to look both elegant and crisply clean
for the Ritz Hotel in Paris and London, Cesar Ritz specified silver serving pieces such as trays, wine buckets, vases, tea and coffee services featured the classic, simple, Louis XVI reed and ribbon motif; many of these pieces by Christofle are still in use after 100 years
this Royal Doulton teacup is of the special pattern used by the Ritz, London; it features the classic Louis XVI reed and ribbon with garland motif

Louis XVI furniture, often with wood inlay, has been used at the classic Ritz Hotels in Paris, Madrid, and London

a typical piece of Louis XVI revival furniture with fluted, column-like legs, and painted wood finish

Sevres inspired porcelain emphasises the French 18th century style that Cesar Ritz himself selected for Ritz Hotels in Paris, London, and Madrid; this piece was originally intended as a milk bucket at the dairy of Marie Antoinette, in modern times it is used as a planter or wine cooler
most Ritz logos in some way incorporate a regal lion in their logo; this one is from the Ritz-Carlton (not affiliated with the American chain owned by Mariott) in Montreal
the most important piece of furniture in a hotel room is the bed; great classic French hotels and Ritz Hotels inevitably have a canework or upholstered headboard in the Louis XVI taste

a metal key fob from the old Ritz-Carlton in Boston features the head of a lion and crown
vintage table linens from Ritz Hotels featured emblems and crests reminiscent of those of French nobility, note the crown and fleurs-de-lis

the gracious arcade of the two story lobby in the King Edward Hotel, Toronto; this Beaux-Arts treasure is closest in style to classic Ritz Hotels as created by Cesar Ritz 100 years ago classical limestone detailing of the King Edward Hotel, Toronto
superb plaster mouldings, architectural details, and scagliola enrich the interior of the King Edward in a classic style comparable to what is seen in classic old Ritz-Carlton Hotels in cities like Boston and Montreal

Toronto is a city of over 5 million people, and it has many excellent cultural and recreational amenities. It has however lacked the accommodation that prestige, five star hotels offer. I was excited to learn that a Ritz-Carlton Hotel was opening in Toronto. I have always been intrigued by the story of Cesar Ritz and the creation of his deluxe hotels and their superb restaurants and cuisine. In preparation for my upcoming article about the Ritz-Carlton in Toronto, I will briefly examine what sets a classic Ritz Hotel apart from other hotels.

Cesar Ritz had particular requirements and directives with regards to service, amenities, decor, hygiene, and cuisine. He started humbly, born in the mountains of Switzerland, and through hard work, luck, fortuitous circumstances, perseverance, superb taste, and a knack for seeing excellence in others to help him, created hotels that became synonymous with luxury. The classic Ritz Hotel, unadulterated by ever expanding modern chains, still exists in Paris, London, and Madrid. The Ritz style is present in great hotels in cities around the globe. It can be seen in the Four Seasons in Hamburg, the Plaza Athenee in Paris, the Villa D'Este in Italy, the St. Regis in New York, and many others illustrious and historic hotels.

What makes a classic Ritz Hotel? It must have the finest chef, and for it to be Ritz there should be at least a fleeting reference to classical French haute cuisine in the menu. During the Belle epoch/Edwardian period, it became socially acceptable for the upper classes, especially women, to eat out, and Ritz cuisine had an outstanding reputation for excellence.

The classic Ritz Hotel has a distinct, prescribed style. Cesar Ritz himself chose the Louis XVI style (sometimes used in transition from Louis XV; there were also accents of Directoire), and every detail of his first Ritz Hotels, both interior decor and exterior architecture, down to light switches, table accoutrements, was a circa 1910 interpretation of this elegant style. The simple, light lines of neo Louis XVI were a refreshing change from the heavy, dark, ponderous furniture of Second Empire, Louis Phillipe, and the Victorian style.

Ritz's rooms were among the very first to include en suite bathrooms as well as new technology such as telephones. There were transoms over doors of high ceilinged rooms to allow microbe inhibiting ventilation in a time when there was anxiety with regard to tuberculosis and other infectious diseases. Upholstery and furnishing fabrics and curtains were washable, and much simpler than those of the Second Empire and Victorian styles just preceding. Cesar Ritz chose the very best chefs, waiters, someliers and service people, often persuading them to leave other establishments where they had already proven themselves. Essentially, a Ritz Hotel was one that was of French decor, impeccably clean, and with faultless 5 star cuisine and service. The trademark of the hotel was a heraldic lion and a crown, with connotations of history and nobility.

Being in a classic Ritz Hotel is somewhat like being in an impeccably run palace. It is a bit of an escapist fantasy in the 21st century. That this style has endured and still exists and is admired and respected over a century later, and in spite of great changes in the world, is a testament to the genius of Cesar Ritz.

all photos, unless specified, by SwF


  1. Thanks for the thorough history of the Ritz, and your beautiful photographs - looks like a memorable stay.

    The interesting thing about attention to detail is that the people who are not conscious of it in its individual aspects, nonetheless recognize it in the overall results. That's why "it's all in the details!"

  2. Mr SWF, we can always rely on you for wonderfully fully informative and illustrated posts.

    Many years ago when I was a young antipodean pioneer in Paris for the first time, I vowed that the Ritz in Paris was somewhere I would have to go and walk through the lobby. When I got there I was so nervous and excited about being in front of the Ritz, that I could not bring myself to go in. I thought somehow it would destroy the dream that I had. Even though I have now been to Paris many times, I will still walk by the Ritz but will never go in.

  3. Mark, you are so right about attention to details. I also believe that, "The whole is greater than the sum of its parts." The older I get the more appreciation I have for things that seem rather dull or even incorrect, but are unquestionably the right accent in a composition of many different details.

  4. Dear David,

    Glad to hear you're back and your vacation in the east sounds like it was fantastic.

    The next time you are in Paris you must visit the Ritz, it is an amazing experience. I will admit it is somewhat intimidating, but they have this aspect of exclusivity to keep out the throngs of beastly tourists who are gawking.

    When you go, 1)look neat and avoid cameras, backpacks, athletic shoes, and shorts. A trim pair of slacks and a crisp shirt are satisfactory. 2)Adopt a blase aspect and don't look at the surroundings; walk in like you've done so many times 3) they may stop to ask you if you want help i.e., Why are you here? Just say you are in to make a reservation at the terrace, restaurant, or pick something up in their little boutique. It is very simple. Once in, you can wander rather undisturbed, and admire this wonderful hotel. You'll be very glad you went in.

    If you still feel a little intimidated, The George V or the Plaza Athenee are just as impressive, but don't seem to have the "invisible barrier."