It’s known for its A-list of world-famous guests – Madonna, anyone? – and its legendary decoration, where every antique that fills the hotel’s 60 individualized guestrooms and halls was personally chosen on world travels by the owner, Lucien Rémillard. Hotel Le St-James and its gourmet restaurant, XO, are where the everyman goes for special occasions and where the fabulous calls their home away from home. We caught up with Elizabeth Glimenacki, who oversaw the historic Old Montreal property’s conversion into a luxury hotel…
What was the overall vision for the St-James? When the building was purchased by Lucien Rémillard in the late 1990s, the intent was to keep the original heritage of the building while making it a five-star hotel. Everything in the eyes of the owner was toward luxury, toward creating the perfect five-star experience.
The building itself has such presence – because when you come in, you can feel it’s grandiose right away. It was originally the Merchant’s Bank, built in the 1870s, and it was merged with a Banque de Montréal, and in 1929 it became the Nesbitt-Thompson office building, until the late 1990s, when they grew out of it. Mr. Rémillard transformed this historic property into a hotel: he added a whole floor; the penthouse was non-existent. The parts of the building that were kept were the heritage floors, original wood panelling and wood floors, the ceilings, the moulding, and the fortification wall that runs through the spa and the gym. It’s actually quite exceptional, you see a lot of history in this building.
What distinguishes the design of the guestrooms? Mr. Rémillard spent three years travelling around the world with his designer, Jacques Bouchard, just picking up furnishings. Every chandelier, every couch, every piece of furniture is individually selected for the specific room it’s in. The design flavour is very eclectic – even though we have very old school elements in the architecture, every room is decorated individually, so you might have a modern piece mixed with an 18th century antique.
We have all the trinkets, toys and technology you can imagine – you can light your room, control the heat and turn music on with your telephone. It’s a real crossroads of history and today. We cater to a five-star clientele, and we’re known for having all the superstars and famous people stay with us, because we offer that level of luxury where they’re comfortable.
What was the approach for the common spaces? We wanted guests to feel like they’re in a private little chateau in Europe. When you check in you’re presented with a brass key with a red tassel made in Italy; it’s a very European, cozy type of feel. Even though we’re small, it feels like a palace. The wood, the marble, the history is immediately palpable when you walk in. That’s what we tried to emphasize with the design. Then the contemporary looking restaurant just past reception creates a contrast; it was designed three years ago by Allyson Wood. It’s all in burgundy and silver, with red leather chairs from France, sculptures, paintings – and a modern looking bar area. It’s very inviting for a wide-ranging public.
What’s your favourite spot in the hotel? My favourite room is probably the penthouse, just because it’s over-the-top fabuloso. It’s 5,000 square feet, you have a full wraparound porch from which you can see the whole city – and every room in the suite has its own balcony access. Just in terms of quality, of the flooring, of the stone, of the marble, it’s really exceptional. It’s a more traditional, classic design, with surprising elements – like the kitchen cabinets are all red, there are modern art works, in the living room there’s a big contemporary leather sofa. But it all works together.
What’s the first thing you’d recommend that visitors to Montreal do? Go up the mountain, and look at the city from up there – it’s so soothing and such a beautiful view. Especially at night.
Hotel Le St-James, 355 rue Saint-Jacques, (514) 841-3111
Montréal Sweet Deal Package available at http://www.tourisme-montreal.org/Offers/Fall