THE BLOG

Of Chairs and Celebrities: The Hotel Fasano in Rio

09/16/2013 07:59 am ET | Updated Nov 16, 2013
  • Karin Badt Associate Professor of Cinema and Theater in Paris

There is something very cool about swimming in an infinity pool merging with the Rio de Janeiro coast, with the two peaks of the Dois Irmãos mountain glowing in the horizon, knowing that Madonna, Will Smith, Beyonce, Lionel Ritchie, Megan Fox, and Lady Gaga dipped in the same waters or had a drink at the sunken onyx bar.

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But the reason I came to stay at the Hotel Fasano, in Ipanema, was not stars, but chairs.

A few years back, when I visited Rio de Janeiro for the first time, I stopped by the Hotel Fasano, intrigued by its emergent world-class reputation (it had just opened in 2007), and was struck in the lobby by a chair.

"Wow," I said, staring at the slung-low leather chair, with ropes as arms. So sumptuously elegant, I could not help but sit down at once.

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"It's a Jangada Chair by Jean Gillon," the manager told me--and then kindly gave me a tour of the other chairs in the hotel.

The Zanotta Design chair in the hallway.

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The Sergio Rodrigues chair in the suite.

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And my favorite (after the Jangada chair): the "Mamma" chair, designed by Gaetano Pesce. A red balloon of a chair that could only be outdone by an exhibit in the Pompidou Center.

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That is what amazed me about this hotel: the first I have ever seen that has design worthy of a contemporary art exhibit, and yet exudes a feeling of comfort.

You just want to sit down.

I found out later that the hotel was designed by the celebrated French contemporary designer Philippe Starck, both inside and out.

For the other startling part of this hotel are the corridors.

They are not corridors, but triangles. You get off the elevator, and you are surprised by a triangular room of wood. You do not see any doors. You just feel the comfort of being inside a beautiful wooden triangular chalet, with no seams to be seen.

It even smells like wood: rich, deep, like a forest.

In fact, it took me a minute--back now in the Fasano, this time to stay for the weekend --to figure out how to find my room. As entertaining as being a child with a puzzle for the first time. I looked down at the floor finally, and found my number inscribed on a plaque.

The room was as elegant and homey as I last remembered: with the ear-shaped mirror (also designed by Philippe Starck), the Sergio Rodrigues chair with the foot rest, and out on the deck two more cool wooden chairs and a funny sunken end-table.

The low-lit lights, made of yellow onyx, adding drips of gold to the room were designed by Mr. Philippe Starck as well. As were the long curtains used to separate living areas, such as the bedroom from the salon, or the lobby from the reception. The curtains flowing with the ocean breezes gave an intimate look to the spaces, a sense of glamorous privacy.

Curtains, it turns out, are a Philippe Starck trademark.

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But the chairs, I learned, were all Mr. Fasano's idea.

"Philippe Starck had already begun designing this hotel when I stepped in on the project," owner Rogerio Fasano affably told me by phone from Sao Paulo, later that day while I was having lunch in one of his restaurants, "Gero" (named after him).

"I told Starck I wanted it to be a mix. A mix of design and Brazil. I wanted a Bossa Nova look, a comfortable place that reminds us of Rio de Janeiro of the 1960s, the architectural heyday of Oscar Niemeyer and all. So we collaborated and brainstormed together."

Fasano knew exactly the chairs he wanted, from his own passion for design, and found some of the originals in antique stores in Brazil, the last ones to exist.

It was Fasano's idea to make the corridors all wood. And likewise his idea to design the downstairs bar with 1960s old leather sofas and dark brick walls, with his own childhood vinyl record collection framed on the walls, including the actual discs.

Perhaps this is why I like the hotel so much. You feel the personal touch of a collector, along with the cool chic of a high-class hotel.

Back up at the rooftop pool, I sat down to sip some Clericot, a glass of fruit and white wine, and who passed by but Mr. Fasano's daughter, Anna, here visiting her boyfriend for the weekend.

The adorably calm young woman, very fashionably dressed in white casual cotton (she is a blogger on fashion), with a very cool tattoo on her sandalled foot, kindly shared with me the story of her family, the Fasanos of Sao Paulo, and how this hotel came to be.

It all began with a coxinha, a fried chicken Brazilian specialty, back in the early 1900s.

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Her Italian great-great grandfather Vittorio Fasano opened a popular restaurant, that became reputed to have the best coxinha in town. A few generations later, her grandfather expanded the business into several restaurants. The family enterprise then became so successful that he called his eighteen year old son Rogerio, studying cinema in London at the time, to come back and help.

"My father changed the restaurant from something popular to something high-end," Anna calmly explained, with a smile. "And got the idea to launch a Fasano hotel in Sao Paulo."

Now there are four Fasano hotels (including one in Uruguay), and seventeen restaurants, including the one I went to that day for lunch.

The manager of Gero's restaurant in Rio was one of the happiest managers I have ever met. With a wink, the well-dressed young man (everyone who works with the Fasanos seems vibrantly young) whisked me downstairs to the kitchen to show me the hand-rolled pasta, and the yellow and white polenta used for an appetizer with mushrooms.

One of the sous-chefs showed me how to make pumpkin ravioli, rolling the dough first then filling it with the most unusual spices, including amaretto. I cut the final design of my lone raviolo (a bit less elegantly than he did); the sous-chef boiled it for me right then, topped it with pan-seared butter and nutmeg, and served it on a plate.

But the crushed potato, egg yolk and goat cheese appetizer was my favorite. Especially with the surprise of pepper grains.

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More surprises were forthcoming. Back in the hotel, I entered my favorite triangle wood corridor, and saw--to my surprise--that an entire family was sitting on the Mamma chair.

"We love it," said the grandmother, sister and father, who had all found a niche on that rolly-polly chair with the red-ball foot-rest. "It is so comfortable."

A young woman came out of one of the invisible doors.

"She is here on a Fulbright teaching in the north of Brazil," the elegant father explained to me. "And we..." he gestured now to the seven members of the family that all seemed to fit on that chair. "Came up to visit her!"

They laughing sat up and all together went into the elevator to go out to dinner.

I went back to sit in my Sergio Rodrigues chair on my balcony, and listen to the waves of Ipanema, under yet another set of golden Starck lamps I found jutting on the mirrored deck walls.

In the morning, I skipped down for a swim in the rush of warm ocean crest, right below.

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