Mama Shelter

March 24, 2009By Colin EatonHotels & Short-term Rentals


Dublin-based architect Colin Eaton, a regular visitor to Paris who loves to stay in funky little hotels, recently tested the trendy new Mama Shelter, located in the off-the- …


Dublin-based architect Colin Eaton, a regular visitor to Paris who loves to stay in funky little hotels, recently tested the trendy new Mama Shelter, located in the off-the-beaten-track 20th arrondissement, with interior design by Philippe Starck. Here are his reactions.

I loved Mama Shelter, but not in the way I love the crumbling fin de siècle hotels I usually stay in while in Paris – the ones with steep, narrow stairs, perhaps no elevator or at best a tiny one, minuscule rooms with creaky windows overlooking a myriad of rooftops. Mama Shelter is big, with about 300 rooms, three big stainless-steel elevators and properly fitting aluminum windows.

I was somewhat surprised to discover that the Renault garage and parking lot that once stood on the site has been totally demolished and a brand new edifice put up in its place. After the disappointment of finding that this was not an exercise in the reuse of an old industrial building, but rather a completely new structure, I examined what was in front of me more critically. How to get in? The point of entry is always important in a building, especially a public one! I actually had difficulty finding the entrance. It is parallel with the street, but because it is several steps down, it had an undesirable canyon effect. The door to the left of the de facto entrance was garnished with a taped-on sign advising patrons to “use the door on the right”!

The facade offered what I found to be an excessive amount of plain white-plastered rendered concrete and dark gray aluminum windows. Of its time, but of its place? The other buildings on the site, which appear to be by the same developer, are unfinished (the hotel only opened last October). A stepped promenade leading in from the street was blocked off, presumably until the overall development is completed. With its echoes of Montmartre, it may be an endearing addition. A train track perpendicular to the street and adjacent to the left hand side of the hotel is an interesting historic reference that is given little attention in the new design.

Inside, my bedroom was pitch dark, much too dark, and the few wall lights and lamps did nothing to augment the light levels. The bedside lamp (its shade was a child’s bear mask) was so dim that I couldn’t read a newspaper in bed, and my attempts to remove the mask were defeated – it was firmly attached. The bathroom was an exercise in clinical whiteness, and to my architectural mind a welcome respite from the darkness.

The bedroom features the latest Apple computer monitor fixed to the wall opposite the bed. It comes with a television card, so the screen also functions as a television, CD player and radio. But who uses CDs nowadays? Surely a much simpler iPod docking station would have been more useful.

If I wanted to use the Internet in the room I had to go down to reception, request a keyboard and pay a deposit. I presume it was wireless, but how are you supposed to use it? Sit on the bed with keyboard on your lap and stare up at the wall? It seems odd and contrived.

The bar and restaurant, typically dark and moody and quite eclectic, like all of Starck’s projects, was full of buzz but rather expensive. After all, this is a three-star hotel with rooms starting at €89. Breakfast was €20, which I think was far too much, and Sunday brunch €39!

My dinner in the restaurant on a Saturday night consisted of a simple green salad with pine nuts, moules frites, two glasses of wine, a crème brûlée and coffee. €49! Hmm.

I found the atmosphere a trifle manufactured.

The colorful, eclectic 20th arrondissement is home to Père Lachaise, but with its Turkish and Morrocan cafés, ateliers and immigrant population, its interest goes far beyond the famous cemetery. I particularly enjoyed wandering around the Rue d’Avron, with its many shops and little restaurants.

Staying at Mama Shelter was an interesting experience, but the size and scale of the operation go against my personal sensibilities. As an experience it provided a buzz, but it will never be my favorite place in Paris. All in all, however, it’s a good offer, slick and professional.

Colin Eaton

Mama Shelter: 109 rue de Bagnolet, 75020. Métro: Porte de Bagnolet. Tel.: 01 43 48 48 48.

© 2009 Paris Update

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