Let’s talk about Alfred Sommier, this beautiful hotel in the heart of the 8th district of Paris. The specificity of this 5-star hotel lies as much in the quality of the service as in its history: the hotel is indeed owned and lovingly managed by one of the descendants of the said Alfred Sommier, a great industrialist of the Second Empire.
We must now evoke Alfred Sommier, the man. In 1824, four brothers conquer Paris and develop a sugar refinery workshop in a family home located in a Parisian suburb, La Villette. Business prospers and the youngest of the four brothers, Pierre-Alexandre Sommier, marries his niece Anne-Pénélope, who is fourteen years younger than him, which allows him to increase and consolidate his weight in the family company.
This type of alliance may seem more than appalling these days, but it was absolutely common at that time in wealthy families, to avoid the dilution of the family fortune – the Pereire brothers did the same and French writer Zola, in “Le Docteur Pascal” describes nothing more than an incestuous affair between an uncle and his niece – under the guise of a magnificent love story. Norms change over time, don’t they, and for the better.
Born in 1835 from Pierre-Alexandre and Anne-Pénélope, Alfred soon shows immense intellectual faculties and social ease. At the age of 18, he becomes the head of the family sugar refinery, which he continues to develop, becoming the main player in the market.
A young Alfred
A man of good manners received in the wealthy circles of Faubourg Saint-Honoré and Faubourg Saint-Germain, Alfred marries in 1872 Jeanne de Barante, daughter of Baron Prosper-Claude-Ignace-Constant Brugière de Barante. The fiancée may be married without a dowry but the prestigious name establishes the solid and peaceful presence of Alfred Sommier in the high society.
Their son Edme, born in 1873, marries in 1902 Germaine Casimir-Périer, daughter of Jean Casimir Périer, President of the French Third Republic.
Their daughter Lucie, born in 1874, marries Robert de Vogüe in 1897, whose descendants today manage the fabulous Vaux-le-Vicomte castle.
And we must now evoke Vaux-le-Vicomte.
Alfred Sommier acquires the majestic castle in 1875. The Sommier family may lack the ancestry so dear to old French noble families, but the family prosperity is anchored in a very virtuous value – hard work – and the gifted Alfred will be the savior of Vaux-le-Vicomte. The castle is in poor condition at the time and threatened to collapse but Alfred Sommier, a lover of history and an enlightened art lover, wants to restore this historic castle which was once scandalously sumptuous, causing the arrest of its first owner. The work is titanic, but the splendor of Vaux-le-Vicomte is restored.
Alfred, the discreet patron, reveals himself as usual: a serious and pragmatic man, free-spirited – the Dreyfus affair will prove it – a man of confidence, an entrepreneur who does his research and an art lover. Living on the right bank of Paris, Alfred goes to the antique dealers of the neighborhood. He has an eye and a taste for beauty. He has his addresses, his suppliers and legend has it that his coupé was often followed by a van in which furniture and artworks were loaded according to his wanderings and acquisitions. His treasures find a home as much in Paris as in Vaux-le-Vicomte.
He, his wife and his children lived in Vaux with respect and admiration for this beauty which they recreated with pious care without yielding to the temptation to create the way of life of yesteryear”
Juliette Benzoni, “One Hundred Years of Castle Life”.
He makes Vaux-le-Vicomte the most beautiful private castle in France. His son inherits it, but without descendants, the castle returns to Lucie and her husband. The family branch of Vogüe still owns Vaux-le-Vicomte today, and the constant efforts of Cristina and Patrice de Vogüe for more than fifty years have made Vaux-le-Vicomte the most impressive French private castle, still today.
But let’s go back to Paris and at 20 rue de l’Arcade, let’s go back to the Alfred Sommier hotel.
In 1858, Alfred’s father acquires a large plot near the Madeleine, in order to build a large private mansion capable of accommodating his entire family.
The district is in full effervescence, since it is the theater of Haussmannian transformations. The land once housed the priory of the Benedictines of Ville-l’Evèque and then the Hôtel de Soubise (the small one).
It goes without saying that the future construction must reflect the prosperity of the Sommier family and its construction is therefore entrusted, under the aegis of Alfred, to one of the most renowned architects of the time, Joseph Lesoufaché.
The plot is divided into two twin mansions – Alfred settling at number 20, his father at number 22 Arcade street. The works last two years and the whole building respects the canons of the Haussmann style, with white stone facades, a building running on the street, a large main courtyard, a building on the courtyard and at the back, a bucolic garden.
Alfred live there from 1860 to 1873, before moving with his wife to 57 Ponthieu street. Alfred Sommier will remain throughout his life the pragmatic, generous, discreet and free-thinking man who seduced the young Jeanne. Luxury hardly reaches him, money is never an aim – the old photos of his Spartan room in the private mansion of Ponthieu street prove it – but a means allowing him to move towards the good and the beautiful.
The Ponthieu street mansion as seen from the Champs-Elysées
Alfred Sommier on the staircase of Vaux-le-Vicomte
Richard de Warren de Rosanbo, descendant of Alfred Sommier, fulfilled by a career as a great diplomat and businessman, revive today the beautiful private mansion situated on Arcade street.
The building has been undergoing major renovation work for two years, in order to welcome customers in 2018. Nevertheless the historical and personal elements are preserved. The rich mouldings, the imposing fireplaces, the herringbone parquet flooring and the two marble staircases are enjoying a second youth. Alfred Sommier’s monogram, composed of his initials, adorns the railing of the stairs, the family piano sits in the living room and old paintings, photos, documents and books dot the premises, accompanied by more recent works of art. This personal and family note gives an amazing atmosphere to the hotel, where the ancestral presence of the Sommier family can be guessed.
The hotel itself, which aims to be confidential and intimate, can also be guessed. It is only by crossing the so Parisian carriage entrance that the main courtyard, which once received horsecars, is revealed, now welcoming the visitor with its large outdoor sofas and armchairs.
The cosy bar is adorned with historical caricatures.
The bucolic garden is a hidden gem (which will not remain hidden for long, in my humble opinion).
The 63 rooms and 17 suites are typically Parisian and their decoration harmoniously combines the decorative elements of the French Second Empire and the refined decoration of our modern era.
The Alfred Sommier hotel is the only Parisian hotel owned and managed by a descendant of the first owner of the building. The different branches of the Sommier family are, directly or indirectly, linked to the French history, whether political – with the President of the Republic Casimir-Périer, artistic – with the dancer and muse Cléo de Merode or heritage, with the Vogüe family and Vaux-le-Vicomte.
It’s dizzying and wonderful to find yourself in this peaceful hotel, with Richard de Warren de Rosanbo – always so welcoming – who talks to you in all simplicity about his ancestors, his cousins, Vaux-le-Vicomte or Casimir- Perier. There is no more Parisian than the Alfred Sommier hotel.
A page of living history, what more could you wish for?
October 14, 2022