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December 12, 2017
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Best Kept Secrets

The lobby of Kruisherenhotel Maastricht (Source: it.paperblog.com).

A copper tunnel stretches like a futuristic gateway, marking the passage from Maastricht's cold and noisy earthliness into the ethereal atmosphere of the Kruisherenhotel Maastricht, a fifteenth century cloister once belonging to the order of the Crutched Friars. In a matter of seconds, I am transported from the grey streets and the sharp geometric shapes of the surrounding Maastricht Academy of Fine Arts buildings to a warm and welcoming environment ruled by harmony and calm.

Elevation: the high ceilings and arches
of the former cloister will brings
the mind to a higher ground.

Soft lights and orange shades dominate the hotel's lobby while a staff member arranges fresh flower compositions and a couple of Italian businessmen try to guess the building's architectural style. "It's gothic, it's gothic," says one of them, his nose pointing up to the frescos on the ceiling. And, indeed, he is right. However, what differentiates the interior of Kruisherenhotel Maastricht from other classic gothic buildings, such as Milan's Duomo or the Notre Dame in Paris, is the amount of natural light illuminating the room. Every corner of the hotel is inundated by the golden light that passes through the high stained-glass windows with their intricate green, yellow and light blue patterns.

Light was a metaphor for the inner illumination that the Crutched Friars sought in their days and is a key element in creating a serene atmosphere for modern guests. "Some visitors start to whisper when they enter the hotel, as if they were really in a church," says Berry Gerretsen, the hotel's director, as we sit in one of the three lounge corners located in a former side chapel. "Natural light is very important for us. It is also the reason why the elevator is completely made of glass: to give natural light absolute free play in these rooms."

The contrast between old and new design elements is already apparent from outside the hotel, where the copper doorway designed by German light installation artist, Ingo Maurer, is the first creation to welcome visitors. "Maurer wanted the entrance to preserve the feeling of warmth you get when entering a church, hence the bronze colour of the tunnel. He also designed all the lighting and inner courts," explains Gerretsen, who has been in charge of the hotel for two years now.

What differentiates us from other design hotels in Europe is that we matched many famous designers, such as Vos, Maurer, Starck or Newson, with an historical building and a central location.

The building was acquired by Camille Oostwegel, a Dutch hotelier, in 2000 and by 2005, the transformation into one of Europe's finest design hotels was complete. The project was awarded the 2006 Prix Villégiature, was the Netherlands' Hotel of the Year in 2011 and received a mention of honour by German publication, Geo Saison, as one of Europe's best hotels. The awards are all proudly displayed in a glass vitrine facing the reception, surrounded by sculptures and artworks.

"When the building was bought, it was a monastery, not what you would call a high-end location, so we had to radically transform the interior to give it a high-end appearance. This is how the contrast between historical architecture and modern design was born." I ask Gerretsen how the designers for the project were selected: "The owner of the hotel, Camille Oostwegel, already had Henk Vos's name in mind for his project. He is one of the most prominent Dutch architects and there was immediately a natural match between them. Vos then contacted Ingo Maurer for the lighting design and their work really translated Oostwegel's original vision into reality."

Wood and fire: the warmth and earth-
liness of the entrance hall invite visitors
to forget about daily worries and relax
in one of the former lateral chapels.

Gerretson defines the philosophy of the hotel as "a combination of historical ambiance and unique high-end design" and, indeed, the concept of uniqueness characterises the whole building. From its unique history to the distinctive designs of its sixty rooms - each with its own theme, size and layout - to the sculptures decorating the corridors and inner courts. "Most of our guests are pleasantly surprised to discover personalised rooms. Of course, if you don't research the hotel you are booking before actually arriving at the location, then you might find it surprising to discover a smaller but more intimate suite, rather than a 200 m2 suite typical of chain hotels," he says when asked about the most common remarks the hotel receives from its visitors, who are predominantly Dutch, although the hotel sees an increase in international guests for special occasions such as the yearly TEFAF Art and Antiques Fair.

"What differentiates us from other design hotels in Europe is that we matched many famous designers, such as Vos, Maurer, Starck or Newson, with an historical building and a central location," continues Gerretsen, also highlighting how the original structure of the cloister was left untouched throughout the renovation process. "No architectonical elements were removed: the whole church was left in its original shape because, by law, everything has to be reversible. It's a box-in-box structure because you must be able to reconstruct the original state if necessary," a decision which fully preserves the originality of the location.

If the interiors are characterised by warm colors, the cloister corridor and inner courts are a feast of light blues, greys and greens, all colours associated with water and air. A cylindrical water sculpture by Maurer sits enthroned in the centre of the main inner court: "It is called 'Aqua Delirium,' a small computerised boat propeller creates a vortex which makes the white ball in the tank move up and down," explains Gerretsen, adding that the artwork acts as a sort of camp fire that "guests can sit around in summertime." A friendly staff member leads me towards the sculpture in the inner court, offering me his interpretation of the artwork as "a symbol for the fluctuating state of life and moods. Ups and downs in a perpetual state of change." 

The center of gravity: Acqua Delirium,
the water sculpture of Ingo Maurer 
in the main inner court.

We then move to the cloister garden where another work of art grabs my attention: "It was offered to the owner on the occasion of the hotel opening. It looks like two wings or birds: the one on top is Oostwegel himself being creative and surrounded by new ideas, and the other one is his wife, making sure that everything is kept together and functional," explains Gerretsen and, as he says so, I cannot help but think of the saying, "behind every great man there’s a great woman."

Before leaving this little piece of heaven on earth, I take a short tour of the common spaces: the choir area has been converted into a semi-circular wine bar and on the first floor is a small library and reading room. The friars would certainly have delighted in both activities.


Kruisherenhotel Maastricht: Kruisherengang 19-23, 6211 NW Maastricht, The Netherlands

http://www.chateauhotels.nl/

+31 (0)43 329 20 20

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