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Antoine Faeh
Curating Basel

Design

MBO Art Housel Basel Antoine Faeh 01
  • Words Ken Baron
  • Images Danilo Scarpati

For Antoine Faeh, a figure in the worlds of business and apparel, opening Art House Basel was a journey far outside his comfort zone.

And yet, he tells us, “The older I grew, the more fascinated I became with philosophy and art history and the more tempted I was to express myself creatively.” This expression—Art House Basel—came to be through Faeh’s love for art, his love for Basel—he grew up in Allschwil, a suburb of the city on the French border—and critical input from his aunt, Salomée Faeh, a cofounder of the iconic American workwear brand, Carhartt WIP.

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Antoine and Salomée take in an installation at the Kulturstiftung Basel H. Geiger.

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Throughout the hotel, you showcase young creative talent, with a strong focus on local street art. Why is portraying the local culture so important to you?

One of our goals from the beginning was to create a platform for young artists. By presenting their work, we felt we could not only showcase really great art, but capture the sense of fun and intrigue that is so much a part of Basel. The city happens to have a lot of extremely talented street artists. But we show works by international artists, too. We want our guests to feel both connected and inspired, and few things do that so instantly and on such a deep, emotional level as art.

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“Basilisk” by street artist, Tika, in the Heuwaage area of Basel

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Antoine reviewing a work at the Artstübli gallery, a short walk from Art House Basel

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Did you yourself ever work as an artist?

I have always been a part of our family enterprises. I immediately joined Carhartt WIP after I finished my business studies and gathered experience in different company sectors. Opening the hotel required me to fully commit to it. In some ways, the hotel is my artwork!

 

Why Basel? Clearly, you could have chosen just about any city to open your first hotel.

In my opinion, Basel is underestimated when compared to other Swiss cities. Yet, it has so many truly rewarding facets to it. The cultural offerings alone are huge, and that’s not including the annual Art Basel event. Plus, foodies are passionate about the city. I think one of the things that creates a really exciting energy here is the fact that Basel is located at the intersection of the Swiss, German, and French borders. Thus, it is very multicultural, yet it also has a strong identity of its own, which is found in the eateries and bars in its many districts, which are really diverse. There’s East Basel, with its ancient, half-timbered buildings set directly beside modern architecture and former industrial complexes. There’s Gundeldingen, or “Gundeli,” which is a melting pot with a lot of charm. Kleinbasel is a youthful and diverse quarter rich in creativity and nightspots. And, of course, there’s Steinenvorstadt, where the hotel is located, a car-free street that invites you to explore and discover.

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A trip to the local Markthalle

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Old and new merge on the architectural landscape of Basel.

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Freshly baked bread at the Markthalle

Is there a natural synergy between the hotel guests and the local community?

Ah, good question! Before we opened, I was worried about whether our guests would get along with the neighborhood and the locals. But it’s been great. Our guests are drawn to the vibrancy of the community, and the locals are curious to learn from those who have different experiences, backgrounds, and perspectives. The two worlds seem to feed off of each other; it makes for a great atmosphere and an interesting mix.

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MBO Art Housel Basel Antoine Faeh 12

At the Colab gallery

What do you value most about Salomée and her input?

Salomée has fashion expertise and a good eye for intricate details. Even though she has never worked in hospitality, her work requires her to travel worldwide, so she has been to many hotels and was able to share insights from the guest’s perspective. This has led her to contribute to every decision we make regarding design concepts, interior decorations, and room furnishings. That’s where her intuition for new trends really shines. She and I worked on several projects for Carhartt WIP together, but never as closely as at Art House.

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Salomée and Antoine musing over the interior architecture of Art House Basel

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Material handpicked by Salomée for the hotel

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With the hotel's architect

So it’s a relationship where you two feed creatively off of each other?

Absolutely. Our working relationship is very productive. We both share a background in clothing and are interested in architecture, so we always have something that connects us. It’s important to strive for the same goals. Of course, it also helps to have patience. Even in a family business there are processes that sometimes take more time than you think they should. That’s when it’s important to stay calm!

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The Beyeler Foundation museum by Renzo Piano, a 20-minute drive from the hotel

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Was there a watershed event in your life that led you down the path that you are on now?

No, I don’t think that everything is due to a turning point. Life can be a chain of conscious and unconscious decisions. You just hope that you are fortunate as you go.

 

Fashions fade, as you know from your experience in the fashion industry. But now, as a hotelier, how do you balance being both in vogue and timeless?

I have learned not to jump on every trend. I choose classical elements and quality over hype. All that said, informing myself about new things remains a passion.

 

Is sustainability an important part of your thinking?

Yes, absolutely! It’s critical for my generation and those to come. Thus, it was very important to me that our hotel be as environmentally friendly as possible. We buy locally to limit waste. We decided against air conditioning because it is a power guzzler, opting for an innovative cooling ventilation system. And for heating, we source directly from the city’s sweeping plant, which minimizes unnecessary waste.

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What is the biggest challenge you overcame in your life?

For me, it was to run a hotel during a global pandemic! We opened a week before the lockdown, and the time after didn’t get any easier. In such a moment, you just have to hold steady and keep going somehow. You grow from these moments. Luckily, we could count on guests from Switzerland, especially from Basel. You take pleasure in small things and, from them, you find the strength to continue, to grow.

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These four images capture interior of Art House Basel and the man who brought it to life.

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