Carpenter for a Parisian Palace
Entering the basement of a 5-stars hotel is like entering a real underground city. I’ve never imagined going through so many hallways and crossing so many people at work ! Cooks, electricians, plumbers, refrigerator tradesmen ! (Yes, the mini-bar also needs maintenance !) Every day, dozens of tradesmen team up at the prestigious Plaza Athenée Paris. Men in suits tailored to meet the savoir-faire of excellence that the service of a Palace requires. I got the chance to meet one of them: Arnaud Carpentier. At only 32 years old, every day this varnishing carpenter looks after the furniture of the most beautiful suites in the hotel. Both reserved and rigorous, he opened to me the doors of his workshop and walked me through his mission in the hotel and his unique journey !
# Arnaud, what is your role in the Plaza Athenée ?
I am a varnishing carpenter. That means I restore the furniture. I also take care of the refinishing and intervene in the dressings if needed. Every morning, the housekeepers are in charge of checking the rooms and warning me if they notice any defects. There is a true control protocol ! All the tradesmen go across the rooms. The 2 other carpenters and I check the condition of the doors, handles, furniture … Nothing is left to chance !
# What kind of deteriation can we have in a hotel room ?
So many different kinds ! There’s a lot of activity in the rooms. The furniture takes on luggage hits and vacuum cleaners. With more than 120 rooms and suites, we cannot overlook anything !
But the biggest problem is water. Wood and polish really don’t like water ! Alcohol is even worse ! Champagne and wine leave stains on the carpets of course, but they also damage the furniture. Sometimes you can retouch the surface. I try to cover the scratches, to fix them and if that’s not possible I scrape everything and rebuild it.
# What do you like the most about your job today ?
What I like the most is that I have to use all my know-hows (savoir-faire) and all my skills. When the hotel is fully booked, and guests start coming in one after the other … We don’t have 2 hours of time to finish maintenance. I have to adapt my working methods to the time that is given to me and the type of furniture.
We have a standard to maintain. You have to know how to do things perfectly in the best way possible. If there is veneer, you have to cut through and treat the coloring … Sometimes I need to keep a piece of furniture for one month in the workshop. Fortunately, we have spare ones !!!
# Where dos this passion come from ?
My grandfather was a cabinet maker. Since the age of 12, and i was already interested. I saw exhibitions, visited antique dealers. And After college, I decided to get a CAP for cabinet maker in Poissy.
# What is your background ?
I got the chance to join l’Ecole Boulle (prestigious school of design and art) for four years to prepare for my diploma with a focus on “marquetry” (“marqueteur”), which means decorating with veneer on furniture.
I did an exchange for a year in a school of design in Reims but I was very far from the subject, so I dropped out. And then, back to Ecole Boulle for a degree in refurbishment !
# Was it easy to find an employer ?
No ! It was difficult ! I had to estimate the economic situation of the companies. I had a weakness in my employability. I could do beautiful things with my hands. But I was more of an artist than a profit-maker ! So I went knocking on the doors of employment offices for a year. It was against my beliefs but I learned a lot from it. Then I spent my time for 3 years between the landscaping business with my father-in-law and my carpentry company.
# Comment est-ce qu’on entre dans un Palace comme celui-ci ?
It was an opportunity. When I saw the ad, they were looking for all the skills I have gained so far: restoration of furniture, traditional varnishing, carpentry, autonomy … I found the company that I was looking for. Here, we may be autonomous but we work as a team. Sometimes we discuss and help each other …
# An anecdote ?
The craziest experience I’ve had was making an architectural model of wood. A customer had seen it while visiting an exhibition in Paris. I spent about ten hours trying to make it for her to leave with this memory. It’s a bit of a Palace service, offering customised things !