Conversation with the Hosts of Maison Bergdorf
Maison Bergdorf is one of those projects which really resonates with our philosophy here at BoutiqueHomes. A Swiss chalet built in 1897, it was recently brought back to life by a creative couple (Stéphane Houlmann and Mirko Beetschen), injected with a blend of vintage and contemporary décor, and opened as an intimate B&B. You can book either one room or the whole chalet, and if you love it as much as we think you will, you can also buy the soaps, blankets, lamps and books that feature in the house to bring home with you.
Maison Bergdorf is a design space, but it’s also a home that’s full of stories. Not least those of the team who run it. Co-owner Stéphane Houlmann is an entrepreneur with a passion for interiors, while his partner Mirko Beetschen is a journalist with a knack for design, art and architecture. He has also written an award-winning Gothic thriller called Bel Veder. The premise? Five characters meet in an old hotel that has stood uninhabited for the last 20 years, high up on a Swiss mountain…
If that doesn’t whet your appetite, then meet Maison Bergdorf’s third host. Most of the year, Swiss travel enthusiast Bea Dolder lives in Mumbai, where she organizes tours inspired by the spirit of the mahout (or elephant guide) and dreams of riding her Royal Enfield motorbike through the Himalayas. But when the monsoons hit, you’ll find her in Switzerland working as the summer host at this unique B&B.
It’s a dynamic and colorful combination, so we had to find out more…
HAD YOU ALWAYS PLANNED TO OPEN A B&B, OR DID MAISON BERGDORF TAKE YOU BY SURPRISE?
Mirko Beetschen: “Stéphane ran a hotel in Bern from 1997 to 2002, and in 2007 he took me aboard as his business partner. We started out with journalism and communication, soon delving into our first interior design projects. We always thought that one day we’d realize some kind of hotel project. We weren’t actively looking for property in Interlaken, but when the chance came up to buy this beauty, we took it. We knew it would be perfect for a small boutique B&B. I had known the house already from when I was a child – it used to be my pediatrician’s. His widow had lived there with her dogs until 2014 before moving to live with her children in Zurich.”
HOW DID YOU KEEP THE CHALET’S CHARM WHILE MAKING IT YOUR OWN?
Mirko: “Part of the inspiration comes from the house itself. When renovating a building, we start by looking at what we want to keep, not only in terms of original elements, but also from later periods, things that were done sensitively, sensibly and in good quality. Then we decide what to add, what to replace, what to redo in a contemporary way that doesn’t interfere with the original style, but complements it.
“Luckily in this case, the previous owners had used good quality materials when they renovated the house in the late Sixties/early Seventies, and they had also preserved a lot of the original features. So there was a very good foundation for us to start from. Then we take inspiration from places we visit, things we see and experience. Hot spots like Milan, London or Paris are only a short train trip away and always good for freshening up those inspiration batteries.”
HOW DO YOU COLLABORATE ON PROJECTS?
Stéphane Houlmann: “We work together very harmoniously, meaning that we complement each other very well and both know our own and the other’s strengths and fields of expertise. Depending on the project, one or the other automatically becomes ‘project manager’. With interior projects, this would usually be me. I like to confer with Mirko and we make decisions together, but at Maison Bergdorf it’s mostly my handwriting.”
THE CHALET HAS A COOL BLEND OF PERIOD, MID-CENTURY AND CONTEMPORARY, WITH GLOBAL INFLUENCES AND ORIGINAL ART. HOW DO YOU CHOOSE WHAT GOES INTO IT?
Stéphane: “A lot of the furniture is custom made. We commissioned Swiss carpenter, designer and artist Alfred von Escher and Leftover + Sour Design to create the dining tables, bookshelves, fireplace and wardrobes. The wooden bedsteads were custom made by a local carpenter, the kitchen by Swiss manufacturer Foster, the curtains by Annegret Frischknecht from Barré store in Zurich.
“Then we ordered many items directly from international manufacturers like lamps from Gebrüder Thonet Vienna, beds and armchairs from Gervasoni or dining chairs from Spoinq. There’s the odd object we stumble upon in vintage stores and we usually know immediately when it’s a fit. For the Maison Bergdorf, we also used a few nice pieces that we inherited and some favorites from our own home.
“As for the art, we love contemporary and young art, go to exhibitions, artist’s studios and galleries, and when we fall in love with a piece, we buy it. So a new piece of furniture or art often causes a switch-over in the guesthouse, which we are constantly improving.”
MIRKO, ONCE WE HEARD THAT YOU WROTE GOTHIC THRILLERS, IT WAS HARD NOT TO LOOK FOR THAT IN THE HOUSE. WOULD YOU SAY THERE’S A LITTLE DARKNESS IN THE DESIGN?
Mirko: “Well, there might be a connection in that I love the atmosphere of old houses, their stories and traces of former inhabitants. We try to preserve these traces when renovating a building because we think it is part of the atmosphere, the soul of a place. But I don’t intentionally add Gothic details to an interior!
“We kept the textile wall coverings – the original ones in room n°3 and the breakfast parlor, but also the ones from the late Sixties in our private suite and room n°2. We also kept the sisal carpeting from the previous owners in the corridors and on the stairs, and replaced it where it was threadbare.
“I guess all these elements were chosen by my pediatrician’s wife who had a great style. We were invited over for dinner in the last year she lived in the house. She had books in every room – and I mean EVERY room, even the smallest toilet. She was such an avid reader and – like myself – always carried a book with her, because you never know when you might need it.”
BEA, YOU MOVED TO INDIA TO BECOME AN ELEPHANT GUIDE. HOW DID YOU BECOME THE SUMMER HOST AT MAISON BERGDORF?
Bea Dolder: “After 10 years of living in India full time, I started to miss Western culture a bit. And quite unexpectedly I received a message from Stéphane’s brother, who was a guest on one of my trips through Rajasthan, telling me about the opening of a very special guesthouse in Interlaken.
“It took only two email exchanges with Stéphane and Mirko, and it was clear for all of us that we were the dream team for Maison Bergdorf. Since then there has been no looking back! Living in two so different worlds is a great inspiration for me; India nourishes me with spirituality, and Switzerland teaches me to stay down to earth.”
Mirko: “Bea’s mahout spirit brings very positive and calm vibes to the Maison. She has a great talent to approach the most diverse guest types and make them feel welcome and at home – be it young, a bit ‘lost’ travelers from Asia, sophisticated art lovers from Paris, or heavy metal fans visiting Interlaken’s Greenfield festival.”
We're sad to see it go, but Maison Bergdorf is moving to new premises and is scheduled to open again in 2024. We'll keep you posted!
Photographs by Martin Guggisberg, Catherine Gailloud, Lorenz Cugini