PARIS One of the grandest luxury hotels in Paris will put most of its of furniture and fine wines under the hammer next week to help raise funds for a lengthy restoration.
The sumptuous Hotel Crillon, hushed after the departure of its last guests in March, has been transformed into a buyer's wonderland as it closes its doors for a two-year renovation.
Full suites of furniture are on display ahead of a series of auctions scheduled for April 18-22, with about 3,500 lots including carpets and curtains expected to raise hundreds of thousands of euros.
Buyers seeking to recreate a little bit of the hotel in their homes can even stock up on reception counters, staff uniforms and bathrobes.
"A sale like this is a unique moment, a real cherry on the cake," auctioneer Stephane Aubert from auction house Artcurial said.
Such vast hotel sales are rare, with once-in-a-lifetime treasures available.
A highlight is the hotel's mirror-encrusted bar designed by 20th-century French sculptor Cesar, who gave his name to the annual French film awards where, similar to the Oscars, miniature reproductions of one of his works are distributed.
The artist's signature is inscribed on the twinkling glass front of the bar - protected beneath a perspex panel ever since a cleaner unwittingly took the first version for graffiti and scrubbed it off. Cesar was able to return and sign again before his death in 1998.
Dominating one side of Place de la Concorde, the Crillon has housed the great and the good since its construction as a private home under French King Louis XV in 1758.
The ill-fated Queen Marie Antoinette took music lessons on its first floor only to be guillotined years later in the shadow of the palace's grand neoclassical façade.
Since its conversion into a hotel in 1909, it has welcomed U.S. pop singer Madonna, former president Bill Clinton and was the site of the formal founding of the League of Nations.
U.S. composer Leonard Bernstein regularly set up home in a top floor suite with a view onto the Arc de Triomphe. One anonymous client rents that same suite every year to watch the finale of the Tour de France with friends and an unspecified amount of champagne.
Bidders with deep pockets can fork out for the piano Bernstein is believed to have used during his stays, while fans of lesser means can still hope to go home with light fittings and rugs.
A large part of the Crillon's vast wine and spirit cellar is likely to be snapped up by connoisseurs, including a rare Louis XIII Black Pearl Remy Martin cognac with a list price of 7,000 euros ($9,200). Mini-bars and chairs customized by artists are also being auctioned for two French charities.
Profits raised from the auction will fund a sweeping modernization to bring the hotel up to date while preserving its character, with work due to last until 2015.
The Ritz in Paris is also out of action for a revamp, with both hotels aiming to reinvigorate their classic grandeur and poach customers tempted by high-end newcomers such as the Shangri-La opened in Paris in 2010.
A sad tale of a grand old dame selling off her jewels? Not at all, according to Aubert.
"It's part of the story of these objects that they go and have a new life," he said, eyeing up his favorite lots - the silver-plated cocktail shakers from the bar.
($1 = 0.7642 euros)
(Reporting by Tara Oakes; Editing by Catherine Bremer and Paul Casciato)