By Zofia Smardz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 9, 2010; 10:08 AM
How could someone with a name like Zofia not adore a hotel chain with a name like Sofitel? I mean, it's named after me!
Well, not really, but I've always thought that it sounded that way. (Just read that "z" at the start of my moniker as an "s" and you'll get my drift.) In fact, when the luxury French chain started popping up a couple of decades ago, my first thought was that it must be Bulgarian. You know, as in the capital, Sofia. (I was wrong, thank goodness.)
I've tried to get to the bottom of this name thing, but no luck so far. One of these days. For now, it was high time for me to stop adoring from afar and see up close whether the brand's properties actually lived up to my infatuation with their appellation. Which is how I found myself recently at the Philadelphia Sofitel, walking down a somewhat dimly lit hallway, staring at a carpet patterned in squiggly rows of blue and brown squares that was making me feel ever-so-slightly seasick.
"This is not your usual opulent style," observed my perspicacious husband, astutely pinpointing my definition of luxe as rococo and gilt trappings, and the glitzier the better. Give me a chandelier dripping with crystal and silk brocades in rainbow hues.
There was none of that in this hotel, which was all stripped-down modernity and quiet earth tones. The only thing that came close was the striking floral display in the lobby, an abstract confection of rose bouquets and some strange orange plant stretching across a metal trellis. Flowers can't help themselves, they're just opulent. They smelled wonderful, too, and they did serve to dress up the temporarily unhappy lobby, which was suffering from construction (well-concealed, but still) on a new bar set to open in October.
So no. Not my usual style. And yet, when we passed through the two-toned-wood door that opened into our eighth-floor room, something came over me. A certain je ne sais quoi. Literally. The hotel literature promises a blend of French elegance and American style, and the staff strive mightily to achieve it (we heard "bonjour" and "bon soir" and "merci beaucoup" in a variety of American accents throughout our stay). But in the room, some odd decorating alchemy seems to make it happen.
Within five minutes of settling in, I felt as though I was back in Paris, in a room we'd once stayed in that was oddly reminiscent of this one. Of course, in Paris we'd had a balcony with a view of the Louvre and the Arc de Triomphe in the distance. Here, our picture window overlooked inner-city Philly rooftops. Not what you'd call expansive.
Yet somehow the ambiance was the same. There was definitely elegance (and a hint of Japanese influence) in the room's wood accents, the wood-paneled wall behind the bed, the Frank Lloyd-Wright style French doors to the bathroom. And the bathroom: Granite and marble-look perfection. Commodious. A bamboo shoot in a slender vase lending that touch of class. Huge floor-to-ceiling mirror (knowing the importance of a good mirror - now that's French).
"Sure like that bathroom," my husband declared more than once. He was as taken with it as I was with the bed. That would be the SoBed: all hypoallergenic, with a featherbed atop the mattress and a fabulous poufy duvet (changed for each guest!) to snuggle under in the (spectacularly silent) air-conditioning. A bed to "remind you that the perfect sleep exists," read the room literature, and it was true. I not only slept like a baby, I dreamed I was. . . in Europe. Honestly.
And the next day, when I asked the front-desk clerk how the hotel was faring in its facedown with the new Hotel Palomar right across the street, she assured me it was doing fine. "They're such different hotels," she said. "We tend to be more subdued in our approach and decor."
Which meant that the other hotel was more opulent. More my style.
Ah, but this was the Sofitel. It may not be named for me, but I always knew I'd adore it.