Ah..Model Rooms–exciting glimpses of a designer’s vision. A chance to test new vendors. A time to meet clients and other team members. Opportunity to visit new locations around the world.
And occasions fraught with terror for procurement agents!
For some years, back in the early 90’s, ADM maintained an office in Paris. We had been chosen to implement Hirsch/Bedner’s designs for the new Hyatt Regency at Charles de Gaulle (Roissey) Airport, and with an economic boom predicted for Europe due to the Euro currency standardization, it seemed fortuitous to open our one and only non-US office. (The resulting experience underscored my dislike of “branch offices” around the world and why ADM has chosen to remain centralized and not become an empire.)
HBA’s guestroom design was elegant and reminiscent of Fin de Siècle Paris. We managed to find vendors through-out Europe as well as the States to deliver the various components. Westley Contract Services managed the logistics masterfully and Curt Westley himself came to supervise a French team of installers
The night before the room presentation everything appeared perfect. Furniture all in place, draperies installed, Deb and I had cleaned everything, made up the bed, and –with Joyce Raedel, the HBA designer–“fluffed” and accessoried the room–right down to a single rose in a silver vase on the dresser, a bottle of fine wine in a beautiful cooler, and the once popular “turn-down” chocolates on the nightstands. It was complete–and beautiful. (Only one small detail remained–the general contractor had to install a grate over the fake HVAC return in the wall.)
We left, satisfied that tomorrow would be a resounding success.
The next morning I dressed in my favorite cream and black suit (which had a skirt, unfortunately, above the knees) and put on high heels. After all, our “work in the trenches” was complete, no?
Deb, Curt, and myself met for breakfast and the caught the Metro for the job site at Roissey–allowing ample time to correct any small detail if necessary.
Now, none of us spoke much French. Indeed, Deb’s husband Guy described our abilities as “Tarzan French” (moi Tarzan–vous Jane). There were a couple of signs posted around the subway station, but we had traveled out just the day prior, so, well assured, took our seats on the appropriate train. Two stations later the train stopped and everyone but the three of us started to get off. We looked at each other, but Deb (who had been living for several months in Paris to set up the office) said “No, this is just a transfer station–ours is three more down the line. ”
The doors closed. The train picked up increasing speed. Station after station flashed by. Now we were frozen at the train car windows–like those little stuffed Garfield cats stuck to the inside of automobile windows. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the train slowed down and stopped. At the terminal yard–lord knows where–and there was NO station. Curt took charge of two now almost hysterical females and led us through a long line of cars up to the engine cab. Here we pieced together that yesterday there had been a change in routes (due to construction) and we should have gotten off with all those informed French commuters many stations ago and switched lines.
What to do? How to get three people dressed in business attire off a train with no station platform available? The slightly amused engineer pointed to a metal ladder attached to the side of the engine cab–“Voila!” Here was the only choice.
My descent was, I can assure you, less than graceful as I teetered down those thin metal rails, balancing my purse, a portfolio–and struggling to hold down my short skirt.
A wild taxi ride to the site (another story here). We arrived panting–on time and very thankful that we had finished the room the day before.
But we had neglected to take into account the French HVAC contractor’s crew: our room was covered in sheet rock dust, the bed rumpled (we were afraid to ask), the rose gone, the chocolates eaten–and the wine finished!
So, my advice for successfully doing business in Paris? Trust nothing to chance and get off that train when the French do!