Staying at the Rooms of Rome is about as close as you can get to spending the night in a contemporary art museum. The new apartment-hotel can be found inside the 17th-century Palazzo Rhinoceros, which also houses the galleries of the Fondazione Alda Fendi Esperimenti. This genre-bending project has been almost two decades in the making.
When luxury giant LVMH acquired the Fendi brand in 2001, Alda, the youngest of the fashion family’s five sisters, chose to pursue another passion: art. She stumbled upon the abandoned palazzo years ago when her foundation staged a play at a nearby fish market. Located just steps from the Tiber in the ancient but newly buzzy Velabro district, it was ideal for the mixed-use cultural center she hoped to create. “I love discovering spaces that are unknown to the city’s inhabitants and making them accessible to everyone,” Fendi says. “Rome can renew itself by recalling its history and cultural heritage.”
The Palazzo opened last year after a renovation by Jean Nouvel, who also conceived the restaurant (an outpost of the 100-year-old Paris institution Caviar Kaspia) and the Rooms’ 24 unique serviced apartments. With furniture by European designers like Vitra and Cassina, each is a pastiche of historical and modern references. Nouvel wanted to show the layers of history — floors transition from recovered tiles into poured concrete, and walls fade to show crumbling brick or pink stucco beneath. A more dramatic intervention: monumental, polished-steel cubes that act like rooms within rooms, opening to reveal workstations or state-of-the-art kitchens.
Fendi recruited Spanish hotelier Kike Sarasola, founder of the Room Mate hotel group, to manage the suites, which are also available to long-term guests and visiting artists. Because this is no ordinary hotel, there is no real lobby; staffers appear at the Fondazione reception when summoned. If you need anything — from a spa treatment to a helicopter tour — just ask.
Within the palazzo, borders between hotel and cultural space are fluid; video art is projected onto the walls, and the galleries host rotating exhibitions, including pieces on loan from the Hermitage in St. Petersburg. Wander around and you might bump into, say, the actor Vincent Gallo performing "Julius Caesar" in the stairwell. When looking for a hotel partnership, Fendi insisted from the beginning that the art come first: “The Fondazione should be a laboratory, with experiments on every floor.”
To book: roomsofrome.com, doubles from $279.