Located just along the Ill River that flows across Alsace in the far-eastern regions of France, the prestigious Auberge de l’Ill, held by Haeberlin family, has welcomed gourmets since 1879. Now, with the family’s 5th generation behind the oven, the Auberge offers its services within four dining rooms.
In the 1950s, the two brothers Paul and Jean-Pierre raised the level of culinary excellence for the restaurant that gained three Michelin Stars in 1967 and hasn’t lost any of them since – an accomplishment shared only by Paul Bocuse.
The river Ill, the Vosges mountains with their vineyards, and a deep “family spirit” have a strong influence on the recipes here. Upon arriving, at first glance, and then in talking with chef Marc Haeberlin and his sister Danielle (the maitre d’hôtel), frensh architect Patrick Jouin picked up on this –the meals as much as the atmosphere were deeply connected to the history and soil of the region. Thus, he tried to create a design which would resonate with this philosophy.
Jouin analysed his customer’s work methodologies and rearranged the existing circulation in order to create a more organic flow: he first wrapped the front of the restaurant, which was composed of simple glazing with an aluminium frame, with horizontal wood blades, just like the local traditional tobacco drying sheds, making it more homogeneous with the environment and giving more emphasis towards the front door.
He designed a short corridor entrance cladded with a local stone with a rug path leading to a metal sculpted fish, a symbolic artefact of the region with a rich heritage built around fishing and the creation of renowned fish recipes.
The greeting desk is located in a greenhouse-like room, covered with a felt mashrabiya using the restaurant’s logo as a pattern. The room between this desk and the dining rooms is a warm and deep red lounge, featuring sofas, armchairs and ottomans designed by Patrick Jouin for Cassina, where clients stay for a drink before or after lunch. This room is decorated with pictures which have been collected by the family for decades, showing the evolution of the restaurant and the Haeberlin family through the ages.
The hand tufted wool carpet in the first two dining rooms, called la véranda and la salle à manger, gives a symbolic bird’s-eye-view of Alsace: as one enters, he walks on various shades of green, on very close level curves, just like wandering down the Vosgian forest. The closer one gets from to window side, the smoother the curves, and the shades of wool turn to warm grey and brown, like the fields of the Ill plains.
Those two rooms are lit by hand-blown glass reeds that grow on polished stainless steel pools of water, just as if the river flowed into the restaurant.
There is a total of dining rooms in the restaurant, and the deeper one goes inside the restaurant, the more rustic they are. After the refined “Véranda” and “Salle à Manger”, the floor treatment changes as raw wood becomes more present. In the “Salle Alsacienne”, one wall is cladded in broad brushed pine planks and features Roger Muhl (an old family friend) oil paintings. Beige carpet is chiselled with the same patterns as the wooden wall.
In the “Pigeonnier”, the walls and undersides of the roof are fully covered in wood, with small LED-equipped light holes. A sliding fence of chestnut branches allows the “Pigeonnier” to be separated from the “Salle Alsacienne”, thus allowing privacy between the rooms, with the ability of opening them up to each other.
The lighting has also been carefully treated, with intensity and color progression according to the sequence of the meal and the time of day. For example, during the second half of the evening, the intensity slowly fades from the first half of the evening, bringing a warmer atmosphere while, as a counterpoint, LED lights turn from amber to cold light blue. The effect is for the diners to behold.