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Above: The Wythe Hotel; photo by Matthew Williams
In New York, hospitality is an economic miracle. Citywide occupancy rates in 2011 were 25 per cent higher than the US average. Simultaneously, the number of hotel rooms grew at a faster rate than it had in years. Likewise, 2011 was the year that the city surpassed Mayor Bloomberg’s pre-recession goal of drawing 50 million tourists to the Big Apple annually.
The raw data trumpets other, equally compelling changes. Boutique branding, once the purview of only a few corners of Manhattan, now blankets the island and reaches into Brooklyn and Queens. The pod hotel was inconceivable to the New York mindset even in recent memory, and yet it, too, has landed on these asphalt shores.
Another phenomenon in New York hospitality is as real as the crowds eddying in Times Square, though it cannot be measured in number of rooms or square footage. Hoteliers are making an unprecedented effort to ingratiate their properties to specific personalities and communities.
You might, perhaps, call it the ‘Standard effect’. The New York outpost of André Balazs’ hotel empire qualifies as a love letter to the Meatpacking District. The 18-storey tower by Ennead Architects takes its form directly from its site, with hinged volumes straddling the High Line linear park on sculptural piers and embodying the historic grit and current glamour of the neighbourhood in a combination of concrete, steel and glass. It is the quintessential instant landmark, reflecting what the Meatpacking District was once and showing its denizens who they want to be.
One could equally call this phenomenon the ‘Ace effect’, because many of the place-making principles are at work inside the Ace Hotel, located midway between the Flatiron Building and the Empire State Building. The Ace’s massive lobby is a local hangout, thanks in part to abundant seating with bar service and DJ – but also to Roman and Williams Studio’s combination of furniture, artefacts and finishes that resonate with the publishing types and indie fashion professionals seeking refuge from their cubicles nearby. “It was something of a watershed in lifestyle hospitality, in the sense that we thought about the hotel as a great house,” Andrew Zobler says.
Zobler is founder of the Sydell Group, the developer behind the Ace Hotel and, more recently, the NoMad Hotel, located just a block away. Here, we profile NoMad along with the Wythe Hotel and Dream Downtown: three hotels that express a hyper-local and personalised point of view more than ever. Or, as Workstead principal Stefanie Brechbuehler says of their contribution to the Wythe in Brooklyn, “more and more we think travellers want an authentic experience. They don’t want to travel from one generic hotel to another. So for us, it needed to attract not only travellers but local residents as well. Locals can’t be fooled.”
DESIGN Handel Architects
Interest in the work of modernist architect Albert C Ledner spiked in 2003 with the opening of the Maritime Hotel, an adaptive reuse of the National Maritime Union of America building that he completed in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighbourhood in 1966. In reality, Ledner had created two buildings for the labour union’s headquarters. The second, a block-through property immediately bordering the Maritime, was recently reconceived by Hampshire Hotels and Resorts as the flagship of its Dream chain of hotels.
The commission for the renovation was given to New York-based Handel Architects, whose directive was to avoid the wry, seafaring attitude of its neighbour. Because both structures signified their original use with porthole windows, Handel partner Frank Fusaro has differentiated Dream Downtown from its companion by tripling the openings of the 12-storey building’s original fenestration. On the entry elevation, a perforated stainless steel screen accentuates the polka dots even more, while also creating balconies for rooms on this side of the building. On the rear facade, polished stainless steel panels bulge in the manner of inflatable fill packaging.
To improve the passive design performance of the Dream’s 316 units, Fusaro removed four floors from the centre of the deep building, leaving behind a pool terrace – as well as many more windows to overlook it. The new pool is partially glass-bottomed, doing double duty as
a voyeuristic skylight in the lobby below. The interior has mid-century qualities in common with the Maritime, thanks to teak finishes in the lobby and the 200 glass globes that hover over Marble Lane restaurant. But other scenes, such as the crisply appointed guestrooms or the creepily ascetic restaurant bathroom topped in Moooi’s Dear Ingo chandeliers, show a more contemporary vision at work.
DESIGN Morris Adjmi Architects & Workstead
The partnership behind the 72-room Wythe Hotel includes handsome Australian hotelier Peter Lawrence and local real estate luminary Jed Walentas, whose surname is synonymous with the upscale redevelopment of the Brooklyn district, DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass). Yet the face of the first boutique hotel in hipster Williamsburg should really be neighbourhood restaurateur Andrew Tarlow, owner of locavore destinations that include Diner, Marlow & Daughters, Roman’s and Marlow & Sons.
Tarlow’s genius loci advocacy penetrates the design of Wythe, an adaptive reuse of a 1901 cooperage for barrels and casks. In modernising the Romanesque Revival building, Morris Adjmi Architects stripped away one side of the structure and reclad it in glass. This glass wall now soars beyond the original building, bringing the total height to eight storeys. The new rooftop volume, which evokes Pierre Chareau’s Maison de Verre, includes The Ides lounge and its adjacent parapet-lined outdoor bar, and also houses a Wythe signature: two band rooms, which include four and six bunk beds and two showers each. Groups have been performing at the nearby Brooklyn Bowl.
The three-year-old design firm Workstead, founded by Stefanie Brechbuehler and Robert Andrew Highsmith, was engaged for the Wythe interior, which guests enter from a modestly placed corner door. Original brick walls and cast-iron columns remain visible, and old interior wood was salvaged for beds and ceilings. Around these remnants, Workstead has imagined a wedding of the slightly nautically tinged industrialism of the Maison de Verre with early modernist Adolf Loos’ pragmatic-yet-genteel Cafe Museum. Traditional furniture and tile choices in the guest bathrooms are matched by historically sympathetic design moves in the library lobby, Tarlow’s restaurant Reynards, event space and screening room. Local touches have also been threaded throughout, including Brooklyn-made wallpaper and soap.
ARCHITECT Stonehill & Taylor
DESIGN Jacques Garcia
As New York neighbourhood names go, NoMad, which stands for North of Madison Square Park, is a recent invention; this stretch of blocks still leaves a lot to be desired. But if anyone were audacious enough to parade the moniker, that person would be Andrew Zobler. The former W and Standard executive is the founder of the Sydell Group, which planted the Ace Hotel there as an oasis among electronics wholesalers and synthetic hair shops.
Sydell’s NoMad Hotel is located one block due south of the Ace, and it is intended as an older, more worldly sibling to the Ace’s harder-edged eclecticism. The owners entrusted the restoration and modernisation of a 1903 Beaux Arts building to New York architecture firm Stonehill & Taylor, while the interior is the first New York hospitality commission for French designer Jacques Garcia.
To be sure, both hotels spring from a similar conceit. Just as the Ace boasts a cavernous lobby that has become an ostensible co-working hub, so NoMad’s dim two-storey library welcomes all-day squatting from local freelancers. At NoMad, too, the placement of restaurant and hotel spaces around a central atrium blurs the distinction between all functions, transforming the atrium level into a giant lobby in its own right. Another formatting commonality is the attachment of a retail concept to the hotel facility, in NoMad’s case a freestanding outlet of Parisian clothier Maison Kitsuné. The surrounding storefronts cannot live up to such standards, after all; at least not yet.
All things Paris drive Garcia’s treatments. The moodily coloured, velvet- and silk-draped common spaces seem inspired by a private box at the Palais Garnier, accented by quirky atelier touches like framed pressed herbs from the French heritage shop Deyrolle, which climb the walls of the so-called Parlour. The 168 guestrooms are more sparingly practical and seemingly improvised, filled mostly with artefacts and salon-style art reproductions as if imported from art deco-era flea markets.
This article originally appeared in Inside issue 75: The Hospitality Issue.