I love designing hotels; it’s an industry that implies graciousness, frivolity, comfort, and attention. In 2015, I was able to fulfill a passion, namely to design and create an art hotel. Quirk Hotel in Richmond, Virginia, opened last September, a 74-room hotel in the city’s burgeoning Arts District. My clients, Ted and Katie Ukrop, had purchased an abandoned, five-story department store built in 1916. It had good bones, with a double height lobby featuring graceful, barrel-vault ceilings and large windows looking onto Broad Street, once the city’s prime business venue. It was a great opportunity to create something distinctive, lively, and comfortable, and would certainly make a large statement in the district’s revival. The Ukrop’s plan called for an art hotel, and in 18 months it was done.
From the start, we developed an informal battle cry that drove the design of the entire experience: Simple Elegance, Dash of Humor. For the guest rooms, I drew on my student days in Florence Italy, and noticing similar conditions there, decided to propose the window seats with steps: the rooms remain lofty, travelers can see out of the windows, there is plenty of storage, the historic floors are still exposed, and a beautiful design element was fabricated and inserted. For the lobby, We chose to design and insert lighter whimsical elements that play amongst the gridded columns, from the serpentine dining booths, the private dining cube, the bar, and the display kitchen pass. Each element provides the framework, the place, for the events of the day to play out. The central chandelier’s lightness further accentuates the drama of the vaulting. The flooring in the lobby was selected to differentiate spaces, set off the whiteness of the historic architecture, and lend a sense of timelessness to the new. Unique POESIS-designed furniture as well as off-the-shelf furnishings in a blend of the brand’s signature colors drive home the sense of fun and comfort.
But hospitality, per se, is very much a part of all our design, whether it’s a country inn, a tea room, a community center or a library. Buildings, be they homes, hotels, organizations or offices, are about people being together, working together, sharing space. A few years ago, we were asked to design the Hotel Ralph Pucci, which, like the Quirk, was an art hotel, this one based on the Gallery Ralph Pucci, one of New York’s premier custom furniture showrooms. It was to be a place celebrating beauty and quality, housed in a 100 room hotel with a curated eye. On a smaller scale, we designed No. 9, a chef-owned country inn in Millerton, NY. As with a gallery becoming a hotel, and a furniture showroom becoming a hotel, this country inn was all about an artist — in this case, a chef — to determine the space. As a result, the interiors are first and foremost about the restaurant; thus, the talent of the chef came through. There’s an elegance in the work we do, a desire for perfection, for exactness, to make spaces feel very comfortable, like you’ve been there before, and they’re true to the nature of the building. All three of these projects were similar in terms of using an existing shell, and each one had a beautiful start.
In a similar vein, we did the Harney Tea Room, in New York’s SoHo. Our charge from the Harneys was a to bring a tea room, which works so well in the country, and translate it into a dense city environment. In short, they wanted to make a sophisticated version of what they had in the country. The paint colors had to be had to be subtle and elegant. This quality is true in a hotel, too. For me, walking into a hotel that’s too young, or too new, makes me feel uncomfortable; I’m much more intrigued by a dash of the unusual and imagining myself where I might appear in heels and a long gown.
In terms of working with clients, they want what we bring to the equation. We give them a new sense of what they want in a they haven’t thought of before. I like working with clients pushes our art to another place, and I always say this: “A chair for a person, a space for a few; a building for a community.” Looking ahead to what’s happening in 2016, we’re renovating the nation’s oldest, continually operating public library, in Salisbury, CT, and nearing completion on a house in the Bahamas. What a year!