Nothing Like Home: Designing the Hotel Experience

The New York School of Interior Design (founded 1916) organized a panel discussion in conjunction with NYSID's current exhibition, "Designing the Luxury Hotel: Neal Price and the Inter-Continental Brand."  The panel discussion took place on April 10, 2013 with the following panelists at the NYSID building at 170 E. 70 Street, New York, N.Y. 10021

  • Stanley Turkel, a recognized authority and consultant in the hotel industry.  He is one of the most widely-published authors in the hospitality field: his most recent book, Built To Last: 100+ Year-Old Hotels in New York, features 32 hotels that have defied the passage of time.
  • Todd Lee, FAIA, LEED AP, has his own architectural practice based in Boston; projects include major hotels and resorts in North America, the Caribbean, Europe, and the Pacific Rim.  He also worked as an advisor to his mother Sarah Tomerlin Lee, an interior designer whose projects include The Willard Hotel (on display in the exhibition)
  • Meghann Day,  designer at Hirsch Bedner Associates-  one of the leading global hospitality design firms of the world's most anticipated hotels, resorts and spas.  Some of their recent projects include the Four Seasons Hotel in Beijing, the St. Regis Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi and the Hyatt Regency in Chongqing, China.
  • Anna Dufendach, associate designer at Champalimaud Design, has worked on some of New York's most iconic hotels including the Carlyle and the Waldorf Astoria, and is currently working on the prestigious Le Richemond hotel in Geneva.
  • Les Faulk, design director at InterContinental Hotels Groups (IHG)- One of the world's most international luxury hotel brands ̶  will be talking about recent projects including the renovation of the Inter-Continental New York Barclay.
  • Moderated by Judith Gura, design historian and NYSID faculty member.

In addition to the Pierre, I spoke about the following two unique hotels:

Algonquin Hotel (1902) on West 44 Street

It has been the subject of at least eight books, featured in dozens of others, praised frequently in newspaper columns and magazine articles.  It is nothing like home. 
 
For a start: No hotel lobby in America is so haunted by literary ghosts as New York's venerable Algonquin.  And, in fact, there isn't any lobby.  There's a lounge, a casual place to sit and talk, where sofas and chairs snuggle together around tables, each equipped with a bell.  Tap the bell, and a waiter appears, to fetch liquids for freshening the conversation.
 
It's difficult to exorcise such outrageous ghosts of the Algonquin Round Table of the '20s and '30s like Harold Ross and Dorothy Parker who mingle with creative souls like Norman Mailer, Neil Simon, Sir Laurence Olivier, Yves Montand, Vanessa Redgrave and Tony Richardson. And by film makers ̶  Godard, Truffault, Costa-Gavras.  And Supreme Court justices and Ella Fitzgerald and Peter Ustinov. Believe it  not, the Algonquin Round Table was deliberately created by the hotel's first general manager, Frank Case who, in order to attract paying guests, subsidized young actors, playwrights and authors to eat lunch at the Algonquin which is located in the heart of the theater district.  Ultimately, some of those artists became famous and the Algonquin has benefitted for more than 111 years.  Case, who later became the owner, wrote two books called "Tales of a Wayward Inn" and "Do Not Disturb". 
 
A note on "designing for the hotel experience".  Even after a recent renovation, the Algonquin looks venerable because its guests are opposed to change.  It has looked virtually the same for more than a century.

Ansonia Hotel (1904) on Broadway and 73rd  Street

The Ansonia Hotel was built as a luxury apartment hotel on the upper west side of New York in 1904 and it was nothing like home.  Its resplendent apartments contained multiple bedrooms, parlors, libraries and formal dining rooms with high ceilings, elegant moldings and bay windows.  The hotel had a central kitchen, serving pantries on every floor so that residents could enjoy meals prepared by professional chefs.  Although a standard housekeeping suite provided a kitchen and accommodation for one or two live-in servants, half the apartments did not have kitchens.  Its exterior turrets, balconies, carvings, scrolls, medallions and moldings made the Ansonia a Beaux-Arts confection.
 
Inside and out, the Ansonia was a theatrical building.  Behind the curves and cornices were apartments with oval reception rooms or immense circular parlors, ellipsoidal living and dining rooms, a bedroom with an apse; on higher floors, there were apartments with panoramic views.  All the apartments were heated and cooled by a unique method of air circulation, supplied with filtered hot, cold, and ice water, and equipped with the gadgets of the latest technology.  Maid service and room service were available, as well as a hotel-like inventory of towels, napkins, dishes, silver (polished once a month by the staff), light bulbs, soap, and stationery.  It opened with 2500 rooms, 400 full baths and 600 additional toilets and sinks (one of the largest plumbing contracts in history), a banquet hall, grand ballroom, cafe, tearoom, English grill, a 500-seat dining room, writing rooms, a palm court, a Turkish bath, the world's largest indoor swimming pool and a lobby fountain with live seals.  The Ansonia was built by William Earle Dodge Stokes, the Phelps-Dodge copper heir and it was named for his grandfather, the industrialist Anson Greene Phelps.  He imported a French architect, Paul E. M. Duboy, best known as the architect of the Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument on Riverside Drive, to design the grandest hotel in Manhattan.  Standard guestroom furnishings included specially-woven Persian carpets; ivy patterned "art glass" windows and domed chandeliers inset with mosaic tiles.  When it officially opened on April 19, 1904, The Ansonia was "the monster of all residential hotel buildings" according to the New York World.

In what might be the earliest harbinger of the current developments in urban farming, Stokes established a small farm on the roof of the hotel. He had a Utopian vision for the Ansonia   ̶  that it could be self-sufficient, or at least contribute to its own support, which led to perhaps the strangest New York hotel amenity ever: "The farm on the roof." As Stokes wrote years later, it "included about 500 chickens, many ducks, about six goats and a small bear." Every day, a bellhop delivered free fresh eggs to the tenants, and any surplus was sold cheaply to the public in the basement arcade.  Not much about this feature charmed the city fathers, however, and in 1907 the Department of Health shut it down.

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