One of the best things about staying in a hotel is that you get to be someone else for a night. And it turns out that to design a hotel well, especially when it comes to extravagant properties, assuming a new identity helps, too. That was certainly the case for Christina Hart. She was part of the project HOK Renovates New York Palace . She worked on an eye-popping redesign of three suites, a semiprivate lounge, and a bar at the New York Palace.
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One of the city’s most renowned properties, the Midtown hotel incorporates the landmarked houses completed by Stanford White of McKim, Mead & White in 1884 for railroad baron Henry Villard. “We had to get into character,” Hart says of the $140 million, 11,500-square-foot project, particularly the Champagne Suite and the Jewel Suite by Martin Katz, each lavish in its own way. “We got rid of preconceived design ideas and got into the role of a man-cave champagne drinker or an art deco jewelry wearer.” In other words, she had fun with it. The enthusiasm paid off in a series of sparkling settings that infuse glamour into a grande dame.
Hart & Co.—a team that began the Palace project as part BBG-BBGM and finished atHOK, where Hart became senior principal, director of hospitality interior design—handled master-planning for all the public spaces, overseeing four other firms. But her personal responsibilities were to redo the deluxe suites and to create the two drinking establishments. The lounge, Rarities, is a richly appointed space for sipping aged Scotch. The more contemporary Tavern on 51, with an entrance from East 51st Street, is the type of casual venue the Palace had lacked.
Hart chose to tackle the individual themes somewhat conceptually. Sure, there are necklaces by Martin Katz, a Los Angeles jeweler whose work is renowned for appearing on the red carpet at the Academy Awards, in the suite that bears his name. However, the shiny surfaces, including a crystal chandelier and a wall of mirror, are what truly gets the message across. “It’s about luminosity, reflecting light just like jewelry does,” she says. More subtly, she employed an amethyst color as an accent.
Celebrating bubbly, abstractly, the Champagne Suite assumes a more masculine air. “You might think you’d go paler up in the sky, but we went deep, dark, and rich,” Hart says of the textured wood and marble surfaces. “As if you’re in a wine cellar.” (Albeit one with windows framing the Empire State Building.) She balanced that approach by adding a golden yellow derived from the Chardonnay grape, the key varietal in champagne.
She made her high-impact moves in the double-height living room. No guests will be able to take their eyes off a black-and-white mural that fragments a view of a medieval abbey said to be the birthplace of champagne. Meanwhile, spilling from the ceiling, a chandelier’s hundreds of glass drops evoke the happy chaos of champagne bursting from an uncorked bottle. Right off the living room, she added some literal wine appreciation, a cellar-in-the-sky with bottles for sale.
Damasks and burgundy tones lend the feel of a gentleman’s club—appropriate since Rarities is members-only, unless you’re staying in the VIP section of the hotel—but the scheme never descends into stodginess. Antiques including plaster-and-marble busts blend with new pieces, the point being that you can’t tell what’s been added by Hart’s subtle hand.
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