The Glamour That Was

Historic buildings that evoke the elegance of a past era are finding new lives as modern, instantly iconic hotels.

One benefit of the reuse, recycle mindset that has developers creating fabulous new properties in the shells of once-grand buildings is that elegance and glamour are returning to interior design. A few cases in point are the just-restored Westin Book Cadillac hotel in Detroit, where crystal chandeliers now sparkle again; The Nines hotel in Portland, OR, in the Meier & Frank Building (1857), whose retail history sees expression in fashion-themed decorative touches; the Roosevelt in New Orleans, whose 1893 building is yielding fascinating secrets as restorers return it from Hurricane Katrina devastation; and the renamed York Hotel, now the Hotel Vertigo, in San Francisco—never a grand hotel, but one with a movie history that makes it glamorous: Hitchcock's Vertigo was filmed there in part.

Deborah Lloyd Forrest, principal of the Dallas-based interior architecture and design firm ForrestPerkins, who did the interior design for the Westin Book Cadillac and The Nines, says interiors that glamorize these buildings' historic roots are right for our times. "There is an understanding and appreciation and really a longing for comfort and for reassurance," Lloyd Forrest says.

"People are looking for a backdrop, certainly, for social events that makes people feel sort of in the spotlight, but in a comfortable way." She adds that a bit of glitter or sheen—polished metal, gold or silver leaf, or a pearlized finish evokes glamour. So does "a high contrast between a color and a neutral, if used in the right way." Whereas recent design has been hard-edged, out-there, this is a new direction.

Westin restored and updated Detroit landmark the Book Cadillac hotel, opening it last October with 455 rooms. Its Grand and Italian Garden ballrooms are original, part of the hotel's 39,000 sf of event space.

The Nines, a Starwood Luxury Collection Hotel with 331 guest rooms and 14,000 sf of meeting space, has a sleek feel. A wall of art glass behind the front desk introduces the rich peacock blues that in the guest rooms become Tiffany blues—a homage to the building's department store history.

Meanwhile, for the Roosevelt, a New Orleans institution, "in as many cases as are humanly possible we are restoring things back to their former glory, not building them new," says Tod Chambers, the general manager who is overseeing the restoration. Examples are a mosaic floor that was discovered under the carpet in the lobby, and the original crystal chandeliers. The Roosevelt will return June 1 with 505 guest rooms, including 125 luxury suites.

Thomas Schoos, of Schoos Design Inc., designer of the Hotel Vertigo, which opened in January, uses the words "small" and "jewel" to define glamour. A native of Germany, he says this is a European sensibility. "In America you think, 'It's bigger, it's better,' but many places in Europe you didn't have the space, so you made very small jewels."

The hotel's furniture is eclectic, contemporary, and playful. The Hitchcock movie is referenced, but not too overtly. Schoos picks up the orange from the poster artwork in wingback chairs. He uses the spiral from the original posters in a piece of framed Plexiglass. This artpiece is in all 102 guest rooms.

Chicago's 216-room Hotel Dana opened its Vertigo Sky Lounge on the 26th floor in October. With wraparound views, it is a glittering special event location whose design evokes Mad Men and adds a naughty edge. Britt Szepsy, who directs events and catering for the venue, says it's more like a penthouse than a lounge. She has done an awards night for the Chicago International Film Festival for 100 people, using the drop-down screen that covers one wall.

In Los Angeles, the Beverly Wilshire's penthouse is a 4,000-sf venue that has hosted Madonna's Grammy party and birthday parties for a slew of boldface names. BlackBerry held a launch party there in 2007 to introduce the Curve. An evening event for around 200 people, the party flowed out onto the 2,500-sf terrace. Inside are hardwood floors, crown molding, a dining room seating 10, a wood-paneled library, and an entertainment room with built-in bar.

Originally published March 1, 2009

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