Less is more is rarely the first thought that leaps to mind when you enter the Park Avenue lobby of the Waldorf-Astoria. This massive expanse is one of the most superb examples of Art Deco design in town.
The deco is decorative – allegorical murals by French artist Louis Rigal, gilded ceiling reliefs of frolicking naiads and stags, a floor mosaic of the Wheel of Life made from 150,000 tiny tiles.
Still, there’s notably less to see than there was just a few months ago. While never a candidate for Hoarders, the lobby in its newly renovated incarnation is an emphatic if unexpected salute to Mies van der Rohe’s maxim.
To leap forward the hotel stepped backward, restoring the lobby to the original footprint on view when it opened in 1931.
The awkward cocktail terrace constructed next to the Park Avenue windows years later is
gone – and with it the outdated curtains, quotidian furnishings and the showpiece art case Steinway the hotel lent composer Cole Porter when he lived in the Waldorf Towers.
No loss there; the Porter piano was moved to Peacock Alley, the cocktail lounge and restaurant off the main lobby where a pianist actually plays it most evenings.
As for the restored lobby, it’s magnificent. The towering white columns, newly painted and
gilded, are as emphatic as exclamation points. The ceiling, relieved of an anachronistic, dust-catching crystal chandelier, ca 1970, is illuminated by a handsome Art Deco-inspired ornament powered by LED lights. The seating areas boast timeless sofas and club chairs and exuberant Deco-era grace notes like potted palms.
To visit is like peering into the cool, Metropolis-inspired heart of Art Deco. You expect to see Fred and Ginger – or Franklin and Eleanor – swan into the room. It’s instant time travel, one of the most appealing perks a historic hotel can offer.
But the room also, miraculously, feels contemporary. The floors are mostly bare. There’s no superfluous ornamentation. The surroundings, like the paint, feel fresh. You can’t ask more of a landmark building.