Midtown Manhattan isn’t known for its residential ambience. So cheers to Affinia 50, fresh from a $19 million renovation, for offering a taste of apartment living this side of Airbnb.
To be fair, hominess is in the Affinia’s DNA. The 250-room building started out in 1959 as a residential hotel. There’s no restaurant, but two enormous lounges eat up the second floor. And all 100 suites, from studios to one-bedrooms, come with kitchenettes.
The white brick exterior, meanwhile, is interchangeable with the many Mad Men-era apartments built to house legions of flight attendants, office workers and fledgling Wall Street traders in Midtown and the East Side.
Like their contemporaries, the nameless architects who designed this mid-century structure skimped on memorable architectural details – unless you count the too-narrow horizontal windows. But square footage was another matter. Ceilings may feel low, but rooms are roomy – even the smallest. And the public spaces, including the new sitting area on the first floor, sprawl.
Dealt this uneven but promising hand, architect Nobutaka Ashihara and Seattle design firm Dawson Design Associates rolled up their figurative sleeves, expunged all traces of the hotel’s outmoded ’90s incarnation and installed a smart version of the mid-century look beloved of hotels today. Unlike many hotels, the look is actually in synch with the building. Fortunately, it’s not literal.
The new look unspools on the ground floor, which was widened to create two inviting spaces – a check-in area with a well-stocked grab ‘n go and, behind a quartet of whimsical metal figures, a new seating area warmed, visually at least, by a floral rug and a gas-jet fireplace in a sleek stone wall. You can sink into a fanciful armchair – Danish Modern meets tweed – or a buttery leather sofa and check your messages.
Or you can head upstairs a flight – the spiral staircase is quicker than the elevator – and curl up in one of the lounges. Each offers large flatscreen TVs and plentiful seating but different moods. Hang out in the main lounge if you want sporty informality. With a large, outlet-enriched communal table, it doubles as a breakfast area, serves up coffee all day and morphs into a nightly wine hour, hosted by NakedWines.com.
A second lounge with dark barn doors that slide closed is cozy and chic. With yet another fireplace, library shelves stocked with New York books and memorabilia and abstract paintings on the walls it could be a living room in Elle Décor.
Large public areas are often a sweetener for hotels stuck with tiny rooms. But Affinia doesn’t skimp. The rooms I saw were big. (The bathrooms, alas, were not.) The renovation raised the room count from 210 to 250 (ten of the one-bedroom suites were sliced into singles). The new rooms sport large stall showers; the old have tub/shower combos. But all the bathrooms were redone with Parsons-style vanities and teasing word art canvases, a splash of downtown cred.
The latter were designed for the hotel, printed on huge canvas spools and cut, like rolls of paper towels, to fit. The same MO is used in the sleeping areas, where an eye-catching color field ribbon runs along the wall above each bed. It’s a welcome blast of color in the cool gray and white rooms and hey, it’s not a framed floral.
The kitchenettes range from modest to larger-than-you’d-find-in-some-Manhattan-apartments. In addition to a microwave oven, mini-fridge and sink they come with coffeemakers, cookware and a sense of humor. The walls are Harvest Yellow, the classic color of mid-century American kitchens.
You could probably cook up a storm here if you were so inclined. But you can also heat up meals from Fresh Direct, a popular food service that delivers daily to the hotel. That’s what a lot of real apartment dwellers in the neighborhood do.
Affinia 50, 155 East 50th Street at Third Avenue; 212 751-5710.