Hotel hallways are a scene setter, a visual amuse-bouche before you dig into your room. You rarely notice them unless they’re battered or dingy or film noir scary. Usually they’re white or beige, some variant of pale.
But we’re seeing a darkening trend, walls bathed in gray, charcoal or to cut to the chase, black. The Refinery Hotel and NYLO New York are two less-than-a-year-old New York boutique hotels with dark halls. (The 11-year-old Maritime was an early adopter, sporting midnight navy halls as was the Royalton with deep gray.)
But boutique hotels aren’t the only ones going dark. Sofitel New York went fashionably gray when the halls were renovated a year ago.
More surprising are the confident smoky gray hallways in the new Courtyard Marriott Central Park, the lower half of the tallest hotel in North America and one of the first chain hotels I’ve seen go dark.
Personally, I love dark halls, and I’m surprised more hotels don’t go with them. Properly lighted, they’re glamorous and good-looking. Practical, too. I remember visiting the Standard High Line NYC shortly after it opened and seeing a painter at work, already touching up the chalky white hall.
What makes a design team go dark when they’re deciding how a hotel should look? And what words of wisdom can be passed along to those who want to try this at home? I posed the questions to Michael Suomi, Principal and VP of Design at Stonehill & Taylor, the firm behind the dark walls at The Refinery and NYLO.
The guest room hallways at the Refinery are about as dark as you can go. Why did the design team want dark halls? And why black?
This minimalist, yet refined theme in the hallways is a tribute to the historic millinery factory that our design concept for the guestrooms stems from. The darkness and the intimate feeling in the hallways create a nice contrast once guests walk into the rooms, as they feel strikingly bright and expansive.
You used a flat finish on the walls and mega-gloss paint on the doors and lightened everything up with graphic black and white carpeting and a pop of red. What was the effect you were going for?
We played with texture and contrast within the lowly lit hallways. Accent colors, as the red you noted, were chosen to provide a pop. Even the room number signs were deliberately bright in red felt with white hand-written numbers on them, inspired by the marks made by a tailor’s chalk pen on fabric. The carpet reflects the tartan-patterned motif that resonates throughout the lobby bar as well. This was a subtle reference to the Scottish origins of the building’s first owners.
What’s the trick to making dark halls look glamorous instead of spooky?
Our design team lined the hallway with period pieces, such as the rotary dial phone, and intriguing artwork by local artists. Pins of warm colored lighting create a certain rhythm along the corridors, allowing guests to feel warm and intimate, rather than spooky.
I feel like we’re seeing more dark hallways in hotels at the moment than in the past. Why? And is it something in the design world air or just a coincidence?
I think boutique hotels and dimly lit moody hallways have been synonymous since their earliest days. That may be us designers’ response to the desire for comfort, warmth and intimacy in the hotel experience.