Three NYC Hotel Designers Discuss Their (Gorgeous) Handiwork at the Museum of the City of New York

The Mondrian SoHo, Café Carlyle at the Carlyle Hotel and the Standard Hotel New York are stylish, newly minted places.  Last night, the architect behind the Standard, the designer of the Mondrian and the decorator who refurbished Café Carlyle talked about their work at the Museum of the City of New York Here are five cool facts I learned about each property.


Designer Benjamin Noriega-Ortiz on the Mondrian SoHo

In the beginning: All the hotels in the Mondrian group are based on a story, so Benjamin Noriega-Ortiz, whose clients include Lenny Kravitz and Sean Diddy Combs, looked to the escapist 1946 black-and-white Jean Cocteau film La Belle et La Bete, aka Beauty and the Beast, for inspiration. New York can be a beast, the hotel’s guests are, of course, beautiful, “and the hotel is trying to seduce the guests to come back and stay,” he says.

Fanciful surroundings: As befits a hotel inspired by a fantasy film, the furniture is whimsical, painted blue or white. No real-world materials like natural woods or metals intrude.

True blue: Because Cocteau described Belle’s dress as French blue in his diary, blue runs through the hotel like a leitmotif. The lobby is bathed in blue. And white guest rooms sport blue ceilings, blue carpeting and a strip of blue mirror near the head of the bed. “You don’t see wrinkles in blue mirrors, so the first thing I wanted people to see when they wake up is their reflection in a blue mirror,” Noreiga-Ortiz says.

 Dining in the ballroom: In the film the Beast serves  Belle a banquet in the ballroom. So Noriega-Ortiz fashioned a ballroom setting for the hotel’s Imperial No. Nine restaurant. Because “every ballroom must have a crystal chandelier,” the restaurant’s is a showstopper made from nine chandeliers.

 One reason we have boutique hotels: Because Studio 54 co-founder Ian Schrager went to jail for tax evasion. When he was released, he wanted to open a club but his jail time meant he couldn’t get a liquor license. Instead, he opened Morgans Hotel, widely viewed at the first boutique, in 1984.


Designer Scott Salvator on Café Carlyle

Blirzkreig design: In July 2007 the Rosewood Group, owners of the Carlyle Hotel, recruited Scott Salvator, an Architectural Digest favorite with a blue chip client list, to refurbish the illustrious but run-down Café Carlyle supper club. Caveat: he had less than three months to get the job done.

Decorating conundrum: The room dated from 1955 and looked its age, but Salvator voted against grand-scale modernization. “I didn’t want the room to be so forward that people wouldn’t recognize it.”

That was then: Despite its celebrity cred – Judy Collins, Elaine Stritch, Barbara Cook and Woody Allen perform regularly – the place was a mess, with a low ceiling, Mad Men-era track lighting and pink banquettes. “They closed a couple of storefronts, covered them over and did the whole thing quickly and inexpensively back then,” Salvator says.

Mural, mural: Worth keeping were the fanciful, Picasso-esque murals by Marcel Vertes, an artist and Academy Award winning costume designer who died in 1960. Filthy from years of cigarette smoke – “people smoked a lot in the 1950s and 60s,” says Salvator – the murals were treated to a grand-scale cleaning and restoration.

Tune in: The previous sound system was a pair of speakers in the back “where they’d seat the out-of-towners,” Salvator says. To accommodate a contemporary system, Salvator raised the ceiling then painted it deep El Morocco blue to make it disappear. He kept the basic floor plan but installed dark patterned fabric banquettes. When it was done, Salvator got a call from Tommy Tune. “He said, ‘Now I can perform here. In the past, I was too tall.’”


Architect Todd Schliemann on The Standard Hotel

College ties: Though best known for devising buildings for universities and museums, like the Rose Center for Earth and Science at the American Museum of Natural History, Todd Schliemann agreed to design the New York Standard because he knew hotelier Andre Balazs from their days at Cornell.

Blending in: Though the High Line was not yet a park when the Standard was planned, Schliemann knew the hotel had to be built around it. The zoning plan called for a rectangular structure with a hole cut in the bottom. Instead, the architects decided to raise the building on concrete legs so High Line pedestrians could walk beneath. “The building has bulk, but once it was lifted, it appeared lighter at street level,” Schliemann says. Because the surrounding buildings in the Meatpacking District are low, the hulking Standard blends in seamlessly.

Material world: The hotel is constructed from raw concrete, a nod to the “tough, Robert DeNiro side of New York,” and iron-free glass, reflecting New York’s “Michele Pheiffer elegance,” Schliemann says.

About those windows: Iron-free glass is extremely transparent – we know! — with no green tinges. The intentionally narrow building houses shallow guest rooms that feel larger than they are due to the floor-to-ceiling windows. “There’s a curious phenomenon we didn’t expect,” Schliemann says. “Because it’s so transparent, the glass in the windows is like a funny one-way mirror. You feel no one can see you.”

Made for each other: After a year, it’s impossible to imagine the Standard or the High Line without the other. The Standard marks the official start of the park. And were it not for the High Line, the hotel might rest on the ground. “It’s like a perpetual lap dance between the hotel and the High Line. They need each other,” Schliemann says.



3 replies
  1. Justin
    Justin says:

    Nice thought nuggets on design problem-solving. And most enlightening history of Ian Schrager and the origins of boutique hotels in NYC — prison-inspired innovation.


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