High on Hudson
Philippe Starck, Anda Andrei, and Ian Schrager meet on West 58th Street to create the Hudson, the most recent addition to Schrager's hotel empire.
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 1/1/2001 12:00:00 AM
IAN SCHRAGER, ANDA ANDREI, and Philippe Starck have once again captured the attention and fancy of the media and travelers alike with their latest foray into the lodging-cum-social-scene genre. Hudson, on West 58th Street near Ninth Avenue, opened last fall with 1,000 rooms and the full quota of surprises and amenities we've come to expect from these longtime past collaborators. The Hudson dream team also includes Schrager's president of development Michael Overington and lighting designer Clark Johnson of Johnson Schwinghammer.
Approaching the hotel on a block just off of Columbus Circle, we anticipated a variation of the now-familiar Starck/Schrager landscape. And, indeed, the glowing chartreuse entry with Starck's signature, overscaled ovoid form hardly dispelled our doubts. But, ascending the escalator to the lobby, we were met with the shock of the new. This reception space, an urban conservatory, was warm and inviting, filled with brick masonry, dark wood, and a tangle of vines fronting a 30-ft.-high glass roof. Nearby, French doors led to a Wonderland terrace beckoning with plantings, oversized furniture, and tongue-in-cheek sculpture. Even the restaurant and bar, typically temples of hauteur in Schrager's empire, seemed more welcoming. The overall attitude invited us to relax and not fret about being outcasts from an arch fashion shoot.
So what's with the mood swing? It is, according to Andrei, president of design for Ian Schrager Hotels (ISH), "the challenge faced by the same players to try to do things differently." This time, the building itself was rife with visual cues for a new Starck scenario. "On our first walk-through with Philippe," Andrei recalls, "he said that the brick building was like an old American college that had been taken over by a group of young kids wanting to twist everything around." Voilà, the scheme was born. As for business concerns, the well-located property offered a huge number of small rooms with, says Andrei, "an incredible potential for public space. It was the city we were looking for on the corner of Central Park."
Built in 1928 by the daughter of J.P. Morgan as a women's residence, the Hudson building more recently housed a curious mix. Ten floors had been given over to dormitory rooms for St. Luke's Hospital; another ten housed headquarters for Channel Thirteen, including offices and a full production studio. In 1997, the property, spanning a full city block, was purchased by ISH. Three years and $125 million later, its doors reopened as the Hudson.
This Schrager project entailed considerably more structural work than its predecessors. Usually, Schrager locates a site with adequate guest configurations and leaves the rooms intact. His team refurbishes baths, stylishly outfits rooms, and concentrates its major building efforts on coup d'theatre productions for the public places. The entrepreneur's rationale: Get guests out of their rooms and into the hotel's action, enlivened by attractive men and women about town. The Hudson was another story. Those ten floors that had been made into television facilities required a return to their original floor plans. Explains Andrei, "We had to put everything back to give us the 1,000 rooms." This on top of razing and rebuilding the penthouse and the first three floors as Hudson's public showcase.
At street level, the entry begins the play of scale that is as much a Starck trademark as his mix of outré furniture. Simple doors on 58th Street open to a low-ceilinged foyer where a pair of escalators travels in a 30-ft.-high, tunnel-like volume with an eerie green cast. Ascending visitors are surprised with a glimpse of sky. At the apex, they perceive the full effect of the lobby, the first of the hotel's dramatic gathering places concentrated on this second floor.
The lobby is flanked by loggias. One leads to the restaurant, occupying the former television studio and appropriately dubbed the Cafeteria for its modest décor and comfort-food menu. The other passage leads to a library that not only bolsters Starck's boarding house vision, but also offers an alternative mood to the other public places. Adjacent is the de rigueur bar/lounge. Above, on the mezzanine and third floor, are banquet and meeting rooms totaling 30,000 sq. ft. Guest accommodations begin on the fourth floor.
The true delights of a Starck/Andrei collaboration come from twists on scale, playful pieces demanding double-takes, and, says ISH's design director, "a super-eclectic collection of furniture." This last, according to Andrei, "refers to the way great historical homes are furnished-with family pieces and a history of objects you've bought yourself from travels and from hip shops." It is this combination that justifies ISH's loyalty to Starck. "No, Starck doesn't have a contract. No, we never considered using another designer for the project," Andrei responds to these obvious questions. "Working with Philippe is fun and great."
The lobby, with it deep ipe flooring, is dominated by a 45-ft.-long, solid oak desk. Carved in France and assembled locally, it's part Art Nouveau in inspiration, part pure kitsch. Above is a perfectly traditional crystal chandelier. Or so it seems. On closer examination, one sees that there's not a lamp on the piece. Illumination comes from holograms, put in place by that genius of lighting design Ingo Mauer.
The Cafeteria, with its dark wood floor, tables and benches, plus impressive 30-ft.-high volume seems like the perfect spot for a food fight: it doesn't require a huge stretch of imagination to picture the room's well-behaved adults replaced by a crowd of rowdy boys. While communal tables and benches-made here from salvaged barn boards and beams-aren't new to Schrager's hotel world, the open kitchen is. It's smack in the center and ringed with both counter seating and a stained glass frieze. The fixture by artist Jean-Baptiste Mondino, with its backlit depiction of flames, is the room's symbolic fireplace and communal gathering spot.
Mondino's talents reappear in the library. Black-and-white photographic blowups of cows modeling the latest Chanel chapeaux adorn the walls of a room ringed with book-filled shelves. Furnishings continue Starck's predilection for tweaking the obvious. An antique billiards table, purchased at auction, is topped by a huge aluminum domed lighting fixture also by Ingo Mauer. The piece emits a deep purple glow thanks to gels and the reflection of the cloth below. Seating, surrounding game and computer tables, looks at first to be comfortable old classics. Instead they are new interpretations by cutting-edge Italian and American firms.
"Women can spend hours doing makeup and four days a week at the gym to get a great body. At most bars it's all a waste," says Andrei. "They're too dark to let people see and appreciate you." Thanks in part to Andrei's lament, the bar at Hudson is a brilliantly lit scene capable of accommodating 200 players lucky enough to get in. "The lighting is turned upside down," she continues, with most of it emanating from the glass floor. The ceiling, instead of a lighting plane, becomes a canvas for a computerized Francesco Clemente artwork, and walls are punctuated with gilt brick niches. Carved African stools are a counterpoint to silver-leaf pieces with a stylistic debt to Louis XV. Starck's gel-cushioned fauteuils meet Droog Design's gutsy seating composed of a log punctured with a succession of backrests. It's all artfully arrayed to suggest a surfeit of space, not stuff.
The public spaces may indeed offer a visual feast, but the guest rooms have Andrei's heart. The tiny spaces (most of them 150 sq. ft., some 300 to 400 sq. ft.) are exquisitely outfitted to recall a luxury liner stateroom or first-class wagon-lit. With makore paneling and flooring plus crisp white draperies, linens, and upholstery fabric on custom furniture, these rooms weren't cheap, Andrei says. Nor were they easy to install, despite apparent similarities. Variations in dimensions of rooms around a U-shaped floor plate called for reams of working drawings. "There were," she reports, "nearly 600 different room types." But results-with just enough lounge, sleeping, and concealed storage space-were worth it. Hudson rooms also adhere to the ISH tradition of having a single memorable feature. In this case, Starck and Andrei devised a bedside lamp as a miniature light box where a double-faced Francesco Clemente multiple is illuminated within an aluminum frame.
With its range of public places, its outdoor components, and its attraction to New Yorkers, the Hudson harks back to the historical concept of the grand hotel in the center of a European town. Then, as now, the hotel "is a gesture to the city. It's a center of social activity pulsating with city life, not only tourist life," Andrei observes.
Additional credits from the Schrager organization extend to design manager Suzanne Couture and the design team of Kelly Behun, Courtney Friedlander, Masako Fukuoka, Hilary Gilford, Lara Jacobs, Helka Puc, and Dan Stewart. Polshek Partnership Architects was the production architect.