A grand tour
Renovating the Hotel Monaco & Grand Canal in Venice, Lissoni Associati takes visitors on a journey through time
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 6/1/2003 12:00:00 AM
For years, visitors to the Hotel Monaco & Grand Canal enjoyed the refined ambience and proximity to Harry's Bar. They had no access, however, to the most palatial part of the palazzo that houses the four-star establishment. That's because, back in the 18th century, the baroque piano nobile had become Venice's first public casino, known as the Publico Ridotto. The Ridotto saw various modifications over time, serving most recently as a theater. It wasn't until Edizione Holding acquired the entire property that the piano nobile could be reintegrated into the building.
Edizione's next move was to hire Lissoni Associati for a two-phase renovation. Phase one, now complete, involved the rejuvenation of public areas on the first two floors. "The finished product was to be elegant, sexy, and modern within its historical context," says principal Piero Lissoni, who concocted multicultural and century-spanning surprises at every turn.
Change begins subtly, with the foyer's new stainless-steel signage. Inside the front entry, Lissoni installed double reception desks clad in dark gray glass-mosaic tile. The former courtyard is now a glassed-topped reception atrium furnished with Le Corbusier's LC3 lounge chairs and contemporary stained-oak étagères. Just past reception, a new stairwell's white Istrian stone risers, floating glass balustrade, and anthracite-gray plaster wall produce a three-dimensional chiaroscuro effect.
These introductory spaces are only a prologue, however, to the piano nobile. For the restoration of the interior envelope—original terrazzo floor, faux-marble walls, ceiling frescoes—Lissoni supervised a team of local artisans working in accordance with strict municipal ordinances. The Ridotto was now ready to become the hotel's main salon, comprising a restaurant, bar, and lounge cum conference facility.
To break up the 2,400-square-foot, double-height space, Lissoni configured four separate seating areas visually defined by custom wool rugs and wood-framed folding screens printed with enlargements of J.M.W. Turner watercolors. Lissoni's furnishings play with scale while traveling back and forth between centuries and continents. Daybeds are Ludwig Mies van der Rohe or vintage Indian. Clean-lined seating—more LC3 chairs and Lissoni's own Box sofas—mingle with Louis XV–style bergères and replicas of antique Chinese furniture. Eero Saarinen's Tulip side tables mix with ring-based tables by Michela Catalano and Ilaria Martelli.
To tame the scale of the 26-foot-high room, Lissoni used two of his clever production pieces: traditional silk-shaded brass table lamps expanded to floor-lamp size. These giants supplement concealed light sources, synchronized by computer to produce a golden glow. Also hidden, below windows and behind large mirrors, are a conference-ready fiber-optic network and sound system.
Historical and modern modes continue to interweave in the elevator lobby. "I thought I'd play with Canaletto," says the architect. After translating the 18th-century maestro's Grand Canal scenes into computer-generated images and reproducing them on film, Lissoni applied them to the glass wall panels.
Lissoni's multicultural references carry through as well. At the end of a charcoal-gray corridor is a niche clad in gold-toned glass-mosaic tile, set inside a gold-painted frame. Against this Byzantine backdrop, Lissoni placed a carved-wood piece that originated in an Indonesian temple—but could easily be seen as an abstraction of a gondola's prow. "It's my way of connecting Venice and the Far East," says Lissoni, picking up where Marco Polo left off. Back in 2003, the architect has already embarked on his next professional exploration, designing the Monaco & Grand Canal's oyster bar and second restaurant.