In his restaurant design for the new Park Hyatt Chicago, Tony Chi discovers there's no place like home.
Jen Renzi -- Interior Design, 1/1/2001 12:00:00 AM
THE PARK HYATT CHICAGO benefits from its advantageous location. Nestled in the heart of the Magnificent Mile, the 203-room luxury hotel is within walking distance of high-end retail destinations, the city's cultural resources, and Hyatt's corporate headquarters. The hotel was designed to be not only a home-away-from-home for weary travelers, but also a high-profile showcase suitable for the company's owners to entertain personal and business associates. The clients tapped Tony Chi, president of Tony Chi & Associates, to "interpret an international restaurant" that could function as an extension of their boardroom-or their living room. Although Chi harnessed "the combined expertise and experience" of a team of domestic and overseas Hyatt consultants, the result, completed in 11 months, is nonetheless a singular vision. "I took the job personally," notes the itinerant Chi, no stranger to travel, who designs in far-flung locales and is prone to restlessness if he remains in one city for too long. For NoMI, whose name refers to its prestigious North Michigan Avenue address, he created an interlocking suite of rooms that marries the ceremonial presence of a public space with the proportions and feel of a private residence.
As the hotel's only eating facility, NoMI was designed to accommodate all-day dining-from continental breakfast to formal dinner banquets-in addition to private functions. Rooms unfold like "a 19th-century brownstone," says Chi. "The flow from chamber to chamber builds anticipation and, most importantly, makes it feel like you're coming home." The 120-seat main dining area (complete with sushi bar) combines two adjacent rooms bracketed by an inviting salon/bar, a dramatic 3,000-bottle wine cellar, an exhibition-style kitchen, and two private rooms flanking a gallery-a "pre-function" conversation area that features contemporary artworks from the hotel's collection. The compartmentalization of the 7,500-sq.-ft. expanse into specialized nooks is by choice and necessity: Chi inherited a floorplan obstructed by internal, structural shearing walls that stabilize the 67-floor high-rise.
Although NoMI's 7th-floor location offers commanding views of the city, the restaurant is only accessible by elevator-a factor Chi considered "a serious flaw." Chi created an outdoor courtyard off the restaurant's entrance, a psychological device to "erase the memory of the elevator ride and return you to ground level." Another nod to the townhouse vernacular, the garden also introduces a seasonal motif to unify the interior. The canopy of flowering trees signifies springtime. A ceiling sculpture in the main dining area evokes wintry, snow-covered branches. A water element in the art gallery symbolizes summer. But autumn is the season most dear to Chi, who explains fall's mythical importance to American culture: "We treasure the autumn-the true holiday season-which is celebrated with food. On the East Coast especially," Chi continues, "autumn is synonymous with home." Fall is evident throughout the main dining area and salon, from the rich, nuanced palette of wenge, rosewood, mahogany, and nickel to the leafy floral pattern of the mosaic floor, rendered in a melange of marble, jade, and onyx. Decorative, etched metal wall panels by artisan Christian Heckscher reflect movement "like wind blowing through trees." The success of Chi's design for NoMI ultimately owes as much to its inner beauty-its inspired harmony with nature-as to its outward elegance.