What Does Luxury Look Like?
Yabu Pushelberg reinterprets an East Coast classic at the St. Regis Hotel, San Francisco
Susan Brandabur -- Interior Design, 6/1/2006 12:00:00 AM
Founded in New York by John Jacob Astor as a haven for his swell friends, the original St. Regis Hotel shouts old-world elegance from top to bottom. The 1904 beaux arts landmark is known for gilt picture frames, crystal chandeliers, and the Maxfield Parrish mural in the King Cole Bar. "The New York hotel's traditional references and appointments turn toward Europe, whereas San Francisco is a younger city more open to Asia," says designer Glenn Pushelberg, whose firm, Yabu Pushelberg, just completed a St. Regis there. It's the ninth since Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide acquired the original property and spun off the brand.
Reimagining St. Regis for San Francisco required understanding not only the brand but also the location, a 1907 brick building connected to a new 40-story glass tower by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. The surrounding Yerba Buena Gardens district was an affluent residential area before the 1906 earthquake and fire, but the neighborhood had become a skid row by the mid-20th century, when a protracted revitalization program was launched.
Now, hotel guests can tumble right out of their Pratesi-clad beds and into the new Museum of the African Diaspora, which shares the SOM building with the hotel and 102 St. Regis– branded condominiums with their own entrance. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is next door. Across the street is the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.
Mindful of the neighborhood's deep vein of museums and galleries, former Yabu Pushelberg interior designer James Robertson—who's now an independent art consultant—put together a collection comprising hundreds of paintings, photographs, drawings, and sculptures that fuse smartly with the hotel's design. A small percentage of the budget was earmarked for Bay Area artists' work, exhibited in the public areas. Oakland artist Raymond Saunders, for example, translated one of his mixed-media paintings into a 36-foot-square etching on glass and installed the result at the top of the tower's southeast facade.
In the lobby, the focus is a group of giant steel sculptures by German artist Hans Schüle—the pieces look like a cross between a whisk and a Russian Orthodox onion dome. Two large acrylic and oil paintings by a Toronto realist, Andrew Morrow, hang on facing walls in the bar. A riot of sepia-toned images depicting the themes of Love and War, the pieces were a controversial choice because they include nudes.
The completed interior is subtly exuberant, blending five-star luxury with the organic and material culture of the West Coast. Yabu Pushelberg wove together simple lines, a lushly muted color palette, and rich finishes that exude opulence without resorting to heavy-handed crests or logos. In the lobby, zebrawood paneling complements travertine flooring. A mellowed red-lacquered wall in the restaurant is meant to evoke an antique rice bowl. Outside a meeting room, pale blue sofas offer a soft salute to the pleasures of home.
Flowers seem to have blown through the ground level, with petals scattered in relief across the hand-tufted taupe wool carpet in the lobby lounge. Hand-painted ceramic petals cling to the wall of the main staircase as if fallen from a wet magnolia tree. Deeper-pink petals glitter softly on the branches of Czech crystal chandeliers blooming high above the ballroom.
Some hotels splurge on grandiose public areas—by comparison, the guest rooms can seem small and ordinary. Not the St. Regis. Among the 260 rooms, standard quarters' average out at a spacious 450 square feet; suites range from 700 to 3,200. And guests control every amenity from a bedside touch panel: climate, lights, vast flat-screen TV, phone, and Internet as well as the figured-moiré window shades.
Overall, the feeling is distinctly residential, with lots of bespoke details such as creamy leather wall covering, limed-oak cabinetry, and polished-limestone windowsills deep enough to perch on while gazing out at the downtown cityscape. Limestone appears again on the floor at the entry to each room and in the bathrooms, which feature deep soaking tubs and separate showers and WCs.
"People want a transcendent experience when they stay in a five-star hotel," Pushelberg says. In its own way, San Francisco's St. Regis may prove as timeless as its august cousin back East.