In The Lap Of Luxury
With the Hazelton, Yabu Pushelberg gives Toronto its first five-star boutique hotel
Mark Pupo -- Interior Design, 2/1/2008 12:00:00 AM
A few years ago, when hotelier Ian Schrager still owned the Royalton in New York, he approached Yabu Pushelberg about giving this seminal boutique hotel an overhaul. Principals George Yabu and Glenn Pushelberg politely declined. Messing with those iconic Philippe Starck interiors seemed sacrilegious. "There are a few really good rooms in the world, a few that should never change," Pushelberg muses. Besides, the pair were too busy making their own bid for hospitality posterity, working on no fewer than 25 hotels from Moscow to Mumbai, India.
In their own Toronto backyard, Yabu and Pushelberg have created what they consider to be a seminal work: the Hazelton Hotel, an instant luxury landmark complete with 77 plush guest suites, a marble-clad spa, and a private screening room. "This hotel is brand-new, but it has a sense of completeness," Pushelberg says. "The combination of materials and the proportion of spaces evoke longevity."
Housed in a nine-story building by Paige + Steele Incorporated Architects, Toronto's first five-star boutique hotel is 165,000 square feet of muted elegance, starting with the soaring lobby. Groupings of velvet-covered sofas rest on an abstract-floral rug of tip-sheared wool and silk. Some walls are covered in a Brazilian hair-on cowhide. Others are green marble, a hard sell with the hotel's owners. "They kept thinking bank, bank, bank," Yabu says. "But this is an almost teal marble with a lovely patina, and the big slabs say, 'We'll be around for a while.'" Occasionally, solid walls make way for built-in bronze grilles.
Walnut portals, 14 feet high, beckon visitors to explore the rest of the hotel. But first, tucked in an antechamber—reminiscent of a fine European hotel—there's a reception desk topped by a massive slab of white-veined black marble. Above, a bronze-finished chandelier resembles a glowing tumbleweed. Added sparkle comes from bronze mirror as well as from sculptures composed of stacked chrome suitcases.
"We like to take something old and give it a twist," Yabu explains one winter morning as the pair tour the public rooms for a final inspection. For proof, he points to the upholstery on a pair of benches. "We're not damask people," he says. "But if you look at this particular damask, there's a freshness in terms of the colorway, the contrasting banding. The flowers look more relaxed. They don't say 'mother.'" The same obsessive level of detail is evident in a location as mundane as the elevator lobby, which resembles a gentleman's library with leather-paneled bookshelves. One wall here was painstakingly hand-rubbed and glazed to achieve a range of bronzes, browns, and greens, then inset with a constellation of mother-of-pearl details.
Another sculpture, this one a cedar cube set on its end, echoes the squares of the beveled suede-covered paneling at the entry to the hotel restaurant, One. (It takes its name from the building's location at the foot of Hazelton Avenue.) Bronze screens like the ones in the lobby reappear here. "In designing a hotel, you have to have common threads," Pushelberg says. "At the same time, though, you have to keep changing from room to room." In the adjoining bar area, he and Yabu covered a section of wall in what appears to be tortoiseshell but is in fact sheets of pressed seashell fragments. Generous leather-upholstered chairs complement diminutive leather-covered tuffets, a place to rest one's handbag.
"We design interiors for the emotional response," Pushelberg says. "A W hotel tends to be experimental and bombastic, like one that we're currently designing. The Hazelton captures a romantic glamour. It's aspirational." Case in point: At 1,800 square feet, the largest guest suite features ebony-veneered walls and millwork, a circular sitting area, and two terraces. The suite's bathroom, the size of an entire guest room at a chain hotel, incorporates a changing area generous enough to accommodate an entourage. The room is also covered, floor to ceiling, in dark gray marble and outfitted with a 20-inch-deep soaking tub. Beveled full-length mirrors create a hall-of-mirrors effect, and a plasma screen is integrated into mirror above the vanity.
Pushelberg glances at his reflection and says with a smile, "I'd stay here. Hell, I'd live here!" But not just yet. Today, he and Yabu are leaving to catch a flight to São Paulo, Brazil, where they're meeting with Oscar Niemeyer about reissuing his curvaceous mid-century furniture.