The Gray Is the New Black
Opening the Gray brought venerable Sina Hotels into the boutique era—and gave Milan another fashionable interior by Studio Ciompi
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 6/1/2003 12:00:00 AM
Since 1960, when Conte Ernesto Bocca purchased Florence's Palazzo de Renzis Sonnino and turned it into the five-star Villa Medici, Sina Hotels has perfected the art of hospitality on the grandest of scales. Walk into the Villa Medici's resplendent lobby this year, and you'll find regally red tufted ottomans, a baroque table of marble and gilt, and an 18-armed crystal chandelier sparkling beneath a ceiling painted to resemble a delicate Tuscan sky.
In Rome, Venice, and several other Italian cities where Sina now operates, visitors have come to expect 18th-century Italian tapestries, Murano chandeliers, and a profusion of swags and tassels. CEO Bernabò Bocca, however, was ready for a change. After acquiring an 1868 Milan building occupied by municipal offices, Bocca asked Florentine architect Guido Ciompi to introduce Lombardy's capital to the upscale boutique hotel. La Scala, meet the Gray.
"Our new style suits the taste and needs of the 'urban tribe,'" says Sina marketing manager Sabina Galdiolo. That style is also typical of Studio Ciompi, most often associated with the design of Gucci boutiques throughout Italy.
"The Gray is about today's luxury: time," says Ciompi. "It's the perfect place to melt after a day of work." In businesslike Milan, that entails guest quarters equipped with wireless Internet technology and in-room gyms, but the design is playful, too.
What's the main attraction in the reception area? No, not the concierge desk. A swing. Hanging in the center of the 750-square-foot double-height space is essentially a full-size mattress upholstered in fuchsia silk shantung, suspended by four grosgrain-wrapped steel cords. "The lobby is a place to relax," says Ciompi. "On a swing, we become children. It's fun."
Along this area's window wall, Ciompi built a banquette covered in red velvet. Another wall is lined by a Macassar ebony shelf displaying silver leaves. Oxidized-iron flooring strikes a more sober note.
Sobriety and levity continue to mingle in the compact Il Bar. The bar itself is white glass, backed by a focal wall of rough stucco with an LED-illuminated oblong cutout showcasing bottles. Round acrylic-topped side tables resemble upside-down lamp shades, with pleated-fabric sides lit from within.
In the Gray's second-floor restaurant, Le Noir, Ciompi assembled an appropriately inky backdrop of black lacquered tables and black velvet-upholstered custom chairs. He tempered the seriousness by designing two chandeliers: black silk-shantung column shades ringed by dangling silverware.
Nor did he forget circulation paths. A rotating display of vintage couture enlivens the stairwell connecting the ground floor to the restaurant. On the three guest floors, hallways are punctuated by steel columns studded with fiber optics.
For the 21 guest rooms, Ciompi eschewed a "theme" tactic but maintained a basic consistency. Headboards are upholstered in white leather or ostrich; coverlets are light gray cotton; shams are brown and white cotton. For millwork, cabinetry, and the stairs in the penthouse duplex, he specified Macassar ebony. Two rooms have their own treadmill and stationary bike.
Guest baths pay special attention to luxury. Some feature Macassar ebony paneling and an LCD TV in a niche above a round tub. Others offer a steam bath and incised travertine walls. Either model fits the bill after a long day of fashion or furniture.