In The Still Of The Heights
Kimberly Goad -- Interior Design, 10/1/2008 12:00:00 AM
Creating an oasis of solitude in a city that never sleeps is difficult enough. When the setting is a landmark hotel built at a time when people rarely, if ever, traveled to New York in search of solitude, let alone an oasis, the task is especially daunting. Orso it would seem.
Midtown's 77-year-old Waldorf-Astoria hotel has played host to presidents and prime ministers, kings and queens, Albert Einstein and Cole Porter. Still the Hilton Corporation, which owns the property, realized that its storied past alone couldn't keep it competitive with the city's other five-star hotels. A luxury spa and fitness center was a necessary, and expected, amenity.
The trick—as AC Martin quickly discovered—was to conjure a state-of-the-art facility without compromising the spirit of the legendary property. "It was important to acknowledge and celebrate the history and grace of the Waldorf-Astoria while giving shape, color, and form to its luxury spa," says firm associate and director of interior architecture Christopher King, who led the project. "The approach was one of urban glamour in a classical mood."
Although the Waldorf Towers and the hotel exist under one roof, they operate independently, sharing little more than the 19th floor, formerly used for storage and home to a modest three-room fitness center. Hilton teamed with beauty company Guerlain, and a 14,000-square-foot portion of the floor was gutted and its layout reconfigured, to create what's now the Guerlain Spa at the Waldorf-Astoria. AC Martin devised a facility around the philosophy of Guerlain's partner on the project, Spa Chakra, known for providing highly customized spa regimens.
Rather than checking in and moving from station to station—from locker room to waiting room to treatment room to steam room—guests are escorted to their own individual rooms. Initially, clients fill out the requisite health-and-lifestyle questionnaire while undergoing the spa's signature footbath in a common space. But that's where the public experience ends. Each approximately 300-square-foot retreat is outfitted with a massage bed, shower, vanity, and all the tools needed by aestheticians, keeping hallway traffic to a minimum.
Working within the confines of a floor plan built around a series of narrow hallways with low ceilings, AC Martin sited the reception area near one of two elevator banks. Here, a mix of materials—Calacatta marble, glass mosaic tile, crystal—sets a mood of tranquil sophistication. The same materials are used in each of the 16 treatment rooms, located along two wings, "Designed to be self-contained so you don't have to bring guests through the reception area in bathrobes," King continues. A third wing houses the fitness center. In addition to reducing traffic, the design team sought "to eliminate the hallway feel as much as possible," he adds. Not an easy task, since all the utilities, vents, water pipes, and ducts transfer on the 19th floor. To eliminate the cramped sensation imposed by 8- and 9-foot hallway heights, recessed and cove lighting was installed throughout and ceilings were sculpted or vaulted whenever possible, adding visual relief and interest.
In a nod to the setting, hand-polished Czech crystal pendant fixtures and sconces, inspired by the chandeliers throughout the Waldorf's public spaces, populate the spa, while other details—silver-finished hardware, fluted glass—pay subtle homage to the hotel's art deco past. As for absorbing the noise of a city that never shuts up, the existing walls were upgraded with a new layer of gypsum board and aluminum-framed insulated windows installed. The effect? An oasis of solitude that's more than a mirage.