Lauren Rottet crosses continents and oceans to design outposts for Paul Hastings
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 5/1/2008 12:00:00 AM
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What goes around comes around. In Lauren Rottet's world, that means eight years of staggered commissions from Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker and 14 years operating as DMJM Rottet—followed by five more international projects for the global law firm now that she's newly on her own as Rottet Studio with a Houston headquarters, a handful of other U.S. offices, and a final one, inevitably, in Shanghai. "We did our first Paul Hastings renovation in California, for their Orange County office in 2000," Rottet recalls. "Now the lease is up, and they're looking for new space."
Good luck finding one as glamorous as the Paris office, which occupies most of a 1920 limestone building on Boulevard Haussmann in the Eighth Arrondissement. Catalysts for the project were the cachet of a prime street address, a Paul Hastings constant, and exponential growth. It's easy to see here how effortlessly Rottet's work translates between centuries, largely because her overall Paul Hastings mission is branding, not through materials or furnishings but via intangibles of light and space.
Rottet's work was primarily insertion—of furniture, cabinetry, carpet, and lighting into 47,000 square feet. On all eight levels, including two underground, she worked with the existing floor plans to accommodate multiple functions and the 134 personnel count. Extensive reconfiguration was out, as most walls were load-bearing. "It was a puzzle rather than creating from scratch," she explains. (At the same time that she was piecing this puzzle together, the building was being restored.)
Undoubtedly, the interiors are a bit more decorative than the look Rottet is known to embrace. And she's the first to acknowledge it. Starting in the street-front lobby, she transformed a built-in stone bench into a cushioned banquette and flanked it with Antonio Citterio's barrel chairs, covered in a silvery acrylic-cotton. She then completed the tableau with limed-oak drum tables in the art deco mode and Massimo Iosa Ghini's crescent of a sofa, chosen, she notes, for its "sweep and softness." Those two qualities also apply to the two limestone stairways, now fitted with runners in a dancing floral pattern that gets denser as it climbs. Far more industrial is the reception desk, a stainless-steel rectangle with a glowing front of frosted glass. Across the glass, stainless letters prominently spell out the Paul Hastings name, a boldface treatment further accentuated by the desk's location in a domed recess up-lit by incandescents.
Rottet designated the third floor as the conference center, clustering seven meeting rooms there. The largest is a remembrance of things past, complete with a gilded and gold-painted wall and a pair of inherited bronze chandeliers with crystal drops. When was the last time—or even the first—that you saw tieback curtains in a Rottet project? They debut here in dove gray. She did eventually revert to character in the center of the room, where back-painted glass tops a table that stretches a monolithic 30 feet. To get it upstairs, it had to be fabricated in three equal pieces.
When it came to process, Rottet discovered differences between French and American approaches. Could that be the much-maligned French hauteur at play? Au contraire. "The people on the project aimed to please us," Rottet remarks. But communication had uncertainties, particularly in translating the U.S. drawings for local woodworkers and other artisans. In the end, it took just a bit of extra effort to get designs crafted with an attention to detail matching her own.
Space allocations differed, too. The library is a showpiece—in the U.S., libraries are often nonexistent or tiny at best. On the other hand, French secretarial workstations tend to be more compact, without enclosures. "And they don't mind if wires and cables are exposed," Rottet notes. Finally, the associates at Paul Hastings, Paris, always share offices. In the U.S., non merci.
New York State of Mind
There's an awe-inspiring feel to Paul Hastings's ground-level lobby in New York. That's because Lauren Rottet commissioned a monumental sculpture for the space, part of the latest phase in a renovation that began in 2002. Fittingly, the sculpture bridges art and architecture—a row of five 13-foot-high columns, made of shimmering crystal beads strung on strands of wire, are lit from above by low-voltage halogens and below by LEDs. Both the columns' plinth and the reception desk are gray-veined white Calacatta marble, and behind the latter glows a backlit wall meticulously constructed from angled onyx panels. What could be a better introduction to a heavy-hitting office in a 1986 building by Murphy/Jahn?
In Washington, D.C., Lauren Rottet found herself in a 1920's building with a preserved facade but new interiors—that's a standard situation in the capital, she says. In this case, Paul Hastings occupies seven levels totaling 125,000 square feet. The ground level, bifurcated by the entry, is the conference center, comprising 11 meeting rooms and two reception spaces. With its off-white limestone flooring and 22-foot ceiling, part of it angled for additional visual lift, the area exudes a restrained grandeur, and Rottet augmented it with opulent materials. One long wall is a study in texture, with panels of wheat-colored silk abutting creamy lacquer. Opposite, deep lounge chairs are upholstered in a chocolate-brown mohair-cotton, except for seat cushions covered in jewel-toned stripes. Upstairs, ceilings are only 8 ½ feet, so Rottet lightened her palette. Cabinetry is pale Japanese ash. And carpet is café au lait.
Paul Hastings, London, snagged enviable real estate on the top floor of an eight-story Foster and Partners building not far from the firm's more famous Gherkin. Lauren Rottet's brief was for front-of-house showcase design: reception and eight conference rooms totaling 21,000 square feet. "We brought the ambiguity of the English sky inside," associate principal Charles Lee says. Ergo the layers of glass and the gray and white finishes, the most stunning of which is the striated Turkish marble that constitutes most of the flooring in reception. Its custom desk is a blocky composition of lacquered and leather-wrapped volumes detailed with stainless steel. The seating area—combining Christian Liaigre's gray mohair-covered sofas and leather-upholstered armchairs, a quartet of Marcel Wanders's oversize floor lamps, and Rodolfo Dordoni's drum tables—would look right at home in a hip hotel's lobby. Meanwhile, in the adjoining glass-fronted conference rooms, Alberto Meda's black leather-covered chairs say, "We mean business."