Downtown Gets Down
Converting a Los Angeles landmark, Koning Eizenberg Architecture, Shawn Hausman Design, and hotelier André Balazs make "corporate" cool
Eve Epstein -- Interior Design, 10/1/2002 12:00:00 AM
When André Balazs discovered the onetime Superior Oil building, designed in 1956 by architect Claud Beelman, it remained a paragon of corporate sensibility, from the marble-floored lobby to the escalators. Not exactly considered ideal for a hotel, especially in laid-back Los Angeles. But Balazs says he "literally fell in love" with the details, such as the intricate stainless-steel spandrels that adorn both exterior and interior. He bought the downtown building and registered it as a historic landmark, a move that conferred prestige and tax benefits—but greatly restricted options for the prospective transformation into his second Standard hotel.
Rising to the challenge, Hank Koning and Julie Eizenberg of Koning Eizenberg Architecture and interior designer and event producer Shawn Hausman of Shawn Hausman Design executed a sort of retro-corporate chic. The lobby's dark green marble floor remains, but in the center, at a jaunty angle, sprawl giant pink sectional sofas by Vladimir Kagan. In the reception area, a tongue-in-cheek world map titled "Standard Holdings" indicates fictional corporate outposts with illuminated red dots. Above, an Alexander Calder–inspired mobile pays winking tribute to corporate art.
Upstairs, the off-center position of the elevator core created a number of long, narrow spaces that resisted classic guest-room dimensions. The playful solution was to create an unconventional variety of room shapes and sizes. The extra-long ones became "NBA rooms," so called for their Shaq-like proportions. From there, Koning Eizenberg and Hausman spun out the joke, with curtains made from basketball-jersey mesh and the addition of a 3-foot-high foam foot, designed by Gaetano Pesce, near the tub. "There are 22 of those rooms, and we figured that's a good number for a visiting basketball team!" Koning says. "Whether that happens or not doesn't matter. It becomes an interesting way of evolving an idea."
In all guest rooms, privacy is less a priority than openness, as reflected in transparent shower enclosures and the fact that the white-on-white bath facilities are not walled off. The color scheme of the rooms came about, Hausman says, by process of elimination. "Slowly, as I started piecing it together, I sucked almost all the color out," he recalls. In most of the rooms, he left just one yellow line that swoops across the walls and window treatments.
The dominant signature color is a device that Koning Eizenberg and Hausman perfected at the original Standard hotel, in West Hollywood. There, blue Astroturf surrounds the pool. At the downtown location, this approach appears most strikingly in the restaurant, where everything—the Pierre Paulin chairs, the booths, the floor and walls—is drenched in bright yellow.
A more varied palette characterizes the rooftop pool and bar, which hosts an exploding nightlife scene. "We specifically designed it for that," Balazs says. "The challenge for any business hotel is that it's really four days a week. One has to find a purpose for the other three days." Orange planters, yellow chairs and tables, and red vibrating water-bed pods reflect the area's social function, while the pool gives the sensation of swimming in the sky.
For Balazs, it was the view from the top of the hotel that sealed the deal, though he seems surprisingly uninvested in the success of the latest push to revitalize downtown. (Chinatown is burgeoning into a hub for the local art scene, Jose Rafael Moneo's Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels has just opened, the Frank Gehry–designed Walt Disney Concert Hall will open in 2003, and countless other projects are in the works.) Waves of hope and investment have crested and subsided, he points out, many times before. But he embraces even these deflated civic ambitions—celebrating them rather than denying them—as a kind of cultural richness unto itself.