In Barcelona, Spain, Dale Keller Design and a team of artists take the mountaintop Gran Hotel La Florida to a new level
Craig Kellogg -- Interior Design, 6/1/2004 12:00:00 AM
Seen from Mount Tibidabo at night, the Spanish city of Barcelona is a vast carpet of lights fringed by quiet beaches. For anyone looking up at Tibidabo from the city below, the floodlit mountaintop church of El Sagrat Cor serves as both a landmark and an icon. Just a stone's throw down the ridge from the church stands the venerable building now known as Gran Hotel La Florida, part of the Stein Group.
Opened in 1925 as La Florida, a Spartan summer retreat, it experienced its glory years following the Spanish Civil War. Eventually, new roads shortened the journey from the city center, and the drive is now just 20 minutes, but the landscape grows decidedly rustic along the way. Very occasionally, a winter snow can interrupt auto access altogether.
In part because of the perceived isolation, decline set in under Francisco Franco's regime, and the hotel closed in 1979. It was a mess of pigeons and fallen plaster three years ago, when Stein Group CEO David Stein—an American real-estate developer based in Majorca—bought the property and began planning a luxurious renovation.
La Florida's existing architecture, a subtly Spanish-inflected take on French art moderne, featured the traditional stucco walls, orange terra-cotta roof tiles, and arched windows. None of that could be altered, so Stein decided to add space underneath. The initial plans ' called for stripping the hotel to its shell, then raising it on jacks and constructing three levels below. Ultimately, though, Stein settled for a more economically feasible podium of two levels, plus a basement for a spa.
During eight months of excavation, the hotel's shell floated in midair. Then Stein built a new ground level to house a lobby, restaurant, and bar as well as a new second level for parking and mechanicals. Because the original ground level was now the third, it could be converted into guest accommodations, bringing the total key count from 50 before renovation to 74 afterward.
The interior now expanded to 40,000 square feet, Dale Keller Design principals Dale and Patricia Keller took over, consulting on guest rooms and common areas. "Without the podium, it couldn't have been a functional modern hotel," says Dale Keller. The husband-wife hospitality legends proceeded to specify floors of wide-plank oak as the basis of an aesthetic that's soft, comfortable, and generous on the beige tones.
Meanwhile, Stein tapped another couple to propose site-specific installations for exterior and interior public spaces. Majorca-based Ben Jakober—recently invited by Swarovski to create a crystal chandelier during the Salone Internazionale del Mobile in Milan—and his wife, Yannick Vu, collaborated on the hotel courtyard's stainless-steel fountain, which resembles a towering Archimedes' screw. At the podium entrance, Jakober and Vu placed two halves of a giant boulder trucked south from Brittany. Even larger is the steel-framed fiber-optic chandelier extending through the five-story atrium, a reminder of the original hotel courtyard. The duo had to prefabricate the steel armature in pieces and weld it together on-site before twisting the optical fibers around it.
Jakober and Vu also designed a top-floor suite—a garret space with an Isamu Noguchi table and sofa—and invited fellow artists to transform six other suites. German artist Rebecca Horn's two duplexes feature red lacquered cabinetry with a ' built-in writing desk. In furnishing the presidential suite—occupying the grand former lobby and restaurant—Madrid society decorator Christina Macaya engaged Parisian decorative painter Stefan Guillemet to embellish the walls and ceiling with bold patterns in aluminum leaf.
Besides supervising the functional and safety considerations in the artists' suites, the Kellers designed one of their own. Kenneth Cobonpue's wire-frame sofa and club chair are grouped in the suite's living-dining room, under a ceiling covered with Japanese silver-leafed paper in tribute to the private Japanese garden adjoining.
The Stein Group's director of operations, Thierry Naidu, says that the signature suites' international cast of designers is attracting a surprising number of locals. As are the public spaces in the podium—decorated in a sweetly nostalgic style as opposed to the suites' contemporary aesthetic. Dale Keller re- members that the original main stair had spindles that "might not have gone over very well today." According to Naidu, however, "Most grandmas think the new staircase is the same one where they had a picture taken at their wedding."