West Side Story
GoodmanCharlton revives the Empire Hotel, a 1920's landmark steps from New York's Lincoln Center
Craig Kellogg -- Interior Design, 1/1/2008 12:00:00 AM
Start with the reproduction Chippendale headboards. Then add brass candlestick lamps, minty-green broadloom, and some particularly vivid pink floral fabrics. "It was a Radisson for a while," Jeffrey Goodman says of New York's Empire Hotel.
Steven Charlton, the other half of the design firm Goodman Charlton, figures that the Empire "could not have gone on as it was." In fact, it had already closed, while the surrounding area surged with condos and, across Columbus Avenue, the cracker-box glitter of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts roared back into style on a wave of nostalgia. "Today, the neighborhood warrants a four-star hotel," Goodman says. The Amsterdam Hospitality Group—part of the Empire Hotel Group, which bought the 220,000-square-foot property in 2006—asked the partners to strip it back to its 1923 concrete slabs and redbrick shell.
GoodmanCharlton had designed seven mid-price hotels for Amsterdam since 1988. Uncompromised luxury, however, was new territory for the relationship. "They envisioned it looking as extravagant as possible," Goodman explains of the Venetian plaster textured to emulate crocodile in the lobby. "I've never used so many different patterns. There's lots of everything!" The interiors also pay tribute, he adds, to the American designers who "made modernism glamorous."
Those interiors have absorbed the old entry courtyard, for starters. "It was a sort of long tunnel chopped into the building," Charlton marvels. The designers roofed the space over, added the glass double doors, and mirrored the sidewalls for a more generous welcome. Limestone for the floor of the entry and lobby was quarried near Rome, where the passage of millennia had stained the stone chocolate-black.
That double-height lobby was where Goodman originally encountered architecture he describes as an unaccountable mash-up of heavy, ominous Moorish on the one hand and Wild West on the other. Now, saffron velvet on the seating picks up on tones introduced by 25-foot-long shantung cabana curtains, which frame columns wrapped in Macassar ebony. On the ground level, low tables are wrapped in bone-white shagreen; on the mezzanine, that changes to chocolate-brown snakeskin. Lustrous metal accents are bronze or brass, the latter a departure for GoodmanCharlton.
Eschewing traditional crystal chandeliers, he visited Paris to convince Hervé Van der Straeten to design a trio of colossal fixtures in blackened cast bronze and hammered, polished brass. And "light sticks" mounted on ebony paneling contain 240 xenon lamps each. "Lose a few, and you don't notice," Goodman quips.
An overscale fake fireplace made way for an alcove housing the intimate bar. Expecting spills, the designers specified flooring of durable pre-finished walnut-stained oak. Overhead, strips of horn dangle from the dark brown drum shades of pendant lamps. Relocated to another new alcove, the reception area features a dozen brass Curtis Jere sculptures seamlessly interlaced as a wall installation.
A new double-E logo, first seen as hammered-bronze door pulls at the main entry, reappears in the pattern of the runner on the curving stairs, one of the few original elements to survive. Among the others are the hotel's two red neon signs. On the roof above them, a classic water tank was removed to make room for a shallow swimming pool.
Design development for the 413 guest rooms—where 70 percent of walls and drains stayed put—was completed months before the lobby's. "We were still in stainless mode," Goodman admits. The corresponding palette of chocolate, black, and white carries through each of the 44 distinct room types per floor. Bathrooms are lined mostly in faux-bois porcelain tile, although the shower base is bona fide teak.
Pointing out the tiger-print velvet on a room's petite wing chair, Goodman highlights practicality: "Animal prints hide a lot." Vinyl wall coverings in the generously sized suites are embossed to resemble topstitched leather, while an espresso-brown border for the bedroom walls is vinyl ribbed to imitate grosgrain. A framed Claes Oldenburg "print" in one suite is really a poster, an example of some things that "look very expensive but aren't necessarily," Goodman adds.
Many of the furnishings and architectural details were imported from China and Indonesia, drawing on relationships forged over years of manufacturing Goodman Charlton lines of upholstered furniture for several manufacturers. "A basic railing made here in the U.S. costs the same amount of money as a whimsical balustrade handcrafted in Indonesia," Charlton says. "We oversaw the material choices. We did all the specifying, all the purchasing, all the shipping." With that sort of attention to detail, Goodman and Charlton made a New York classic their very own.