Starwood's Richard Martini and Margaret McMahon of Wilson & Associates redefine the Boston Sheraton.
Thaddeus Kromelis -- Interior Design, 3/1/2001 12:00:00 AM
FOR MORE THAN 30 years, the 1,200-plus room Boston Sheraton has served as a destination for convention goers and tourists alike. Located in the heart of the city's historic and fashionable Back Bay neighborhood, New England's largest hotel has consistently offered unsurpassed convention space, shopping opportunities, and the myriad benefits of a central location, but the space was not without its imperfections. Before the renovation, the hotel suffered from an inadequate allotment of space and resources. Starwood's Richard Martini, who was then working for Sheraton, admits that the lobby-which can have upwards of 800 travelers checking in and out per day, as well as pedestrian through-traffic accessing an adjacent shopping center-failed to offer the amenities necessary to comfortably accommodate the heavy daily ebb and flow. This inconvenience, along with a need to update the décor, prompted Martini to make the lobby's renovation a vital part of the hotel's $100 million redesign.
The lobby was completely gutted: six structural columns and two escalators were removed, as well as a freight elevator and grand staircase inconveniently located in the hotel's main entrance. In order to open the space further, the architects raised the ceiling height and doubled the fenestration bordering the Back Bay neighborhood, allowing for more natural light to enter the lobby. The reception desk was relocated and expanded into a six-piece, 80-ft.-long counter to accommodate large groups checking in and out, thus alleviating peak-hour congestion.
Richard Martini hired Margaret McMahon of Wilson & Associates to work directly with him in designing the hotel's interior public spaces. Aside from the customary challenges that accompany any large-scale commercial design, McMahon was suddenly faced with an unforeseen obstacle: halfway through the year-long transformation, Starwood Hotels and Resorts purchased Sheraton Hotels, requiring the designers to reconceive the lobby twice. Barry Sternlicht, the chairman of Starwood Hotels, found the original design to be too predictable, and six months before the opening he asked the designers to rethink their approach.
Undaunted, the duo decided to exchange a traditional sensibility for a more organic atmosphere. The original color palette of royal blue, gold, and burgundy gave way to natural hues of aubergine, saffron, and avocado. Fabrics and carpets with custom patterns were selected to add variety to the space's geometrically ordered flooring.
McMahon and Martini (who, with the transition, was promoted to Starwood's Senior VP Director of Design and Construction) opted for comfortable, wrap-around, high-backed lobby furniture situated around glass coffee and granite cocktail tables, which give the 9,000-sq.-ft. lobby a human scale. "We designed the chairs so that when you are sitting in them you feel like you're in a contained space that is quiet and shielded from the noise of the main lobby," McMahon recalls.
Martini and McMahon agree that the lobby maintains an atmosphere familiar enough to meet with the expectations of repeat guests, while also catering to younger clients' tastes. Ultimately, customers are presented with space that is as welcoming as it is unexpected-a contemporary decorative scheme that attempts to redefine the traditional perception of Sheraton hotels.