At KWID's Viceroy in Santa Monica, California, plays of color and scale define the look
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 10/1/2002 12:00:00 AM
The Viceroy is unabashedly cheerful and welcoming—in a word, pretty. The antithesis of those hotels that relentlessly strive for cool, this one presents a fresh face. Turning the Pacific Shores Hotel, completed in 1969, into a lounge by the sea, Kelly Wearstler of KWID tweaked and modernized British-colonial and Regency style in an upbeat mode.
The property is a new collaboration between Wearstler and the Kor Hotel Group, following their Avalon Hotel and Maison 140 projects in Los Angeles. True to boutique-hotel formula, the Viceroy's $15 million, two-year renovation involved taking an existing building, maintaining the key count, and revamping public areas to attract fashionable locals as well as out-of-towners. Toss in a dollop of amenities: gym and pool, meeting rooms that look anything but, a restaurant with credentials. Then add location: a block from the ocean in Santa Monica, California. You've got the recipe for success.
Wearstler, no stranger to convention-defying interiors, faced her greatest challenge to date at the Viceroy. With 170 rooms on eight floors and a 5,000-square-foot ground floor for public functions, sheer size propelled the project beyond the boutique league. The job also entailed a mighty construction component before her vision of the decor could begin to emerge. She gutted the ground floor, constructed a porte-cochere entry, and rebuilt the first level's facade with panels of translucent glass. Cold cathode sources were installed in the elevator tower, imparting a graphic component. Elevators were moved, plumbing and mechanicals completely refit, and guest baths enlarged by appropriating corridor space. Suites, on the top two floors, were reconfigured. Two new pools, surrounding decks, and landscaping fell within the project's scope as well.
"It was such a modern box outside. The inside is a surprise," says Wearstler. Rebuilt, the ground floor's open continuum proceeds from reception to lobby to bar and cocktail lounge to restaurant, with distinctions marked predominantly by furnishings and lighting soffits. The 18-foot-long Corian-clad check-in desk fronts a reception area defined by a meticulously aligned row of seating covered in white patent leather—the English gentleman's wing chair meets the film star's riviera chaise longue. Next in procession, the bar-lounge features clusters of vintage and custom seating. A back bar with stylized apertures separates this area from the restaurant; a pair of suspended paintings screens the lounge from the elevator lobby.
At the end of the 70-foot-long public span, a 120-seat restaurant, Whist, breaks a cardinal hospitality rule. The interior glows green—the very tone believed to make complexions look in dire need of a trip to the cosmetics counter. Whist's illuminated wall of custom-tinted mirror does nothing of the sort. Instead it's a backdrop for a mind-boggling array of black-and-white Spode and Royal Worcester bone china, which reappears as a witty touch poolside. (It's easy to envision the buzz of evening activity as the well dressed crowd migrates between indoors and out.)
Behind a walnut sliding door lies the ground floor's surprise, an intimate library. It could well be an English transplant, albeit with a twist. Besides the vintage sofa, corner chair, and backgammon table, a wall of crisscrossed diagonal shelving is filled with design books, and a 60-inch plasma-screen TV makes the room ideal for screenings.
Those familiar with KWID know to anticipate the unpredictable. At the Viceroy, Wearstler mixed brilliant shots of color: saturated yellow and her signature parrot green. "It's organic, but it's not the expected blue," she says. The cocktail lounge's boldest gesture is the 18-by-24-foot rug interpreting the elaborate moldings of the apertures behind the bar—a dense enlargement that's reflected in the mirrored ceiling, too. Alabaster lamps from Bangkok, chrome silver floor lamps from London, and the library's brass chandelier from Paris owe their presence to the designer's travels.
In guest rooms, 4-foot-high sconces are mounted at bedsides, but private spaces are, by nature, less whimsical than their public counterparts. Wearstler devised a consistent scheme for the upstairs. Mirrored headboards reflect views of the ocean. Millwork encompasses latticed armoires and the applied crown and base moldings. There are also acrylic tables, Italian bed linens, green-embroidered custom chairs, and basket-weave ceramic lamps. Given the quantity needed for 170 rooms, almost all furnishings are custom.
Back downstairs at the Viceroy, one particular custom element seems to sum up Wearstler's design intentions. It's the enormous plaster cameo behind the check-in desk. The piece owes its existence to an 18th-century cameo that the designer found in London. She then commissioned an artist to produce a line-for-line enlargement despite the fact that the face is hardly your classic beauty. Says Wearstler, "That was exactly the point."