Less is more in Ai Group's understated makeover of a traditional, 1980s-era Westin in Atlanta.
Jen Renzi -- Interior Design, 3/1/2001 12:00:00 AM
THE WESTIN ATLANTA NORTH, located just outside the city's bustling downtown, is surrounded by 64 acres of quiet, wooded land complete with a man-made lake and jogging trail. Although the hotel's public spaces spiral off a soaring, double-height atrium framing panoramic views of the landscaped terrain, the previous décor failed to capitalize on the abundant natural light and openness. Angela Denney of Ai Group, hired by Starwood to update the lobby, lounge, grill, and event facilities, describes the old space as a brash mix of pinks and greens, with dark marble floors, polished brass detailing, and views obscured by mini-blinds. "The space was very traditional, very '80s, and very dark," says Denney, principal in charge of the project. To heighten the level of engagement with the outdoors and to update the atmosphere, the designers strove "to make it more contemporary in feel. We wanted it to be simple," with clean lines that would echo the design of the guest rooms, recently renovated with a palette of pale woods and neutral tones. Although a few of the most undesirable details could be jettisoned-including the mini-blinds, prism-shaped chandeliers, and hulking stone lions flanking the lounge entrance-the designers had to work around the existing millwork, stonework, and lighting.
To achieve a unified aesthetic, Denney and project designer Ginna Adams took their cues from the brown-and-white color scheme of the guest rooms. They selected brushed chrome and stainless-steel accents, dark woods, and earth-toned fabrics. New carpeting, hardware, and a fresh coat of white paint went a long way in revitalizing the interior. "Just painting the walls alone made the space so much brighter," says Denney, who also whitewashed the fussy millwork on the ceilings. She used beige rugs in the lounge and a checkerboard carpet in the lobby, which was chosen "to make a graphic statement." For touches of color, the wall behind the registration desk was layered with sienna-hued Venetian plaster. The designers also commissioned contemporary artworks, such as the sculptural metal urns by artist Chris Ellison, installed at the three-stair descent to the lounge where the stone lions once stood sentinel. To tone down existing verdigris railings, they removed polished brass caps, painted the metal a matte black, and then applied a finish "to take the brass handrails down to a dark, dark bronze," says Denney. Ai Group initiated one structural alteration: Although the registration desk faces the lounge, which opens directly onto the sunlit atrium, the check-in area was closed off and dim. "We punctured the wall between to allow light to filter through," recounts Denney, "and inserted a piece of art glass so you could see movement in the lounge behind." The textured, translucent glass doubles as a backsplash for the bar and creates a visual and spatial tie between the two areas.
For upholstery, the designers avoided "big, theme patterns typical of hospitality projects," and kept the fabrics throughout more tonal. Appearing solid, they still have enough pattern to hide stains in the high-traffic areas. Lamps are low to the floor and furnishings are kept "modern but comfortable and functional," and grouped to approximate residential settings. "People end up dragging the furniture around to make the space their own," says Denney, who discovered that guests often rearrange the lounge seating to accommodate impromptu business meetings. Tea tables and pull-up chairs are just the right height for working on laptops. And at night, the button ottomans are easily maneuvered when the room segues into a hang-out spot. With its light, modern feel, the new design makes guests feel truly at home.