Interiors Awards 2016: Hotel

Photography by Nikolas Koening

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The New York Edition
Designer: Ian Schrager Company and Rockwell Group
Client: Marriott International
Location: New York

“Very elegant, well-detailed, and understated, the hotel has a sophistication to it. The designers created a beautiful space that puts people in the foreground with a really sumptuous background.”—Jury

The Metropolitan Life Insurance Company Tower has been a beloved feature of the New York skyline since it was the world’s tallest building for four years following its 1909 opening. Modeled after the Venice Campanile by Napoleon LeBrun & Sons, the 41-story tower is on the National Register of Historic Places and is designated a National Historic Landmark.

But icon status has only partially spared the Met Life Tower: A series of renovations beginning in the early 1960s wiped most of its interiors clean of the original design elements. When Marriott International purchased the building and teamed with Ian Schrager Company to develop the 273-room New York Edition hotel, the former office interior was almost a blank slate. Working in concert with Schrager, New York–based Rockwell Group was selected to transform that canvas into a series of restrained-yet-sumptuous public and private spaces that meditate on the boundary between old and new. Adamson Associates Architects served as the architect of record.

The New York Edition is the fourth property in a new brand of boutique hotels that Marriott is rolling out in partnership with Schrager, who invented the boutique concept with Steve Rubell in 1984. Having individual properties designed site specifically has allowed the Edition initiative to successfully meld Schrager’s personality with Marriott’s global scale. To create an authentic solution for the New York Edition, Rockwell Group had to strike its own balance between history and modernity. “We certainly didn’t want to recreate the past, but we did want guests to have touch-points that speak to the building’s heritage,” Rockwell Partner Shawn Sullivan says.

Guests immediately comprehend that this is not the Met Life Tower of yore as they enter the New York Edition to find a new datum: The lobby’s check-in, bar, and seating areas form a perimeter perched five steps above the foyer and elevator landing. The elevation change works in concert with a dropped ceiling to give the impression that the 3,100-square-foot room was slipped into the original cavernous space. The alcove reception desk and 30-foot-long inset fireplace underscore the entire ground floor as a sleek, low-slung departure from LeBrun’s Gothic Revival.

Sullivan explains that the project team “obsessed over a refined set of finishes” to arrive at a lobby interior that also honors precedent. Artisanship provides one link to the past. For example, the reception desk is a custom walnut fabrication and the fireplace was hand-forged in blackened steel. Rubbed plaster and concrete tiles are matched to the color of the exterior limestone. “Getting the most beauty out of a narrow palette is a very modern approach,” Sullivan says.

That strategy roars to life one floor above. Here, Met Life’s executive offices largely escaped demolition and have been transformed into the 90-seat Clocktower restaurant, where verticality and maximalism come to the fore. Accessible by an otherworldly metal-helix stair with oak treads, the restaurant is a composition of painstakingly restored wainscoting, mahogany doors, and other landmarked elements complemented by a new gold-leaf bar, pendant lighting by Eric Schmitt, and hundreds of photographs hung salon-style. “They’re not modern for modern’s sake,” Sullivan says of these interventions, likening them to cues for “remembering New York in different ways.”

Guestrooms and suites, meanwhile, represent a middle ground in their own right, as the simplified-yet-substantial millwork and spare furnishings coincide with the lobby’s abstract atmosphere. The vaulted ceilings above some guestrooms embody the jubilant preservation spirit of the tower.

“It was fascinating for a company like Marriott to embrace somebody as radically different as Schrager and tear up the playbook,” Sullivan says. Rockwell will participate in rewriting the proverbial hospitality playbook as the partnership has invited the firm to collaborate on future Edition hotels with Schrager.