The Palace

Photography by Taggart Sorensen

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The grandeur of San Francisco’s first large-scale luxury hotel, the Palace Hotel, is unquestionable. Built in 1909, the nine-floor, 556-room hotel is known for its ornate, refined Garden Court and prime downtown location just off Market Street. The hotel had lost some of its luster, though, years after its last renovation in 1991. To regain its stature as a luxury destination, owner Kyo-ya Hotels & Resorts selected Los Angeles–based firm Indidesign for a new, $40 million renovation that introduces a contemporary crispness with subtle nods to the building’s storied past.

“We wanted to provide the comfort of luxury within a historical landmark,” says Mark Sneen, manager of the Palace Hotel. “But it was also important not to bleed out the sense of history.”

In her storyboard, Indidesign’s co-founder Beatrice Girelli highlighted the many notable people that stayed at the Palace through the years, ranging from John D. Rockefeller to the last king of Hawaii.

“We wanted to bring back the idea of the privilege of travel, a nostalgia for a time when trips lasted for weeks and the Palace was the stopping point for the social elite,” she says.

Her inspiration for the material palette included artwork from San Francisco in the early 1900s, as well as men’s tailored suits and luggage, from which she derived the color scheme of deep blue, wine, and gray. The slightly masculine edge to the overall design was Girelli’s strategy for referencing history with a light hand, rather than resorting to overt antiques.

The most important aspect of the project was also the most public: The upgrade of the Garden Court, which is the hotel’s grand dining room with gilded marble columns supporting an intricate glass dome illuminated by 10 crystal chandeliers. Because the room is one of the city’s official landmarks, the chandeliers and dome were not modified. Over the years, the room had been reconfigured to include a small lounge area in front, but that was sparsely furnished and uninviting. “People would stop and look through the arches, then turn around,” says Girelli. “It was as if they were walking into a museum with a velvet rope blocking the doorway.”

To rejuvenate the Garden Court, and update it for what travelers seek today, Girelli reversed the allocation of uses. Now, roughly 60 percent of the space is lounge and 40 percent is dining. Tall bronze screens clearly delineate the two zones, and a large custom carpet—with an oversize floral pattern that matches the scale of the room—softens the architecture. Measuring 49 feet by 92 feet, the carpet was designed by Girelli and custom made by Brintons just for this interior. To further create the ambiance of a comfortable living room, she furnished the lounge with mixed seating, including Chesterfield sofas, upholstered benches, and slipper chairs. A long communal table with built-in outlets—a custom design produced by Berman Falk—is, in essence, a casual workspace along one side of the room. And continental breakfast and cocktails are served, depending on the time of day, at a new bar on the other side.

Guestrooms with European flair
For the guestrooms, Girelli’s vision was of apartments in Paris or San Francisco’s Nob Hill. But the century-old hotel rooms were not uniform sizes and all of the electrical outlets were embedded in the floor. As a result, the design team had to create 50 individual room plans. Standard rooms are relatively small by today’s expectations, so Girelli streamlined the furnishings. For example, old-fashioned spindle headboards were replaced by tufted leather ones. The vanities have nailhead trim and leather handles, a nod to steamer trunks. In the premier suites and other select rooms, toilets are outfitted with Toto Washlet electronic bidet seats. No detail was overlooked.

Trained as an architect with a focus on historical preservation, Girelli relished the chance to highlight the architectural flourishes of the building. Walls of the rooms and corridors are painted a pale periwinkle, with bright white moldings to contrast. She brightened the corridors, adding sconces with double bulbs as well as new chandeliers with nested shades to diffuse light. Girelli also quadrupled the size of the hotel’s gym, which now has windows that overlook the glassed-in pool—a rare luxury in the dense city.

Since the redesign was completed a few months ago, occupancy rates have increased significantly. “Beatrice understood exactly what the intent of the project was, and, since she has a European background, she knew the historical reference point,” says Sneen. “The renovated hotel is amazing.”

who Interior designer: Indidesign, Beatrice Girelli. Architect: Arcsine, Adam Winig. Contractor: Plant Construction. Lighting: Indidesign. what Lighting: Remington Lighting; Arteriors; Visual Comfort; Mitchell Gold. Wallcoverings: Innovations. Fabrics: Arc-Com; Architex; Brentano Valley Forge; Kravet; Opuzen; Swavelle; Carnegie; Concertex; Maharam; Opuzen; Pollack; Romo. Leather: Baron Leather; Moore and Giles; Demar. Carpet/carpet tile: Brintons; Indidesign; Shaw. Casegoods: Cheng Meng; Eric Brand; Restoration Hardware; Worlds Away; Arteriors. Surfaces: Carrara Marble. Plumbing fixtures/fittings: Grohe. Mirrors: Mirror Image. Artwork: Eaton Fine Arts. Custom millwork and screens: Quality Cabinets; Indidesign. Custom furniture: Berman Falk; Republic; Eric Brand; Marquis; Delta. Accent pieces: Mitchell Gold, Arteriors. Planters: Fleur Ami; Restoration Hardware. Vases: Micucci. Artwork: Soho Myriad.

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