We hope anyone who attends any of our fairs and events leaves both entertained and inspired. We certainly do. Edutainment shouldn’t stop in grade school, so we always make sure one hot-ticket option is a grown-up field trip: the site tour. True confession time: I love being able to jump out of my cubicle and experience the industry in 3D. It’s fun when “work” means walking around a hotel or restaurant and looking at and learning about beautiful spaces. Judging from the buzz I heard from the hospitality industry insiders who’d gotten their tickets to our LA site tour, I wasn’t alone. Just before our FOMO-inducing trade fair, Boutique Design West (BDwest) in April, we made Hotel Figueroa and Hotel Indigo Los Angeles Downtown our playground.
Studio Collective partner Christian Schultz pulled back the curtain on Figueroa’s challenging redo (in case you missed the tour, the March 2018 issue of Boutique Design has the details from the Studio Collective team). Hirsch Bedner Associates (HBA) senior project designer Jana Dadant and illuminate Lighting Design director Nick Albert let us behind the velvet rope to share the 401-level story of Indigo’s new flagship property (for more one that, check out the July + August 2017 issue of Boutique Design).
First off, despite their obvious differences—Figueroa is a historic hotel, originally a 1920’s YWCA with 263 rooms, while Indigo is a newbuild brand flagship with 350 keys—both celebrate LA’s history during DTLA’s early-twentieth-century heyday. The references in this duo range from overt to subtle, but they serve as case studies for just how guests want the past woven into their present.
For the Figueroa, that starts with picking up details from the façade, which has been restored. For example, at the time the hotel was built, a geometric triangle was a traditionally feminine symbol. So, when Schultz saw it in the stonework on the exterior, he knew he wanted to pick up the shape and use it as a motif inside. Giving pride of place in the dining room to a framed photo of the original YWCA team is a more literal homage to the building’s original era and purpose, though setting it in a bright, light-toned room modernizes the effect. Other, less obvious, aspects of the design keep the spirit of the original building alive. The hotel’s extensive art collection is almost all works by local, female artists. Mirrors in the reception area and private dining room are antiqued to maintain a timeless feel.
Underneath the marriage of historic and modern, there was a lot that was just plain old (and broken). Finding out the walls were terracotta, which can’t be cut into to fix wiring or bring it up to code, was a blow to both budget and timeline. That meant the team had to get clever finding ways to recoup the time and cost. Ivory-colored walls have been painted in a multi-step process to resemble plaster, which had to come off the wishlist. Holding a competition to design the elevator doors didn’t just support the local art community—it also provided an inexpensive way to “dress up” that area.
Dadant and her team based their design around the life of Anna May Wong, the first Chinese American female film star. Challenged by the brand to pull a story from a five-block radius around the hotel, they used Wong’s childhood, adolescence and career, combined with the grit of Prohibition-era speakeasies, the high glamour of the Jewelry District and Hollywood and the exuberance of the Fiesta de las Flores (LA’s Flower District gave rise to the original Rose Parade) to craft a layered visual narrative. In the lobby, a towering display of men’s hats evokes the view a very young Wong might have had of well-dressed gentleman in and around the neighborhood. Round arches leading to the main restaurantresemble the underground tunnels partygoers (as Dadant suggests a teenage Wong might have been) used to access nightlife venues. A decorated bicycle anchors one side of the lobby in a blossoming nod to LA’s bloom-heavy history. Wall-size graphics in each room are a surreal version of the Jazz Age view out of the window of a Broadway apartment.
But, like the city itself, neither hotel is a throwback. Major creative elements in the Figueroa, such as an egress stair whose metal railing forms a focal point behind the bar, bring it firmly into the present. 18 Social, Indigo’s rooftop, features an elaborate textile treatment that conceals LED lights in folds of fabric. The ceiling replicates the same pattern, using drywall (the lights are anchored above a drywall drop ceiling which has cut outs for them to shine through).
All in all, both properties send a clear message: LA is back and ready to take on the world on its own terms. We’re so excited to be part of that landscape.