California Dreamin'

Hirsch Bedner Associates (HBA) melds Old Hollywood, new DTLA and lifestyle brand standards into Hotel Indigo’s new flagship in the City of Angels.

The commission for the Hotel Indigo Downtown Los Angeles was pretty much a dream job for Hirsch Bedner Associates (HBA). Not only was the project in the backyard (okay, maybe not with LA traffic) of the firm’s Santa Monica, California office, it also offered a large sweep of creative openness and very high visibility. On the upside: it’s a new build; it’s in one of the biggest developments in Downtown Los Angeles; it’s waving the flag as the new flagship for this growing brand; and it’s the largest Indigo ever.

But even dreams can have some nightmarish challenges. For this 350-room property, that involved layers of complexity. Item one: distilling the essence of this young brand’s style while not implying rigid visual standards. Next up: delivering the comfort level afforded by being part of a major flag (InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) is the parent of Indigo) but still being individual enough for guests looking for boutique stays like the soon-to-open Hotel Figueroa and functional enough to compete with large conference hotels around the corner.

Then there’s the fact that DTLA is a work in progress. The neighborhood used to be the Los Angeles Convention Center, the Staples Center and one full-service, everybody-goes-there grocery store, Ralph’s. Within a couple of years, it will be home to many of hottest new hotels and eateries in the city.

The Indigo is a case study for a new-school approach to uniting all those moving parts. It also has a few extra parts of its own—Indigo’s original New York flagship is now up for sale by IHG and partner Brack Capital, so the brand needed a narrative that would sustain moving the flagship cross-country. Fortunately, the HBA team had scale on their side—the 18-story hotel, part of the mixed-use 6.3-acre Metropolis development, is the largest in the brand’s portfolio. So, what’s the first step?

Alex Kuby, Hirsch Bedner Associates (HBA). Photo: Courtesy of Hirsch Bedner Associates (HBA)

Alex Kuby, senior project designer, HBA, and the team sat down to script out that concept, words first, even before inspirational visuals or soundscapes. “This practice helps us focus on narrative elements and resists any initial ties to trendy aesthetics,” says Kuby. “IHG’s direction was very complementary to this process as its Indigo brand is rooted in contextual storytelling. The HBA team also worked with Indigo to scale up its brand standards to a big-box size.”

They set that story at the beginning of the film industry, another time when Los Angeles incorporated both ultra glam and down-to-earth aspects. It also facilitated an escapist feel that visually removes guests from the street outside. 1920s actress Anna May Wong served as a muse. But the team still wanted to keep some of the feel of the modern city—both as it is and as it will be.

So, they utilized the full size of the hotel to give scope to each of those contrasting needs. Grand public spaces become a canvas for statement pieces. Guest room walls feature streetscape murals that contrast with the views outside their windows. Bicycle wheel fixtures suspended from the ceiling are set progressively lower as guests approach the reception desk and punctuate the lobby. Rounded architectural elements define a dining area and pay tribute to the underground tunnels in the area. “Once seated in the restaurant, you feel removed and protected from the voluminous lobby, just as you would wish to feel removed and protected in a speakeasy during Prohibition,” says Kuby.

Kuby and his team turned to a secondary theme suggested by the nearby Jewelry District, the nation’s largest and located within walking distance of the hotel, to further insulate the guest experience in areas such as the ballrooms, function rooms, meeting rooms and breakout spaces from what’s outside. The concept became a vehicle for a palette with pops of color, elegant metal accents and soft textures. It also supplied them with a rich range of materials such as creamy leather, velvet and elegant glasswork (both in the windows and pendant lights) that becomes a visual cushion from the street outside.

Within that cocoon, life-size black-and-white photographs serve as edu-tainment to give a history lesson. “Monochromatic photography inherently takes the viewer back in time,” says Kuby. “However, the experience is far more immersive when the imagery is at 1:1 scale. Building on that intimacy, we tried to select scenes with characters and expressions guests could engage with. In a final softening and refinement of the overall effect, we calibrated warmer lighting temperatures and placed natural wood materials within the composition.”

Those images include full-length portrait photos of Wong and other actresses of the era, as well as other Golden Age of Hollywood graphics. In keeping with the all-out glamour of that era, even often-overlooked spaces like the fitness center, elevator lobbies and bathroom stall doors host some of the coolest images. That’s not just a coincidental moment—Kuby notes that guest circulation studies pointed them to the elevator as a budget-maximizing engagement point for guests.

From melding influences to using multiple design narratives, here’s a new evolution on doing “local.” Not every new hotel needs to just fit into its neighborhood. Sometimes, it’s the hotel that becomes the bellwether and the neighborhood has to catch up.

Mary Scoviak in LA
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