Fast Track

Former Minneapolis train depot re-emerges as lifestyle hotel

Lots of hotels housed in historic buildings pay homage to the past. The Renaissance Minneapolis Hotel-The Depot shows how to do that without ove­rinvesting in details that are more appropriate for a museum-quality still-life than a vibrant lifestyle hotel.

Renaissance Minneapolis Hotel-The Depot | ESG Architecture & Design

Screens play with concealing and revealing. Gold tones warm a cool space. Photo: Peter VonDeLinde

ESG Architecture & Design set out to give guests an immersive glimpse into the Renaissance Revival building’s first incarnation as train depot for The Milwaukee Road railroad. Although the structure (which operated as a depot from 1864 to 1971) has been a hotel since 2001, the locally based design team decided to return to the vision of the original architect, Charles Sumner Foster (the man who would gain fame as the designer of Chicago’s Navy Pier and more than 100 buildings for the Chicago and Northwestern Railway), to find a concept that could be authentic and appropriate for this piece of Minneapolis’s history but still could speak to the modern attitude of this dynamic northern city.

Renaissance Minneapolis Hotel-The Depot | ESG Architecture & Design

Placing furniture in more intimate groupings than a typical lobby space encourages social interaction. Cleverly placed lighting highlights conversation groups. Photo: Peter VonDeLinde

The depot’s openness and clear sight lines provided the foundation for the past-to-present link. Guests get the message right away. They enter through a newly constructed glass vestibule which not only helps with the visual transition from the buzz of the city to the at-home feel of the hotel but also adds a layer of climate control during Minnesota’s harsh winters and hot summers. Once inside, where bygone travelers would have had an overview of an elegant train station with 29 tracks, today’s guests step into a dramatic open lobby with easy access to the lounge, dining, reception and bar spaces.

Renaissance Minneapolis Hotel-The Depot | ESG Architecture & Design

Contrasting patterns energize the reception. Dark paneling offers counterbalance. Photo: Peter VonDeLinde

Historic theming gets a fresh twist by changing up the context for displaying travel-related references. For example, the antique white luggage is stacked to form a sleek wall in the lounge. Modern leather ottomans, fur pillows and a custom chalk art piece, which replicates an old train stop map serve as focal points in that space. Directly opposite the lounge is the dining area, separated from other destinations by see-through metal chain screens that have clouds printed on them—a wry nod to mimic train smoke. “These screens give privacy to diners, without completely shutting them out,” says Lisa Van Der Pol, senior interior designer, ESG. “The dining space is also lined with curved booths and linear mirrors, similar to what you would find in a dining car.”

Renaissance Minneapolis Hotel-The Depot | ESG Architecture & Design

The dining area mimics the layout of a train car. Photo: Peter VonDeLinde

As everyone knows first impressions are everything.

Materials serve as subtle but statement-making connectors that bridge the stylistic design trends of different centuries and the preferences of Victorian and Millennial travelers. Mosaic tile was hot in the late 1800s, and it still is. The hall going down the center of the lobby is clad with custom mosaic tile meant to replicate the train station and the network of tracks. “We used this same tile under the reception area as well,” says Van Der Pol.

As an added note of continuity, the design team moved the reception area about 20 ft. to open up that space and introduce a curved ceiling fixture modeled on those found in a dining car ceiling.

Renaissance Minneapolis Hotel-The Depot | ESG Architecture & Design

Who said art had to be in a white box? Here, the dark background makes pieces pop. Photo: Peter VonDeLinde

Set off from the open public spaces by custom millwork, the bar is painted black with vibrant green suede bar chairs to create a stark contrast and shift to a more intimate mood. “Moving into the bar lounge space, you see traditional-inspired furniture pieces, such as a modern, mohair tete-a-tete soft, tufted booth seating and canopy hooded leather chairs,” says Van Der Pol.

Art also connects the dot on the timeline. According to Van Der Pol, “The main focal point of the room is a large triptych art piece, which pictures a woman riding her bike down the shores with her hair blowing back into the trees. This illustration suggests the billowing smoke that came from trains, but also references to Minnesota’s lakes and natural sites.” There’s more visual food for thought as guests leave the bar lounge area to enter the event space outside of the hotel. A gallery wall with original photos charts the changes the building has gone through throughout history.

“The renovated look and feel of the hotel was influenced by the new Renaissance brand and its mission to create interiors that are relevant to the area in which its hotels are located,” says Van Der Pol. “The renovation creates a space that is modern and inviting to guests, but also speaks to the history of the building with elegant touches through the public areas. As everyone knows first impressions are everything.”