Points of Departure

Today’s urban hotels are designed to acclimate guests to the locale, not create a cocoon.

City-center hotels don’t need to be destinations in and of themselves. Yes, they have to have a strong design signature and a slickly-executed identity. But it’s time for designers to change their thinking from “downtown oasis” to “launch pad.”

The Franklin Hotel at Independence Park | Guest room | HVS Design

The Franklin Hotel at Independence Park gives a red chair pride of place as accent and focal point. Photo: Tom Crane Photography

From Philadelphia to Istanbul, that represents a seismic shift in the purpose of downtown hospitality. Call it the Airbnb effect if you like, but the coolest hotels today are masters at making guests love their time at the property, while also encouraging them to step out and embrace the city around them.

“We were careful with our nods to iconic or well-known points of history in the area,” says Christine Shanahan, managing director of design, HVS Design, of the firm’s renovation of The Franklin Hotel at Independence Park in Philadelphia that’s slated for completion early next year. “While we worked to reflect these elements, this isn’t a nostalgic or museum-piece design. It’s grounded in the current era—the hotel owner wanted the design to encourage the guest to go out and explore the neighborhood.”

The Franklin Hotel at Independence Park | Guest room | HVS Design

A circular mirror in The Franklin plays with reflections of the dark tones on the opposite wall. Photo: Tom Crane Photography

Crafting a launch pad rather than an end point changes the design process from the first charette. On-the-ground research is still vital—Shanahan and her team took the time to walk the neighborhood around the hotel. They also made an effort to get locals’ insights and photograph and sketch the team’s experiences. So is nerding out on the building or its surroundings. For Shanahan, that meant doing a detailed study of Philadelphia, including both large-scale historical events and local lore.

And, for some urban projects, designers need to be prepared for the building itself to be a collaborator. “What stands out for me with Room Mate Emir is the amazing process of restoring the splendor of two historic buildings that were totally in ruins and their transformation into an astonishing design hotel,” says Room Mate Hotels president and founder Kike Sarasola of the company’s new Istanbul hotel. “Keeping the frescoes and the façade intact was a must.”

Room Mate Emir, Istanbul | Corridor | Lázaro Rosa-Violán Estudio

The floor in a Room Mate Emir corridor isn't just a piece of offbeat fun. The spiral echoes the lines of the staircase. Photo: Courtesy of Room Mate Hotels

For hotels like Room Mate Emir, Istanbul, it was the painstaking craftsmanship involved in restoring historic frescoes at the property that was the passion project moment for Lázaro Rosa-Violán, founder of his eponymous studio.

The next step is slightly counterintuitive: taking all of that information gleaned from the local cultural and architectural scene and leaving much of it on the cutting-room floor. That kind of curation is vital to both the efficacy of the design and the outside focus of modern urban stays. “We found that by limiting the amount of information we delivered through the design about the local neighborhood, we could create more visual interest,” says Shanahan.

Room Mate Emir, Istanbul | Suite | Lázaro Rosa-Violán Estudio

There's a lot going on in an Emir suite, but simple shapes balance vivid tones and an extensive FF&E program. Photo: Courtesy of Room Mate Hotels

So, quirky pieces in Shanahan's design such as a white silhouette of Benjamin Franklin or a giant green key that becomes an art piece in the bathroom work more like Easter Eggs in a video game than museum pieces. For Rosa-Violán, the melding of East and West was a starting point, but he’s not taking it too literally. Warm woods and geometric pieces in the guest rooms offer a general reference to both, but a varied palette of color and materials, including pink and bright yellow seating and intricately-installed wood accent walls, means those allusions don’t become too literal.

So, what has to happen to create focal points throughout the hotel without obvious local accents? For projects like these, the emphasis is as much on wayfinding as it is on creating Instagram moments. Designers need to invite guests to circulate through the hotel with the same freedom they’d have in the city outside.

“Exploring is essential to us, so we want to make the guests curious about the space, as a way of drawing their attention through it,” says Rosa-Violán. “The lights, tech and even the tactile elements combine and work as a motif throughout the hotel.”

Case in point: the series of oval mirrors that line the wall of a spiral staircase in Room Mate Emir. Their streamlined shape works to suggest the traffic pattern—directing guests up or down the stairs.

The Franklin Hotel at Independence Park | Corridor | HVS Design

The Franklin's corridor flips the focus from walls to the ceiling and floor for an immersive experience. Photo: Tom Crane Photography

For Shanahan, it’s the color palette that helps create a roadmap. “A deep charcoal against the window wall helps to define individual spaces within the room (creating an orientation point so guests can easily locate the room’s features). A rich crimson is used sparingly, but with purpose throughout the room, to provide the feature or focal point of interest,” she says. A narrow black door draws attention to the guest rooms’ coffee maker and counter. Green mirrors, red cords and even red lipstick prints on the artwork in The Franklin modernize wood flooring.

The Franklin Hotel at Independence Park | Guest bathroom | HVS Design

Keeping accent pieces at eye level in The Franklin's guest room bathroom not only makes art visually accessible, but lets guests enjoy it while getting ready for the day. Photo: Tom Crane Photography

Those deep tones also offer a more layered spin on a classic East Coast vibe, something that’s key for modern travelers looking for hotels that match their 21st century concept of city stays. Whether the shell of a hotel is a rundown historic structure (or two, in the case of Room Mate Emir) or a more modern building that was purpose-built as a hotel (as is the case for The Franklin), the fusion of new and old elements has to feel fresh, even when the elements are traditional.

Emir’s candy-pink walls and sparkling chandeliers might be formal, but the result when combined with wall-size black and white graphics and the caramel leather of a round seating piece is still contemporary.

Sound like making downtown magic is a tall order? It is. So, designers can forget about a blank slate (or, clearly, a guidebook). Time to head out into the urban jungle, indeed.

 


PROJECT PARTICIPANTS

ROOM MATE EMIR

CLIENT
Room Mate Hotels

DESIGNER
Lázaro Rosa-Violán Estudio:Lázaro Rosa-Violán; founder and interior designer; Santiago Inat, technical architect; Aleida Martínez

ARCHITECT
Galataas

PURCHASING COMPANY/GENERAL CONTRACTOR
AKADEMI INSAAT

 

PROJECT PARTICIPANTS

THE FRANKLIN HOTEL AT INDEPENDENCE PARK

OWNER
The Buccini/Pollin Group

OPERATOR
PM Hotel Group

DESIGN FIRM
HVS Design: Christine Shanahan, managing director of design; Inad Bilbeisi, studio director; Allie McWatters Corneal and Elizabeth Saffell, designers

ARCHITECT
Jonathan Nehmer +
Associates Inc.

PURCHASING COMPANY
Christina River Exchange

GENERAL CONTRACTOR
BPGS Construction

DESIGN CONSULTANTS
FXB Engineering (MEP engineering); Lighting Design Collaborative (lighting)

BATH FIXTURES
Kohler

CASEGOODS
Lacquercraft Hospitality

FABRICS
Architex
Arc Com
Fil Doux Textiles
Kravet
Maxwell Fabrics
Samelson-Chatelane
SK Textiles

FLOORCOVERINGS
Architectural Ceramics
Karndean LVT
Masland Carpet
Royal Thai (fomerly Tai Ping Carpets)

FURNITURE
Lily Jack Upholstery

LIGHTING
Chapman

MIRRORS
Electric Mirror
Mirror Image

WALLCOVERINGS
Astek
Wolf-Gordon

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