Star Spec

The Gettys Group’s vision for Hotel LeVeque, Autograph Collection, offers a lesson in how to ground intergalactic gusto in real-world relevance.

A concept doesn’t need to be far-out futuristic to be worthy of a space odyssey. Sometimes iconic context and skyline standing can set the stage for interstellar creativity. At least that was the case when it came to the birth of Columbus, Ohio’s Hotel LeVeque, Autograph Collection.

When Ben Nicholas, senior design director at The Gettys Group, first drove into the city’s downtown with project designer Ali Bacon, he immediately noticed how the historic 47-story tower influenced its skyline. “Given the art deco architecture, I knew this would be a special project before I even took a step inside the building,” recalls Nicholas.

When it made its debut in 1927, the LeVeque Tower was the tallest skyscraper in the state’s capital city—a record that remained unrivaled until the late 1970s. Originally, two lower wings of the steel-frame building were home to a 600-key addition to the Deshler-Wallick Hotel, including its grandiose mirrored ballroom. But by the time The Gettys Group landed the commission in January 2014, the storied tower felt more like Bill Lumbergh’s work space than Jay Gatsby’s mansion. Much of its opulence had been stripped away to make room for corporate offices, complete with remnants left behind by former tenants.

Nabbing the project when the hotel’s operator had just begun its analysis meant the Gettys branding team was able to dive deep into the history of the building and the surrounding metro area from the get-go. While interiors and branding can feel like a chicken-egg conundrum on some projects, there was no riddle with Hotel LeVeque. Instead, the property's logo and tagline—“beacon of hospitality”—served as the launch pad for all of the design touchpoints.

“In our projects where we can provide both branding and interior design—and ideally, procurement as well—we can tell a complete and compelling story,” says Ron Swidler, principal, branding for The Gettys Group. “We view the process like writing a screenplay: Branding conceives the story arc first, then the interiors team designs the sets.” The result is a cohesive experience that starts when a guest investigates a property online and carries seamlessly from check-in to check-out.

To hit their high-design expectations, the firm looked up for inspiration. Since the mid-1900s, the building had been known for the elaborate lighting of its tower. Even famed aviator Charles Lindbergh once used the skyscraper’s beacon lights to aid his navigation during cross-country flights. Beyond that, historic architectural embellishments, such as starscape murals, terra cotta panels of planets and cast-bronze elevator doors featuring Greek constellations, provided stardust memories worth celebrating.

The branding team channeled that night-sky inspiration into the 149-key hotel’s logo—a tower sketch comprised of art deco-style lines and topped with an H and shining star, which references the ones found in the city’s and state’s flags. That motif informed the interior design team’s creative brief from top to bottom.

“It was important to make sure our design solutions were not only tied to the brand story, but carried through in a modern and luxurious way,” notes Nicholas, who was named to the Boutique 18 roster of up-and-coming designers in 2006. So custom lighting was chosen to channel contemporary touches into the property's ancestral narrative.

For starters, the design team created a sculptural light feature in the lobby as an artistic abstraction of the constellations. “We worked closely with the manufacturer, studying the piece from several different aspects,” says Nicholas. Due to the size and weight of the fixture, the piece was constructed out of metal in a custom satin brass finish, another nod to 1920s glamour.

In the guest rooms, the designers toyed with a twinkling star concept via a custom ceiling feature that uses acrylic stems to cast shadows within the space. To bring the celestial theme back to earth, the design team laid current-day interpretations of art-deco hallmarks underfoot, with custom carpets showcasing bold geometrics and sharp lines.

The past-meets-present concept was also woven into the materials palette. Traditional textures and finishes often associated with that bygone era, such as plush velvet, carrara marble and satin brass, were balanced with such modern materials as high-pressure metal laminates, resin wall surfaces and LED panels to create a relevant 
visual experience.

As often happens with adaptive-reuse projects, the timeline was pushed back because of unexpected obstacles: the complexity of the building’s multi-use components, including office, residential and retail spaces; planned fixtures and equipment that had to be adjusted based on site constraints; and the availability of historic tax credits. Even the bellman carts had to be scaled down and custom fit to accommodate the building’s undersized elevators.

However, Nicholas notes the challenges led to some of the design’s strongest features. “For example, given the historic floor plate we had to work with for the guest rooms, we had the opportunity to design beyond typical guest bathrooms with oversized walk-in showers and private water closet areas,” he explains.

Further playing up the property’s unique character was its inclusion in Marriott Intl.’s Autograph Collection of high-profile independent properties, which gave the branding team ample leeway to build upon the astrological theme with a tailored selection of patterns, pieces and elements.

Nicholas adds that one of the biggest perks of the project was that signature pieces didn’t have to comply with mega-chain standards. Instead, they could be designed to reflect the vision of Gettys’ branding group. Cookie-cutter details weren’t only discouraged—they were off the table entirely.

“Guests are expecting more, sharing more, even demanding more differentiated and desirable stays,” says Swidler. “As evidenced by the early performance numbers of Hotel LeVeque, which opened in March, those creatively crafted and delivered experiences yield valuable returns on the investment.”