Asked to describe the school of interior design to which he subscribes, Schnabel says, "I don't have a school. I'm out of school. It's more like the Miss Havisham School of Disrepair." Then, reconsidering his position: "I always have opinions about everything. And I'll be pretty consistent with that way of seeing space. I'm always moving things around. Maybe I am a frustrated interior decorator."
Schnabel is too modest about his role at the Gramercy Park Hotel. Virtually everywhere your eye travels, in fact, the artist's touch is in clear view. Here and there, the rheostat on his red-velvet-draped vision has been turned up or down a notch or two, but even when it's down, Schnabel's vision for the hotel is conspicuously present.
As for the guest room that he originally proposed, Schnabel says, "I made a room that I would stay in. And then Ian thought, 'Ah, Julian's not exactly a normal person.' So, he made choices about what would be more accessible. And that, I think, is fine."
Color proved to be an especially important part of the design. "We wanted the rooms to look like paintings, so we used very Raphael kinds of roses, jades, and blues," says Schrager, who ebonized the hotel's preexisting oak floors to provide a dense backdrop for the palette. Somewhat surprising, considering the potpourri, is the fact that the rooms can fairly be described as both comfortable and cozy.
The velvet-upholstered beds are based on a Schnabel design, which the artist derived from a studded and embroidered Spanish chair and love seat he has at home. Also by Schnabel are the penguin-shaped leather table lamps with bronze-shaded bulbs perched on top like two pert ears.
And for each desk there is a pair of tapestry-covered chairs with swinging tassels on the back that are based on a 19th-century women's dressing chair that Schrager and Andrei found during a whirlwind, weeklong shopping spree they took last July in Schrager's Gulfstream to London, Paris, Rome, Milan, Florence, and Madrid—where Schrager picked up four colorful and elaborately decorated matador's outfits, called trajes des luces ("suits of lights"), one of which is on display in the hotel lobby on a bronze stand designed by Schnabel.
Depending on the size of the room—more than half of them are configured as suites with one set of French doors separating the living and sleeping rooms, another set separating the sleeping rooms and the wood, tile, marble, and Corian bathrooms—each guest has either one or two flat-screen televisions. Wedged into a corner next to the sofa is an adjustable black-metal long-armed lamp, inspired by Jean Prouvé, that illuminates the desk, which is the lower-than-normal height of the tables in Harry's Bar in Venice.
The overstuffed lounge chair in each guest room looks as if its black-charred wood frame (preserved with clear epoxy) only barely made it out of a four-alarm fire. This chair, specially designed by Dutch artist and product designer Maarten Baas, is akin to many of the pieces in Baas's popular "Smoke" collection. "He's a really creative guy; I would have liked him to do more," says Schrager, who also commissioned from Baas a trio of custom-designed coffee tables for the lobby and a billiard table for one of the bars downstairs.
Since art was to be not only the guiding light but also an integral part of the hotel, Schrager was determined to include it in the guest rooms. To that end, he commissioned Leslie Simitch to edit a collection of some 2,000 photographs from the archives of Magnum, the venerable photo agency. There are between three and six images, some vintage, some contemporary, in every room. The only constant among them is a portrait of Schnabel's old friend Andy Warhol—one per room.
Asked how Schnabel took to being "edited" and "reinterpreted," Schrager says, "He was accepting. And I only want to do what's right for the project...because, in the end, I don't make the projects, the projects make me." For his part, Schnabel says, "I really care about Ian and I wanted him to get what he wanted."
Not under Schnabel's purview is the hotel's main restaurant, Park Chinois, slated to open this month: That is being overseen by Michelin-starred chef Alan Yau, well known for his London restaurants Hakkasan, Wagamama, and Yauatcha. To do the design honors for the 150-seat Chinese restaurant, Yau, with Schrager's enthusiastic support, looked to the young Paris-based husband-and-wife duo of Patrick Gilles and Dorothée Boissier, who, before setting up shop themselves, worked, respectively, in the Paris offices of Philippe Starck ("which gives you the levity," according to Schrager) and Christian Liagre ("which gives you the chic").
Up on the 18th floor, there is also the now-under-construction Roof Club, scheduled to open in December. Based partly on a Viennese coffeehouse, partly on a London gentlemen's club, the 6,000-square-foot space is for hotel guests and members only. It will be a calm, quiet alternative to the hotel's more heavily populated public areas, and include some 3,000 square feet of outdoor space, designed by Schrager's loyal landscape architect, Tangier-based Madison Cox.