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Redesigning NYC's Royalton for Comfort

Compared with Starck’s whimsical tongue-in-cheek riffs, the new Royalton lobby is a relatively sober affair. There is not, in fact, a joke or a pun or a three-legged chair in the place. "It’s about craftsmanship and comfort," says Standefer. "We wanted to have things that were very well made and livable." It is also about associations, the kind we inevitably make when confronted with such classic elements as wood-paneled walls, chesterfield-style sofas, and commodious club chairs.

"We wanted it to be warmer, cozier, moodier, sexier," says Standefer. "We wanted to create a very vibrant social environment."

Depending on your frame of stylistic reference, the new Royalton lobby is indeed evocative of other times and places. There are shades, perhaps, of the Playboy Club in Chicago circa 1965, for example, of a members-only men’s club outfitted to the silk smoking-jacket specifications of a young, devil-may-care Hugh Hefner. It is the kind of room where highballs get ordered, where black crocodile wallets and gold Dunhill lighters get flashed. Envision a charmed world of vicuña coats and Charvet shirts…of very attentive cocktail waitresses in black sheaths with spaghetti straps and ample décolletage.

To automobile buffs, on the other hand, the lobby may bring to mind the interior of a new Maybach 62S. That is, it is a conspicuously handcrafted interior embellished with luxurious materials—leather and wood, bronze and brass, glass and springbok skin—exquisitely rendered by expert artisans. Like the princely car, there is a tactile, highly textured quality to the lobby, a conspicuous material richness that is not so easy to place in time.

With its velvet-upholstered banquettes and attendant bronze cocktail tables, the Royalton interior is also evocative of its venerable neighbors along this particular stretch of West 44th Street: the Harvard Club, the New York Yacht Club, the Algonquin (though not so stuffy or staid—traditional elements here have dramatic twists). Those sofas and club chairs are encased in massive custom-made brass or bronze enclosures that wrap the seats and cushions in a tight, slightly reflective metallic embrace.

Alesch and Standefer wanted the space to have what the partners describe as an "international" or "global living room" quality. "So we really played with different languages, different materials, different textures," says Standefer. "Things came from different parts of the world. It definitely melds together periods of design and different stylistic moves." She adds that it’s "hard to tell what’s vintage and what’s new." Standefer feels the Royalton lobby has echoes of late Midcentury Modern hotels "in Lisbon and Brazil." It may be New York 2008, but you could just as well be in the lobby of a hotel in Cologne or Düsseldorf, Osaka or the Hague, and it could be the late 1950’s, the 60’s, or the early 70’s, and British design legend David Hicks could have had a hand in it. The reason for the eclecticism?"I wanted a) not to date myself, and b) not to immediately be categorized," Standefer explains.

To give the lobby heft and gravitas, the walls are either paneled—in rosewood, mahogany, or teak—or upholstered in blue or brown leather. Breaking up the monolithic surfaces, and introducing a welcome element of scale, are shimmering brass channels that add a bit of geometry, which is echoed in the irregular squares woven into the carpet. On one wall, a 30-foot black iron screen that once adorned a 1940’s Modernist building on the outskirts of Paris now hangs like a piece of art, a kind of hard-edged graphic backdrop for one of the sunken seating areas. It was the first thing Alesch and Standefer bought for the project, and—much to the design team’s delight—mhg supported, without hesitation, the $60,000 acquisition. "That’s when we knew they were going to be good clients," says Standefer. "That screen really jump-started a lot of our shapes."

One such shape—a monumental double-sided fireplace encased in a massive bronze- colored steel surround—recalls the large-scale work of sculptor Louise Nevelson. Intense and tough, the fire pit provides an animated central focal point for the lobby, as well as visual warmth. On a lighter note, suspended from the ceiling is a series of one-off, handblown glass globes by such artisans as the Brooklyn-based John Pomp and Los Angeles’s Alison Berger.


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