By Natasha Mekhail, Photo by Hubert Kang
What goes into designing an unforgettable hotel? We set out to find the answer, visiting three of Fairmont’s most renowned properties and meeting with the top hospitality designers who were tasked with giving them new life. In each case, the creator had the challenge of refurbishing a longstanding and cherished local landmark – and employing the delicacy needed to bring the hotel into the future while paying homage to its past. As we discovered, the hotels’ renewals were much more than the aggregate of their color palettes, materials, furniture and finishes. Along with their refreshed look, these three icons received something even more important: a brand new story to tell.
The whole world knows about The Plaza. It’s famous everywhere,” says Alexandra Champalimaud. Her eponymous New York-based design firm was commissioned to undertake the refurbishment of the 29 Legacy Suites, which debuted in June 2015. The glamorous guest rooms are as much a part of the 110-year-old hotel’s DNA as its famous fictional resident, Eloise, and its address at the edge of Central Park. In fact, it was to that urban oasis that Champalimaud turned for inspiration. Not only do the suites face the park, their great door-like windows (grandfathered in from a time before hotel safety codes prevented such liberalities) also open out over its verdant splendor. “The focal point is the view,” she says. “We’ve made sure that the windows stay clear of too much curtaining so the rooms feel bathed in light.” The decor, too, reflects the park in patterns of vegetation on the floor coverings, in small paintings of flowers and in the hidden botanical motifs on the underside of lampshades.
She also sought to turn the previously European-influenced suites into spaces that better represented modern Manhattan. “We brought a New York attitude to the renovation,” she says. “The idea was to make the experience entirely residential, something akin to a beautiful, sophisticated apartment on the Upper East Side.” Champalimaud achieved that feel by, in her words, “making the suites take themselves a little less seriously.” She brought in smaller furniture pieces to encourage freedom of movement; she took the formality out of the rooms’ artwork, replacing classic oil paintings with contemporary photographs of New York City Ballet costumes; and she creatively freshened up formerly stuffy staples, like the rooms’ heavy light fixtures and gilded headboards. “When I walk into these suites now, I am overjoyed,” she says. “They’re not pretentious, but they’re glamorous. They’re essentially New York and The Plaza.”