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Past & Present

Lisa Haude, president of Paradigm Design Group, has a knack for restoring historic properties to their former glory—incorporating just the right balance of modern elements. Here, she speaks with InspireDesign about finding that equilibrium, how she approaches a historic preservation project and some of her recent work.

Hotel guests today are looking for authenticity, places that exude local culture. Hotels that preserve their history are a natural fit for that. How do you balance modern needs in a design while rooting the design in history? In all of our historic preservation projects, we always try to preserve or replicate as many of the historic architectural features as possible. The bones of the building tell a unique story that we want to bring back to life for hotel visitors. Special design elements, such as sweeping ceilings, detailed and hand-carved plaster or millwork, and original lighting all convey the beauty from the past, and it is important that whatever new elements we add on only help to complement these pieces. When it comes to modernizing certain spaces and design concepts, we always make sure to implement new, luxurious furnishings and finishes to meet the needs of today’s guest. Whatever we do, it’s crucial that we do not overwhelm a space with too many modern elements. Finding the perfect balance can be tricky but, oftentimes, when it comes to modernizing a space, simplicity is key.

The Roosevelt, a Waldorf Astoria hotel

How do you determine which historic elements to highlight? We always want to highlight the historic elements that help tell the story of the hotel. Many of these elements are featured within the architecture, including hand-carved millwork or plaster, stained glass windows and beautiful flooring. Sometimes, we’re not even aware that these elements exist until we start demolition and discover them hidden in walls or beneath layers and layers of carpet and flooring. By focusing on the history within the architecture and bones of the design, we’re able to focus our modernizing efforts on other elements, including luxury finishes and furniture. Making sure the hotel guests feel comfortable is very important, and by adding those modern touches, they can feel relaxed and at-home while still enjoying the overall historic and unique experience that the design evokes.

What, typically, are your first steps when approaching this type of project? As we do with all of our other projects, we start by conducting extensive research on the area, lifestyle and location of the property. That said, with historic projects, we always take it one step further and learn everything we possibly can about the building—who built it, when and why was it built, what unique features and history is has, what impact it has on the city, and how the locals interact with it.

The Roosevelt, a Waldorf Astoria hotel

Tell me a bit about some of the recent historic properties you’ve designed. What makes them special? Were there any unusual challenges involved? After Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005, The Roosevelt, a Waldorf Astoria hotel, called on us to help restore this iconic property. The Roosevelt had an integral connection to the city and was a beloved part of its history. It was especially popular in the ’30s and ’40s as the iconic Blue Room opened and became the premier music venue for top performers, which included Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Sammy Kaye and many others. The Roosevelt also had major political connections, as U.S. Senator Huey P. Long used one of the suites on the 12th floor as his personal headquarters and residence. Locals also loved coming to the property to enjoy the famous Sazerac Bar, the Fountain Lounge and the festive Christmas decor.

At the time The Roosevelt was originally built, smaller room sizes were much more common. In renovating this hotel, we worked closely with the owners to adjust those small—and sometimes awkward—guestroom and bathrooms spaces into spaces that guests expect today. Even now, we still have some interesting rooms with unique window placements or awkward corners.

Weare Cottage at Cliff House Maine

We also recently completed the historic Weare Cottage at Cliff House Maine. The Weare Cottage was originally built by the Weare family as a family home in 1872, after the end of the Civil War, during the Reconstruction Period. The Weare family purchased the property to invest in building a resort, Cliff House, that would be easily accessible via the new railway systems. Cliff House quickly became a popular destination among wealthy and powerful families on the East Coast.

The existing conditions of the Weare Cottage made the restoration a big challenge for us. The property was torn down to the studs, then rebuilt within a very tight timeline. Because the cottage is located right by the ocean, it was also important for us to select materials that could withstand all kinds of weather and the salty air that surrounds it. Additionally, the square footage of the cottage is quite small, yet we wanted to create a space that could accommodate big groups and families as they traveled to this iconic coast. In the end, we provided a warm and inviting home that overcame the challenge of the small footprint and has quickly become a favorite destination.

Weare Cottage at Cliff House Maine

Are there any mistakes you see being made with these types of projects? Is there a wrong way to go about it? What are the common pitfalls? As in any design project, there are always things you could or should have done better. It is imperative that you have accurate backgrounds and truly understand all the quirky little things that make it unique. These items—whether big or small—should be incorporated into your design in some form or fashion and help make that building unique.

You also need time to truly understand the history of the building and its location. It has its own unique story to tell and now is the time to artistically bring that story to life.

Finally, it’s important that if certain elements are being recreated or restored, they must be done correctly. The historical elements or interpretations should be authentic and real. It should never look fake or forced.

“Historic” covers a lot of ground. Are there any particular types of projects that you’re personally inspired by? I personally love working with any historic building. I love uncovering the old bones of the space as I imagine the endless possibilities that I have at my fingertips as we help mold it into its next life. With that said, I have had the pleasure of working on properties from the late 1800s through the Depression Era and it has always been exciting to discover the beauty of the materials that were left behind. Needless to say, it will always be near and dear to my heart to bring these relics from the past back to life.