A redesign of the Crystal City Marriott, one of the first hotels in Arlington, VA’s Crystal City, has transformed the rather tired 333-guestroom, 10-suite hotel into a property that now features a modern and engaging lobby with plenty of style and comfort. The extensive renovation marks the first stage of the hotel’s multimillion-dollar plan to revitalize its public and meeting spaces, an investment by the hotel’s owners, Vornado. The revamp features the new design for Marriott Hotels & Resorts’ lobbies, which offers guests spaces for working, dining and socializing all in one room, creating an open yet intimate atmosphere for the property’s patrons.
The existing lobby was expansive but with limited seating. A monumental staircase, which connected the lobby with the ballroom on the second floor, absorbed most of the space. As a result, the view from outside was of low lighting and the large staircase; the rest of the floor was mostly administrative offices. Furthermore, the bar was hidden on the second floor where the concierge lounge is now located, and the restaurant was also on the second floor down a long hall, completely obscured.
Action was the objective. Enter Frederick, MD-based Cauhaus Design, which replaced the old-world style lobby with a new look that blends down-home comfort with modern technology. The space is both sophisticated and casual, and most definitely relaxing, inviting guests—many of whom are military business travelers—and even local clientele to drop in, gather and stay awhile. According to the husband and wife design team of Rob Laschever, aia and Toby Schermerhorn, aia, the concept was to create an urban, casual atmosphere.
“The idea was to appeal not just to guests but to the community; to capture and keep travelers, which is not easy to do; and to draw from the surrounding neighborhood,” said Schermerhorn.
Located near Reagan National Airport, “Crystal City is like a micro city; it’s an area that’s really blossoming,” said Laschever. “Here’s this active, bubbly, amazing place with bodies moving by the thousands every day, and the whole first level [of the hotel] was dead. It was the most inactive, uninteresting, uninspired place. The restaurant and bar were upstairs and there really wasn’t great visual connection, so the first thing we had to do was activate the first floor—create a buzz.”
Consequently, the restaurant and bar—“anything that says exciting,” said Laschever—had to be moved downstairs. “We gutted the downstairs down to the skin, and that really started the whole ball rolling,” he said. The administrative offices and monumental staircase were removed in order to make room for a lobby, feature bar, private lounge, restaurant and buffet/action station.
Furthermore, the reception area was redesigned to make it easier for guests and hotel staff to interact at check-in. Three new pods made of dark wood with onyx tops now replace the existing “monolithic desk” to allow business and leisure travelers to check in and out with ease.
“We removed the stone floor tile and replaced it with large-scale cream marble with brown marble strips, which reinforces the backlit acrylic panels in the new reception pods,” said Schermerhorn. The door to the administrative area was also relocated, allowing a feature millwork wall with padded leather panels to form a backdrop behind the pods. Furthermore, the ceiling was lowered to provide intimacy and extended past the existing bulkhead to accentuate the area.
“One of the things we like to do in our designs is create moments of exploration, or what I call ‘a-ha moments,’” said Schermerhorn, “and I think we were really able to entice people with this wonderful wood wall system.”
The dynamic design duo used visually stimulating elements such as warm earth tones, leather chairs and natural materials, including stone and reclaimed wood on the walls and live-edge wood communal tables, to convey simple elegance. Other recycled materials such as natural tile accents, 55-gallon drums and hammered metals are used as artwork. “We wanted to create a sense of character, like a hometown pub,” said Schermerhorn. “We kept it monochromatic and made it more textural, weathered.”
Seats wrap an existing column so it serves as both lobby and bar seating. Flanking the bar are two social communal tables. One is at bar height, the other ADA height. “They sit near enough to the bar so that guests can still experience the action, while being far enough away to be able to spread their work out on the table,” said Schermerhorn. A suspended light tray of candles and blown-glass pendants over the table lowers the perceived ceiling height.
With free WiFi and electrical outlets throughout the lobby, guests can plug in and work on their laptops or relax in front of HDTVs at the lobby bar. In addition, semi-private seating nooks full of plush pillows allow guests to socialize or work in an intimate environment, amid the community-type setting; millwork dividers provide the privacy. “Though the space is open, we wanted to create areas where people could ‘get away’ and talk about hush-hush things,” said Schermerhorn.
A private lounge features a wrap-around sofa contained by privacy shelving. “It’s one of our favorite things,” said Schermerhorn. “It [the wrap-around space] is starting to become our signature.” Two televisions, movable tables, hand-scraped MDF wall panels, a color-changing, fiber-optic ceiling and candles on the shelving provide an intimate seating enclosure for a small group.
And for added privacy, there are high-back cocktail cubbies. Starting at this point and wrapping all of the perimeter walls of the restaurant, wood chip paneled walls have random pieces missing, exposing the backlit acrylic behind them. Here, and at all of the banquette seating groups, individual televisions are tucked into the side panels.
“The general philosophy with brands today is that they want it to be open so that guests do not feel disconnected in any way,” said Laschever. “We tear out a lot of walls and put back very few. But, at the same time, they want different zones, different feels and different seating.” In other words, to create rooms within rooms.
The new bar and restaurant, BELL20, offers comfort food and pub fare, making it ideal for socializing with work colleagues by day and impromptu gatherings at night. The iconic bar is centered in the space with a dropped, cove-lit ceiling. It is sheathed with illuminated metal mesh panels.
“Because the main kitchen was upstairs, we had to create a way to communicate with f&b downstairs,” said Laschever. They added an open-action kitchen with three dumbwaiters to facilitate delivery of food from the kitchen upstairs. “The buffet is really the hub of all of the action,” he said. “We created a new heart of the downstairs.” Moreover, it has a rollaway omelet station that rests against the wall when not in use. Counter space for preparation, serving dishes and refrigerators provide for last-minute touches. “I think that the exciting thing from a brand standpoint is that we were able to figure out a way to have the kitchen on one floor and the restaurant on another,” said Schermerhorn. “It’s a problem in a lot of hotels—and we’re problem solvers.”
“It is a unique Marriott, very much outside the cookie-cutter program,” said Laschever. “We had to squeeze many elements and requirements into a relatively tight and unusual space. What would have been normal spatial relationships we threw out the window and were reinventing the wheel from day one.”
Looking to the future, Schermerhorn envisions an outdoor space. “It’s one of the trends we’re seeing: a way to bring the outside in, or inside out. We’re looking at opening up some doors adjacent to the bar and adding a patio. It would really enliven the neighborhood. We’re not looking at it as a hotel—we’re trying to create a neighborhood space,” Schermerhorn said.