NEW YORK—With Alexander Hamilton seeing a resurgence in the lexicon of pop culture today, how fitting it is that one of the country’s founding fathers would be an unwitting “style influencer” in the years spanning 1780-1840, a time when Federalist-style designs came to the forefront.
As Hamilton chiseled out a new nation, so, too, did designers as they embraced and then honed interiors to reflect a new paradigm for fiercely proud Americans. Some things never change. The InterContinental New York Barclay, which was shuttered for nearly two years, has reopened following a $180-million renovation of 420,000 sq. ft. of interiors—and is now ready for its close-up in true Federalist fashion with a fresh and modern twist.
HOK Hospitality teamed up with Stickley Contract to provide custom-made furnishings for the project, which took an estimated 20 months. Hotel Business Design was on hand on Nov. 11 at an event titled, “Made in NY for New York,” which celebrated the completion of the renovation.
There is a redesigned lobby leading up to a brand-new Carrara marble grand staircase and, if you look above, a stately chandelier holds court. The 704 guestrooms and suites received a new look, with the feeling of a residential space or chic apartment on Park Ave.
“I was the principal in charge, so under me, the design team executed the design work, and it was a long process. It’s groundbreaking in this day and age to close for this long. It was an extraordinary project,” said Christina Hart, director of hospitality for HOK Hospitality. “A friend of mine called and said ‘I’m going to rep Stickley Contract’ and I was thinking it was all Mission-style furniture. I took some designers to the showroom, and he explained that Stickley started in the Mission-style arena and now offers additional styles. We were just starting out four or five years ago, around the time of BDNY, and I brought more designers and we talked more, and the light bulb went off. It’s a great product line with traditional flair. There’re many things Stickley does and I saw things of a particular line and thought, ‘This could be good for the Barclay.’”
Stickley Contract has a factory in Manlius, NY, and that’s where the event’s “Made in New York” tagline comes from, noted Hart. The accessibility and flexibility of working with a locally based furniture company has its benefits.
“Things made in New York have to go up against a chain and we have to be smarter how we present these American products. They can deliver floor-by-floor or we can wait for a container to come across from overseas,” she said. “There are other ways to skin a cat and we were testing some of these ways out in the process. Four or five things were fragile and we wanted to be sure we were making smart decisions. They own a factory in Vietnam and could do some work there—anything intricate or special veneers—and then assemble it in New York.”
Throughout the custom-design process, HOK Hospitality’s team was involved in the finest details and was able to take advantage of the furniture maker’s locale to create something new on the fly.
“I saw the first models of furniture pieces and it was tremendous being able to talk to people in the factory and cut something up as a mockup,” she said. “It’s instrumental in having a project come out top-notch and it doesn’t have to entail a trip to China. I’m a big supporter of U.S. manufacturing.”
There’s a rich history underfoot, as it was built in 1926 as part of Grand Central Terminal’s urban design plan. The design team strove to make the interior spaces real and relevant to a new group of travelers who may not know the past of this institution. A Gin Parlour was added, evoking the Dutch and English gin bars of the 1920s.
“It’s a Federalist-style hotel and it has always been. Originally, it was built as a residential hotel to serve as a getaway for the rich, so there were no ballrooms or meeting spaces. It was meant to be a pied-à-terre and went to the Federalist style, which is a lot more ‘Go America!’ It’s about the stars, arrows, eagles… The beautiful skylit ceilings are an overture to the style that remains,” she said. “On guestroom doors, every one has an eagle with the room number. We took them down and had them refurbished. You just don’t see those kinds of touches anymore. This furniture also ties into the Federalist styling with two-tone woods and metalwork. They are not real intricate pulls, but we really knew what kind of pulls we wanted on each piece. There’s a ring that recesses and flips up, and there’s raised molding that has a lot of details.”
In every guestroom, there’s a Hudson River mural in a nod to the Hudson River School style, which was an American art movement led by landscape painters during the same time period. In addition, the design team invested in triple-glazed windows to ensure a quiet retreat for guests.
“It’s not the usual contemporary thing you see a lot of these days. It looks like it was collected over a period of time. It has to be new and fun, but you want it to have a collector’s look,” she said.
Other design elements include the birds and the letter B that can be seen in little details throughout the property. Hart believes that, according to hotel lore, there’s a tie to the Vanderbilt family and a favorite nephew.
“We put the letter B in the carpeting and on plates, and resurrected this B on the backs of sofas when you walk in. They had bees on the rooftop at one point and some of that is going on now, with vegetables and spices being grown,” she said. “They also had a birdcage in the center of the lobby. That’s where they kept residents’ birds when they came to visit, and we recreated the birdcage experience as part of the revolving doors. You walk through these screens with birds on branches and it’s very delicate, so you walk through the birdcage into the Barclay and you’re quickly immersed in history.”