In circular circumstances in northern Germany, Andrée Putman savors the spirit of modern luxe
Monica Geran -- Interior Design, 3/1/2002 12:00:00 AM
"Passion" seems to have become something of a buzzword of late, replacing "zest" and "enthusiasm." But when Andrée Putman, responsible for the interior design of the Ritz-Carlton in Wolfsburg, Germany, speaks with passion about luxury hotels, the word assumes a fresh fervor. Not only does she convey, in flawless English, the distinctive nature of her design treatments but she also manages, somehow, convincingly to stress the importance of that intangible force known as atmosphere. Her vision goes beyond the facts and figures. She aims to bring life to her work.
Wolfsburg, an hour's distance by train from Berlin and half the time from Hanover, is the location of the Autostadt (meaning "auto city"), the 62-acre theme park built around a Volkswagen factory not far from the Beetle maker's headquarters. The Wolfsburg Ritz-Carlton opened in June 2000, built by Dr. Gunter Henn. ("Doctor" equals doctorate in architecture.) Shaped like three quarters of a ring, the premises contain 174 rooms, two exceptional restaurants, meeting and function spaces, recreation and exercise facilities, and enough top-notch electronic communication devices to keep everyone happy.
Guests, as noted, expect the unexpected in hotels de luxe—preferably something rare and posh. It's all found here: More plush, thick towels than ever before sighted in a bathroom, soft bed linens and downy blankets, and welcome surprises such as a tube of toothpaste, the item most frequently overlooked in packing. Overnighters love the warming rails, gently heated bathroom floors, makeup mirrors, excellent lighting, pillows covered in Fortuny fabric, and other grace notes. Throughout, everything is designed for comfort and enjoyment of the sensory kind. Lounge seating alone is an experience in blissful relaxation.
Architect Henn's open-circle building, Putman notes, eliminates 90-degree wall angles in guest quarters. Rooms "simply fit together," she says. Nor is there regimentation formed by straight hallways with rows of doors; instead, wood-paneled corridors are rounded. The setting prompted Putman to adopt softened (and softening) curved lines. Among guest-room pieces in semilunar shape are sycamore writing desks clearly designed for use, with built-in data ports.
Luxury, to Putman, is a tangible element reflected in her choice of natural fibers, stone, wood, and elegant colors. Among illustrative examples greeting visitors are white stone walls washed by both up-lights and down-lights and dark oak reception and concierge desks with Portuguese limestone counters. The lobby lounge's fireplace is framed in travertine and surrounded by a freestanding structure of bronze mesh on a metal frame. Also in the lounge is a Putman-designed carpet of elephant-gray wool with a coral pattern of curves, laid on an almost-matching stone floor. Her deft handling of lights extended from designing fixtures to determining optimum intensities.
Something of a pièce de résistance appears in the guest rooms, where a table-height pedestal, built into the wall beneath a vertical sliver of translucent glass, supports a single white orchid. Understated but equally sure to be noted are the white tile bathroom surfaces with Italian glass mosaic listels (narrow bands, in architectural parlance) that mimic mat borders and friezes. Also delighting the eye in guest rooms as well as public areas is original artwork, more than 600 pieces at last count, by Thomas Struth, Robert Mapplethorpe, and Karl Blossfeldt as well as up-and-coming artists.
Ever since the hotel's opening, guests have enjoyed the "increasingly rare feeling of well-being and comfort that hardly exists even in the best of private houses," as one Ritz-Carlton spokesperson would have it. Going full circle in accord with the spatial theme, we might conclude by noting Putman's design credo, passionately held: "Interiors look best when, instead of noting their originality, we feel good just being inside."
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