Standing Tall in New York
The epitome of upmarket, uptown panache, Ritz-Carlton moves downtown with interiors overseen by Frank Nicholson
Jen Renzi -- Interior Design, 3/1/2002 12:00:00 AM
Four years ago, Wall Street was booming, and Millennium Partners initiated a $210 million mixed-use Ritz-Carlton development near the World Trade Center to capitalize on the dearth of five-star accommodations nearby. Just prior to opening, Ritz-Carlton's newest property took on a deeper significance: that of reenergizing a challenged neighborhood. If a recent visit is any indication, the hotel is performing its role admirably.
Rising gracefully from Manhattan's southern tip, the 39-story Ritz-Carlton New York, Battery Park, houses 298 guest rooms and 113 luxury condominiums, all with unrivaled views of the Hudson River, the Statue of Liberty, and the surrounding park. The design—by interiors firm Frank Nicholson and architect of record Gary Edward Handel + Associates with Polshek Partnership Architects collaborating—exemplifies Ritz-Carlton's "next generation" hotel. "We thought their properties could be more influenced by the cities they were in and take on a more contemporary style when appropriate," explains Gary Edward Handel.
Ritz-Carlton has begun pursuing synergies between five-star hotels and luxury condominiums, "creating facilities that offer a highly serviced lifestyle with many amenities," says Handel. Battery Park is one of the first Ritz-Carltons to combine short- and long-term luxury living. The hotel occupies the lower 13 floors; condominiums fill the brick-and-glass tower above. The development also includes a spa and fitness center, restaurant, bar, rooftop terrace, and conference and banquet facilities, accessible to guests and residents alike. The Skyscraper Museum plans to move into its new space there at the end of the year. "This hybrid building type is incredibly complicated, but it's proven to be a great success," says Handel.
With respect to interiors, the top priority was to devise a visual theme to unify the diverse programs and guide the various contributors, which—in addition to the three primary firms—included art consultant Joan Warren and numerous Millennium executives. "Creating a hotel requires the input of so many people," says Handel. "Without a strong vision, the design tends to get watered down." The overarching concept pays homage to the luxury ocean liners that dominated the surrounding waterways in the early 20th century. Details such as etched-glass balustrades and Lalique wall sconces "look like they came right off the S.S. Normandie," asserts Nicholson, who took the lead on interiors. Light wood paneling in the public areas, set off by contrasting trim in Macassar ebony, exudes art deco formality. Yet despite upholstered walls, tufted Donghia club chairs, and 19th-century antique consoles, the aesthetic is stately but understated. Fluid lines and a breezy sensibility predominate. Nicholson used luxe leather, marble, and velvet but applied them in a disciplined manner. The art collection, which features works by more than 100 New York artists, bolsters the eclectic ambience.
Ritz-Carlton's new-school look owes a debt to old-world craftsmanship. "To achieve a superior finish, we used vendors who normally work in a more traditional vein," says Nicholson. R&D Davidson in London, for instance, fabricated a square table at the lobby entrance. And much of the carpeting—which segues from traditional florals in the lobby to geometrics as guests proceed to the restaurant and upper floors—was handwoven. Besides designing furnishings in-house, Nicholson sourced Barbara Barry and Michael Vanderbyl, whose pieces for Baker recall Jacques-Emile Ruhlmann and Jean-Michel Frank. "The most important consideration was to convey the sense of Ritz-Carlton quality that customers have come to know," says Nicholson. "The appointments, architectural finishes, and overall sense of style needed to be highly refined, nothing trendy, nothing of the fashion moment." The design is intended to wear as well in 10 years as it does today—in troubled times, an oasis of timelessness.