Oh so Soho
Ilse Crawford translates London's Soho House for the Meatpacking District
Raul Barreneche -- Interior Design, 9/1/2003 12:00:00 AM
"There's a pool a block from my apartment—and I can't get in," huffs Sex and the City's vampy publicist character, Samantha Jones. Samantha lives in the Meatpacking District, and the coveted pool she can't dip her pedicured toe into is the rooftop one at Soho House New York, a real-life private club and public hotel near the red-hot intersection of Ninth Avenue and West 14th Street.
It's no accident that Sex and the City would work loungy Soho House into a story line. With Miramax chairman Harvey Weinstein, Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter, and Marie Claire fashion director Lucy Sykes among the founding members, the club is heavy on entertainment and media names, not just moneyed types. (The annual fee is a relatively modest $900.) And then there's the cachet of Soho House's older sister club in London.
To shape the new stateside venture, British owner Nick Jones hired his longtime design muse, Ilse Crawford of Studioilse. Crawford understands not only the media demographic—she was the founding editor in chief of Elle Decoration in the U.K.—but also the expanding Soho House empire. Over the past five years, she's completed Jones's Gloucestershire manor turned boutique hotel, Babington House, and his latest London venture, the Electric Cinema, which she describes as "Jimi Hendrix meets Jimmy Choo."
Working with New York-based Harman Jablin Architects, Crawford has now transformed a six-story, 45,000-square-foot electrical warehouse into a funky club with 24 hotel rooms, a restaurant and lounge, three bars, a screening room, a "library" for private functions, a spa, and of course the rooftop pool. (A last-minute addition, the pool left the sixth-floor's members-only restaurant and lounge without a ceiling until just days before opening.) In executing her plan, however, she retained much of the building's original fabric: brick walls, timber beams, and the like. "Without those great bones, it would have been impossible to create the mix of amazing modern furniture and amazing vintage pieces," says Crawford, explaining that her design was predominantly driven by an emotional reading of the Soho House clientele. "It's a happy, sexy place. You can have fun—but also do quite serious business."
The club's playful attitude is underscored by the names of the four categories of guest rooms, generally large by design-hotel standards. A trio of 950-square-foot suites are called Playgrounds; the Playhouses and Playrooms, nine apiece, measure 750 and 425 square feet, respectively. The three Playpens, on the other hand, are a mere 325 square feet. Regardless of size, though, the rooms feel more like lofts than hotel accommodations. Crawford created studies in contrast, energetic juxtapositions of ornate oversize marriage beds, vintage armoires, modernist sofas by Piero Lissoni, and freestanding concrete tubs.
Even Soho House's polished sixth floor displays a distinctively laid-back edge. The restaurant boasts salvaged pine flooring, a new pressed-tin ceiling, and crystal chandeliers. Crawford likens the mix to wearing jeans and a T-shirt with a knockout pair of shoes. "It's boring to wear entirely fabulous things," she maintains. "I prefer to see the personality, not the decoration."
Separated from the restaurant by steel-framed glass walls, the lounge is high-low tech and round-the-clock. Members host meetings or set up laptops with wireless Internet connections during the afternoon. By 10:00 PM on a Thursday, the ginger martinis are flowing, and a thirtysomething Euro-flash crowd has overtaken Crawford's clusters of mismatched furniture—both classic and Stanley Kubrick–modern.
These furniture groups, the designer says, draw on the Arab tradition of defining space with rugs. Some of the lounge's rugs came directly from Morocco. Others arrived from London as part of a cargo shipment of preselected furnishings, but Crawford purposely waited to finish off the interiors with serendipitous flea-market purchases. On the rough painted-brick walls, she spontaneously decided to leave test patches of colors ranging from peacock and teal to petrol blue-green. "In my experience as a magazine editor," she says, "I learned that you need to combine the planned and the unplanned."