Check into Adam Tihany's heaven-and-hell hotel Aleph, a wickedly witty vision of Rome
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 10/1/2003 12:00:00 AM
The sacred, the profane, and the stylish have coexisted for centuries in Rome—an eternal paradox fully understood by Adam Tihany. "This is the essence of Rome," the architect says of his new Boscolo Hotel Aleph, a sizzling play of heaven meets hell. "You can't get more basic than these conflicts."
Tihany, whose firm counts 150 hospitality interiors in 20 countries to its name, knows about provocative design, and he's also plugged into the Italian way of life. Trained at the Politecnico di Milano, he's designed furniture for a handful of elite Italian manufacturers. Still, he'd never completed a work of architecture in Italy before the $25 million Aleph, his first. (Not coincidentally, Aleph is the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet.)
Though Tihany Design preserved the limestone facade of the Aleph's building, a 1929 bank, he gutted the six-story interior prior to installing his 38,600-square-foot metaphor. There's no mistaking Dante's Inferno on the overwhelmingly red ground level, encompassing most of the public amenities. Red rectangles accent the entry's double glass doors, which open to a coffered, vaulted vestibule. Red mosaic-tile insets punctuate the black granite flooring as it flows past two mannequins dressed as 16th-century samurai. They guard the gates of hell, marked by a white Corian-faced reception desk.
A bona fide aura of sin—if not downright sex—pervades Sin, the 60-seat restaurant at the rear of the ground level. Tihany composed a racy setting of red leather-upholstered banquettes, red back-painted glass tabletops, and even flamelike red-painted branches.
Tihany went all out in the lobby lounge. Framed by red-stained mahogany wall panels, custom seating is upholstered in crimson velvet, horsehair, and leather. Fringed leather-covered bar stools beckon seductively to a white central oasis, the ironically named Angel bar with its 10-foot-long Corian counter.
Mirrored cubes, detailed as dice, serve as cocktail tables. Above, suspended disks of lacquered gypsum-board recall backgammon pieces, an allusion to Tihany's treatment of the interior courtyard—a 500-square-foot outdoor surface that he transformed into a life-size backgammon board.
The computer library appears serious-minded by comparison. What could be more traditional than mahogany paneling and leather-covered seating: tufted chesterfields and commodious lounge chairs? Upon closer inspection, though, Tihany's cunning emerges. Those built-in shelves of books are in fact three-dimensional photographs. "To actually read something, you have to go online," the architect says, laughing. Underscoring his devilishness is a pile of "burning" books—actually an unnerving sculpture by Christina Beccaria.
The 96 guest rooms are situated at the serene end of the spectrum. Acknowledging a debt to Gio Ponti, Tihany supplied white lacquered furniture, scalloped ceiling molding, Venetian glass sconces, and geometric carpet, all a déjà vu of the maestro's designs from the 1950's. Printed murals by Tihany's son, Bram—22 years old and already an award-winning cinematographer— present a grittier vision of Roman life amid the Ponti-style refinement.
Blissful the guest quarters may be. In Tihany's ironic world, however, real heaven lies below, in the basement he transformed into Heaven Spa. This facility features Roman baths, a relaxation room in the original bank vault, and exercise equipment— for misguided souls who prefer cycling and sweating to shopping and sightseeing.