Ritz-Carlton is letting its hair down, integrating contemporary aesthetics and amenities worldwide
Abby Bussel -- Interior Design, 3/1/2002 12:00:00 AM
The word "branding" has secured a tenacious grip on the corporate lexicon of late, but the concept behind the word is nothing new for Ritz-Carlton. A name synonymous with ultra-deluxe hospitality, it has been an American brand since 1927, when the first Ritz-Carlton opened in Boston, following in the grand European footsteps of the Ritz in Paris and the Carlton in London. Five more American hotels followed—in New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Atlantic City, New Jersey, and Boca Raton, Florida—but by 1983, when the name was purchased by the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, there was only Boston. Today, the company manages a total of 43 properties around the globe: 28 urban locations and 15 resorts. While traditions of handcrafted millwork, fine linens, and personal attention remain, the conservative look long associated with Ritz-Carlton is being replaced with something a little bit more, well, experimental.
Interiors are not as dark, lines are crisper, and woods and upholstery are lighter, says Marilyn Bohling, vice president of interior design at headquarters in Atlanta. To attract a more design-savvy new-economy clientele, Ritz-Carlton is even dipping its toes in the boutique market, using a property in the Georgetown section of Washington, D.C., as a test case. A historic incinerator plant is on the way to becoming a 95-room hotel with loftlike public spaces and a palette of granite, brushed chrome, and wood.
"We have a bible of standards and guidelines for fixtures and furniture," explains Bohling. This bible, like the company's "gold standard" of service, sets a level of quality for construction, materials, and finishes. Ritz-Carltons must also be absolutely residential in tone. For example, each property managed by the company is outfitted with the latest in business technology, but the visual presence of gadgetry is minimized.
While insisting on a brand identity and expanding at a rate of 10 openings in the past year, the company is simultaneously keen on establishing a sense of place. Geographically tailored art collections contribute to the effort, as do design elements. In New Orleans, traditional Mardi Gras colors were used in the conversion of the Maison Blanche and Kress buildings, two glazed terra-cotta landmarks on the edge of the French Quarter, into a Ritz-Carlton with a 20,000-square-foot spa. A bird's-eye view of the Mediterranean and a stylish tapas bar are available at the Ritz-Carlton's Hotel Arts Barcelona, a 44-story tower in the Olympic Village. In Boston, the new look of a Ritz-Carlton in an up-and-coming district stands in striking contrast to the dark fabrics and working fireplaces of the Back Bay original, now undergoing renovation. The Ritz-Carlton in Wolfsburg, Germany, boasts understated interiors by Andrée Putman. And if choosing among five dozen brands of bottled water is your idea of over-the-top indulgence, a night or two at the company's recent reentry into the New York lodging scene is a must. At the Ritz-Carlton New York, Battery Park, a welcome symbol of hope not far from the World Trade Center site, one Filip Wretman is reputed to be the sole water sommelier in the U.S. He carries only the finest brands—Voss, Acqua della Madonna—but, then again, one would expect no less at a Ritz-Carlton, be it in Dearborn or Dubai.