Business travelers know anonymous transitional places, lackluster train stations, generic airports, and an endless succession of bland hotels that blend one into another. Not the Millenium Hilton. This New York City hotel, severely damaged during the events of Sept. 11, 2001, has redefined itself as a sophisticated respite for travelers and a popular hot spot for natives. And even more dramatic, this striking change was done on a tight budget.
“During September 11th, 1,200 panes of glass were blown out and four to five inches of dust covered the floors,” says Paul David Taylor, president, Stonehill & Taylor Architects PC, New York City. This well-known hotel was designed to resemble the black monolith in Stanley Kubrick’s film, 2001. The facility was closed for a year during the extensive cleaning process.
Reminiscent of a stately gentlemen’s club, the narrow lobby was dark and cavernous. Interior design firm Brennan Beer Gorman Monk/Interiors recast the 30- by 125-foot lobby as a cozy, cosmopolitan lounge with topiaries and translucent light fixtures. The guest registration is centrally located and inviting. A large painting was carefully restored and returned to its home over the registration desk.
The lobby’s original exotic rosewood panels were refinished and reorganized in the newly designed space for a rich, warm look. “There are echoes of the past in this contemporary design,” says Taylor.
The concierge and bar area were flipped so that bar patrons can take advantage of the generous windows. With the clever moniker “Liquid Assets,” the bar has increased its revenue by a phenomenal 1,600 percent since its relocation. “This space proves that design sells,” says Taylor. Slim panels define the lounge/bar space from the registration area, while the curtain sheers, small-scale seating, and amber glow from the square wall sconces add to the bar’s intimate appearance.
Before the modernization, the hotel featured three small, under-used restaurants on its third floor. “We had the restaurants because it was expected in a hotel. Now, we have something truly special,” says Jan Larsen, general manager at the Millenium Hilton. The hotel demolished the small restaurants and created a new 133-seat dining space. Adds Larsen, “Now, the setting is an amenity instead of just part of the package.”
Named “Church & Dey” after the streets around the hotel, the new American fare restaurant is an airy, delightful space with custom-designed carpet. Previously, the windows were obstructed; now floor-to-ceiling windows are revealed with solar screens to control light. Well-designed by notable restaurant design firm Arnold Syrop Associates, New York City, the restaurant features comfy seating nooks in the windows to overlook the bustling Lower Manhattan cityscape and the Hudson River.
“We were concerned the restaurant would be somber because of location. We strived with color and lighting to make it bright and upbeat,” says Arnold Syrop, principal at Arnold Syrop Associates. Outfitted in rich blues and reds, the restaurant can now be easily subdivided for private events. Banquettes, booths, and seating niches: The restaurant offers a variety of seating. With a wink at American folk art, a whimsical mural by Joanne Syrop completes the environs. Adds Syrop, “We wanted the design to evoke America without being overly patriotic.”
Space is the ultimate premium in New York City. Visitors to the Big Apple know the trials of teeny, tiny hotel rooms that are high on style but low on comfort. Here, the 565 guestrooms were redone to allow additional space for the rooms’ desk and seating areas, creating rooms that are truly comfortable and conducive to getting work done.
In a bold move, the hotel outfitted each room with an impressive 42-inch flat screen television. “This allows us to reclaim some much needed space,” says Amy Jakubowski, partner, Brennan Beer Gorman Monk/Interiors, New York City. “We got rid of this big elephant, the big armoire that is always in hotel rooms.”
Furnishings in the Presidential, Governor, and Mayoral suites were also upgraded. The existing rosewood panels in these deluxe suites were refinished and leather accessories complement the opulent décor. “The suites have a blend of masculine and feminine elements,” says Jakubowski. The rooms are outfitted with sepia-toned photo montages of iconic New York City scenes, high-speed Internet access, and a CD player. Moreover, 40 additional rooms have upgraded to king-sized beds.
The Millenium Hilton is one of only eight hotels in New York City to have a swimming pool. During the aftermath of Sept. 11, this pool was drained and used as a storage pit for the luggage and personal items of evacuated guests. Debris and storage usage damaged the pool. “I toured the facility on September 12th and the guests left everything. Bathrobes, flip-flops, everything was dropped and covered in dust,” says Taylor.
The pool was replaced and the accompanying steam room, massage, and fitness areas were refurbished. A serene oasis, the newly designed pool area features large windows with gorgeous views of historic Trinity Church.
In addition to guestrooms, the hotel has completely refurbished generous meeting rooms. To reflect the locale and save costs, Taylor took photos of scenes around Lower Manhattan and used these images to accent the meeting rooms.
The hotel’s insurance company put the hotel’s modernization project on a very tight budget. Taylor has a long history with the building owners, and was challenged to complete this project on budget.
Brennan Beer Gorman Monk also had a long working relationship with the building owner. “We had been working with the hotel on guestroom renovations before September 11th,” says Jakubowski. Together, the design team and building professionals collaborated to consider the cost ramifications of each design decision. “Never cut back on the things that really matter,” says Taylor.
“The redesign really takes advantage of the hotel’s windows,” says Larsen. Sitting in the hip lounge, patrons engage in New York City’s favorite sport: people-watching. From the Hudson River up to the Chrysler Building, the hotel’s best feature is its clear, panoramic views of the surrounding city.
Though in a most somber location, the Millenium now represents a memorable symbol of revitalization. A place to gather, a place to communicate, a place to share a meal: The Millenium Hilton has become a true destination place.Regina Raiford Babcock (firstname.lastname@example.org) is senior editor at Buildings magazine.