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Five NYC design hotels under the microscope

New York’s outsize hospitality scene goes big and goes home, as it were. Few global cities can compete with its sheer volume of hotels, let alone the innovations and ambiences they cultivate. Size is just part of the picture, however, as much of the city’s design genius exists on the human scale: an elegant Art Deco fixture here, an intricate piece of framed artwork there, a revelatory approach to lighting in the guestrooms, a cohesive approach to antiques, und so weiter. Join us on a photographic tour of five of our favorite interiors as we sweat the small stuff.

Meatpacking District
Dream Downtown

Where Chelsea morphs into Meatpacking, to be pedantic, but also to honor the building’s metamorphic provenance. The preponderance of porthole windows consciously nods to its Sixties days as part of Albert Ledner’s Maritime Union Annex; fitting that Dream’s flagship should operate with such organic geometry, a curvilinear logic that reads, well, dreamy.

Your own social circle, for example, might easily adapt to the airy, bubbly lobby traffic percolating throughout the ground floor. That’s characteristically Handel Architects — they of the World Trade Center Memorial, if you’ll forgive the modest credit — whose M.O. here emphasis visual flow between public spaces. So lobby-dwellers gaze up, psychedelically, at sinuous bathers in the pool overhead; hungry folks at street level can catch a bite and a projected game at Bodega Negra, then linger over a rotating installation of fine art music photography across the way; nightclubbers get a foretaste of the beat via a lobby DJ. And while the custom, London-made steel façade is far from unassuming, the walk inward rewards the explorer with a Narnian, larger-on-the-inside payoff. Again with the navigational theme!

Figures, then, that this is the type of hotel with dedicated, weekly regulars. That’s partially due to what we’ll call cruise capital: the idea that by concentrating an in-demand salon, a fully equipped gym, and a smorgasbord of restaurants and clubs under one “roof,” you’ve obviated the impulse to comparison shop. Ahoy!

Chelsea
Hotel Americano

The neighborhood’s hardly stuck in the past, of course; indeed, the visual draw of West Chelsea’s gallery scene almost necessitates a forceful statement. Enter Hotel Americano, no shrinking violet: a trademark, perforated-metal exoskeleton dominates the façade, simultaneously echoing the industrial grit that is this neighborhood’s stock-in-trade and offering a tantalizing glimpse to a soothing, zen interior. It’s something else to approach at night via the High Line, drinking in the illuminated edifice of this large-scale light sculpture.

“Urban ryokan” phrasally qualifies the Latin-inflected spaces, at once aware of the city’s manic urges and natively immune to them. Take the beds: quintessentially Japanese in their low-slung and wood-forward character, they read like immersion chambers to slow the mind, prompting us to ask why similar tactics haven’t sprung up everywhere. And while there’s no shortage of dining outlets (two restaurants, four bars), room service’s trademark bento boxes present a singularly gratifying, stylized dining experience: simple, geometric, enticing, and self-aware, they speak to the small-footprint mentality of 2016 New York without skimping on nourishment.

Allow us to reiterate the glut of galleries around these part: somewhere in the ballpark of 600 street-level art closets compete for one’s attention. Small wonder, then, that Americano chose to forego wall art for the most part, opting instead to cleanse the palate with a subdued, neutral approach. It works — collectors, artists, and businesspeople all need a spot to unwind over a good meal and fine wine, after all, and where better to do it than on equalizing premises such as these?

Lower East Side
The Ludlow Hotel

Owner Sean MacPhearson runs the design show here, and all’s well. He’s dutifully reverent (irreverent?) towards the neighborhood’s Eighties punk underpinnings and he’s got great taste to spare. Helps to have factory windows in each room — with curtains held in place by belts, thanks for asking — and a handful of Juliet balconies permit all the bemused street-scoping you could ask for. Also helps to book the penthouse and skybox lofts, where his imagination shakes off its fetters once and for all: hilariously vulgar “derrière” chairs from Italy, petrified-wood tables like oversize chess pieces, pro-level record players and receivers with a droolworthy record collection…

They don’t get to have all the fun, of course. Every room comes with a bespoke, Indo-Portuguese, handmade bed, a tactile and exceedingly comfortable set piece elevated to permit extra storage. Looking upwards, you’ll note distressed-wood ceiling beams and, in the upper-floor hallways, classic hammered-tin, deli-esque treatments. The exotic sourcing goes on — Moroccan lamps snagged just before opening day, handwoven Indian silk rugs — it’s a fascinating juxtaposition, conjuring the authentic grime of the Lower East Side’s checkered past next to a global, texturally sumptuous philosophy of décor. In any case, a hotel does something right when you gaze longingly at the interiors as much as you do out the window.

Hard as it is to get a reservation these days at Dirty French, the resolutely in eatery next door, you’ll be glad to know that they offer room service for hotel guests. Try for it if you can, though, as the design there picks up and amplifies the Ludlow’s aesthetic cues: heavy, rusted beams overlook a harlequin, bistro-cum-circus vibe in vaudevillian banquet seating and miniature lampshades. If not, the hotel’s own garden and lobby bar complex doesn’t disappoint; gorgeous blown-glass lighting casts a lounge-y glow over islands of convivial, fluid seating arrangements. Perfect for an edge-polishing cocktail in preparation for mixing your own upstairs (to a musical remix, preferably).

Chelsea
The High line Hotel

Roman and Williams, the dynamic design duo with no perceivable shelf life. Very much a greatest-hits clincher, this erstwhile seminary dormitory’s luxe-hotel second act is still undergoing a loving, curatorial transformation — room by room, fixtures and conversation pieces get the just-so treatment on a rolling basis. A repeat visit doesn’t go unrewarded, in other words. And the seminary, the Episcopal church’s oldest such facility in the country, still hums along in the background, framed by century-old sycamores straight out of the Hudson River School. Believe it or not, this Gothic Revival building gave Chelsea its name: Clement Clarke Moore wrote “’Twas the Night before Christmas” here back when it was called the Chelsea Estate.

As it should be, every non-reproductive decorative element has its procurement story. The carpets, for instance, a necessary counterpart to the signature checkered tilework: purchased en masse from private homes, palaces, and hamlets the world over, each is an antique unto itself. The vintage-inspired wallpaper: a sensuous riot of flora and fauna in Art Nouveau damask, unique to each guestroom. The books: sourced from an esoteric Cold War psychic’s estate sale, rich with handwritten notes and the occasional, inscrutable photo. Everything from the delicate glass terrariums to the upholstered period couches to the functional Twenties rotary phones to the writing desks’ custom, embossable glyphs contributes to the Victorian wonder-cabinet feel.

One loves to linger over such effects — good thing the public spaces favor Italian-style aperitifs and people-watching. “The difference between frozen negronis and frozen margaritas,” if you will, a stance well in keeping with the lobby’s scrupled airs, a typewriter-equipped mélange of solid, old-world beams and charmingly elaborate molding. The extra-curious will love the adjacent refectory’s reception hall, perhaps the site’s best-preserved architectural statement and a front runner for the city’s most enchanting event space. Oil portraits of past seminary presidents, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, gaze down regally from the wainscoted walls, drawing the eye upward to a jaw-dropping, full-length vaulted ceiling. Consider yourself sufficiently humbled.

Midtown
The NoMad Hotel

Another casualty in New York’s neighborhood name truncation trend (we kid), NoMad as a region draws much of its allure from this titular hotel, a Seidel venture as close to flawless as one can reasonably expect. That hinges, crucially, on an attention to detail and impeccable customer service in keeping with near-extinct models of hotel theory — the “grand” institutions of yore — delimited by deliberately non-intimidating luxury. One feels invited to marvel and mingle, reassured by a refreshing lack of special treatment; not so far from the dictionary definition of a nomad, we’re pleased to observe. And, literally, invited: regular, curated performances in and atop the hotel flirt with legendary status, especially when the Halloween masquerade rolls around.

The public spaces effect a giddy balance between lacquered, dark-wood surfaces and abundant, sun-drenched greenery; there’s edificial gravitas in navigating the lobby’s timeworn, 1903 mosaic flooring, but also buoyancy in the dining room’s atrium ceiling. Opulence drives proceedings, of course — no other way to interpret a period fireplace or an imported French spiral staircase in the library — but more as a supporting player than a diva, positioning a roster of design-partnership discoverables in their best light. NoMad nurtures these relationships, characterizing passageways and gathering-points with framed, travel-themed artwork and pressed-herb displays, among many finds; by turns daring, embellished, and grandiose, they’re a means of situating oneself and an admirable declaration of intent in the same gesture.

Upstairs, things shade more bohemian, deliberately recalling the quirky apartments Jacques Garcia kept in his twenties. It bears repeating that the pleasure of discovery informs the layout: a carefully hidden, extensive minibar; push-button light switches and clawfoot tubs; ultra-cozy loveseats and japonisme screens. It’s a masterful negotiation of the dandified highbrow and, with one throw of the window, contemporary Broadway’s irrepressible street traffic. The choice to engage, retreat, and re-engage, that’s how you pull off a city hotel.

Interested in New York boutique hotels? Check out the Top 10 boutique hotels in New York.

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