With a Boston location and an imposing building that dates back to 1893, David Rockwell and the Morgans Hotel Group design team had inspiration surrounding them for Ames. Yet the challenge was working in the Romanesque/Byzantine-inspired masonry building, once the headquarters for the Ames family's agricultural tool company, and the city's first skyscraper: how to do something respectful that at the same time represents the Morgans brand and Rockwell's style? The answer: a design with the tagline, "Ben Franklin meets a supermodel."
"We wanted to combine our interest in choreography and storytelling, Morgans' interest in leading-edge modern design, and Boston's location as a deeply historical place,” explains Rockwell, of his and the hotel company's first project in Boston. Adds Morgans' vice president of design, Mari Balestrazzi: "It's really about balancing old against new. Everything is slightly turned on its ear."
There's the minimalist glass entrance vestibule that celebrates the restored original barrel-vaulted mosaic ceiling. In Woodward restaurant (named after the tavern once housed in the Ames family home), Windsor chairs come in high gloss white lacquer and barstool seats look like those of a tractor. And in the 113 black-and-white guestrooms, white enamel desks have turned legs as a play on Federal-style furniture, bedside lamps are new versions of a whale oil lamp, and a set of three commemorative plates that celebrate the building and Boston are stacked on the charcoal-colored wall behind the bed. "They are the kind you would see at grandmother's home, but in a modern way," Balestrazzi says.
The true modern additions come in the form of art that inventively complement the historical context of the space. In the lobby, a deconstructed cloud-like chandelier made of hundreds of mirrored Mylar discs suspended on wires contrasts the vaulted ceiling. "You feel like you are underwater when the light bounces off of it," says Balestrazzi. "It's a simple but powerful gesture." A white-on-white ceramic wall installation of pieces done with hand-cast porcelain (whose texture is inspired by the rustication of the building) stretches behind the reception desk and a panel of orange glass. And for a bit of theatrics, a pepper's ghost Victorian chandelier is framed in an oversized mirror in the elevator vestibule. ("Pepper's ghost" is a turn of the century illusionary trick, which makes the object look like it's there when it really isn't.)
But the pièce de résistance: the two-story restaurant's "Cabinets of Curiosities" lining the bar and stairway. The eight Victorian-inspired cabinet units are filled with 120 items that pay homage to the Ames’ family’s agricultural past; they have been curated into little vignettes and artworks where everyday objects take on a new life—such as a rusted spout with glass crystals pouring out. "We knew the only way to get people upstairs is if we made the staircase engaging. Then we set out to figure out what engaging would be," explains Gregory Stanford, Rockwell Group principal, adding that they went on scouring trips to flea markets to find the pieces for the cabinets. "Each one tells a story."
Owners: Normandy Real Estate Partners and Morgans Hotel Group
Architect of Record: ADD Inc., Boston
Associate Architect: C7 Architects
Architecture and Interior Design Firms: Rockwell Group and Morgans Hotel Group, New York
Architecture and Interior Design Project Teams: David Rockwell, Gregory Stanford, Jessica Davenport, and Charles Farruggio (Rockwell Group); and Mari Balestrazzi, Heather Maloney, and Tracy Smith (Morgans Hotel Group)
LOBBY AND RECEPTION
Custom Chandelier: Rolf Nudsen from Studio Roso
Ceramic Wall Installation: Draga Susani
Custom Pink-Orange Lamination: Carvart Architectural Glass
Custom Wingback Chairs: Tom Dixon
Custom Concierge Desk: Decca Hospitality Furnishings
French Cigar Chair: Milling Road; leather by Edelman Leather
Custom Glass Cube Tables: Galaxy Glass & Stone
Floor: Kaswell & Company
Cast Ceramic Chandelier: Matt Gagnon Studio
Black Federal-Style Armchairs: Bernhardt
Tufted Chesterfield Sofa: Baker Knapp & Tubbs; leather by Edelman Leather
Custom Oval Area Rug: Tai Ping
Sofa at Reception: Cite and PJ Casey
Sofa Fabric: Moore & Giles
Lounge Chair: Dominic Lepere
Ottoman: Cite and PJ Casey
Wingback Chair Fabric: Stroheim
Coffee Table: Dennis Miller
Floor Lamp: Leucos
Sectional Sofa: Moroso; fabric by Maharam
Chaise: Vintage; fabric by Calvin Klein
Industrial Stage Floorlight: Circa Lighting
Tabletops: Phoenix Finishing
Table Bases: ISA International
Cabinets of Curiosities: Sally Moore and Silver Hill Atelier
Custom Whale-Oil Nightstand Lamp: Unilight
Custom Souvenir Plates: Harry Allen Design
Custom Plumbing: Watermark Ltd.