A visual sonic boom greets guests in the lobby of Seattle’s W Hotel. Space seemingly explodes outward from a four-story-tall cylindrical fireplace that’s clad in stainless steel tiles set in a radiating pattern to create the illusion of movement and expansion. Banquettes fan out from the fireplace emphasizing this expanding wave of energy. Overhead, the window of the DJ booth looms like a jet cockpit. It’s one of several references to the region’s role in aviation history as Boeing’s home base.
This was an early W built in 1999, and Skylab Architecture’s charge in a recent interior renovation of the lobby and public areas was to bring a fresh vision that captures the city’s unique identity. “It was challenging because Seattle has such an eclectic and rich culture,” says Brent Grubb, principal at Skylab who led the design project with Jeff Kovel, a principal and founder of the Portland-based firm. Rather than narrowing down references, the designers embraced them all: the aviation industry, native culture, timber lodges, and the music scene.
Incorporating Pacific Northwestern culture
One of the challenges was to build out the space in 90 days while keeping the hotel operational during the slow season. The architects met the accelerated construction timeline by prefabricating as many elements as possible, including the segmented wood column covers that fit over the existing structure. The oblique-shaped wood wraps are split into 3-foot sections and stacked slightly out of alignment allowing places for recessed up-lights. The mahogany wood veneer has a gradated fade of black stain to appear like the uneven charring of a log in a fire. The undulating forms resemble abstract totem poles and together the 20-foot-tall poles define what Skylab calls a “sonic lodge.”
The client, Host Hotels, requested an open design, more like a living room, with lots of seating for their weeknight SIP (Socially Interactive Playtime) and weekend SIN (Socially Interactive Nighttime) events. Previously, a stair up to the second floor reception area split the lobby into two with separate bar and restaurant spaces. Skylab moved the stair to one end of the lobby and placed the fireplace at the center to create one large space with different vignettes for people to gather informally. A library with a long table and oversized reading lamp is in one corner. Instead of books, custom wallpaper displays the spines of oversized record albums as a nod to the area’s music culture.
Subtle delineation woven in
To define different seating areas without interrupting the open flow of the space, the designers implemented fine cable screens. Threads appear to rise from the banquette upholstery fabric to create loom-like partitions that reach to the ceiling. The threads then gather together and run across the ceiling before turning down to support glass chandliers that resemble the frayed ends of a rope. The clusters of 42-inch-long rose-colored glass tubes were hand blown by Kovel’s sister, Andi Kovel of Esque Design, Portland.
Skylab hung fine cable drapes along the length of the street façade to filter light into the bar and restaurant. The cable drapes peal off to define semi-enclosed cylinders of space over each table near the bar. “There’s just under three miles of rope in the Living Room,” says general manager Tom Limberg. He credits the redesigned lobby for increased room sales and notes that restaurant and beverage sales are up as locals see the W as a destination.
The weaving theme continues in the chevron pattern of the custom concrete tiles that cover the walls enclosing the bar. “It’s an abstraction of the Pendleton blankets inspired by Native American trading history,” says Grubb. A highly polished metal frame surrounds the opening at the bar and reflects the up-lights set into the acrylic countertop. Another custom tile is on the floor, embossed with growth rings of a crosscut tree in homage to the timber industry.
Just beyond the bar is a dining area with seating for 100 at tables positioned to promote community dining. The room’s focal point is a lenticular mural with alternating images of a jellyfish and an F-18 bomber: a mash up of local maritime and aviation references. By day it is a sophisticated place for a work lunch. But at night, a stage is pulled out as a dance floor, the lights are turned down, and it is transformed into a hotspot for sipping and sinning.
- Designer: Skylab Architecture
- Client: W Hotels Worldwide, Host Hotels & Resorts
- Where: Seattle
- What: 5,363-square-feet on one floor (public spaces only)
- Cost/sf: Withheld at client’s request
Key Design Highlights
- A four-story-tall cylindrical fireplace with stainless steel tiles set in a radiating pattern evokes a feeling of movement.
- To stay within the client’s tight timeframe, the designers had some elements prefabricated, such as segmented wood column covers.
- The designers relocated stairs to make way for a central fireplace hub from which different types of seating areas radiate.
- Fine cable drapes and colored-rope loosely define areas while keeping them open.