The design elegance found in Europe in the 1920s and 30s is back in style, if the Moderne decor of the 73-room Hotel Giraffe on Park Avenue South in New York City is any indication. Its graceful European retro look was designed by the Stephen B. Jacobs Group, with interiors by Andi Pepper Interior Design, and architectural lighting by Barbara Horton of Horton Lees Brogden Lighting Design, whose offices are just steps away from the hotel.
“The hotel's decor is between Art Deco and Art Nouveau,” explains Horton, who describes the look of the hotel as “very luxurious yet without a huge budget.” The lobby of the hotel is the primary public space, and serves a variety of purposes, from breakfast room to tea salon, happy hour, and piano bar, for which there is a black baby grand topped with a large bouquet of fresh flowers to add to the elegant charm of the lobby. “The owner wanted variable looks, moods, and colors,” notes Horton.
Architectural finishes in the beige lobby include warm wood wainscoting accented with low-voltage incandescents in a shallow cove, which Horton describes as “little glowing lights tucked into the architecture. They add a warm yellow glow.” Overhead lighting is provided by custom-designed round pendant fixtures with vertically-fluted aluminum casings and alabaster glass over incandescent lamps for up- and downlight. These fixtures echo the period style of the lobby.
To change the look of the room, as well as the color, Horton added side-emitting fiber optics by Fiberstars in the coffered wood ceiling, with four illuminators and 250W metal-halide lamps. “Traditionally this might have been neon,” notes Horton, who adds that the color changes from sunrise yellow to pink and orange at sunset, and blue and purple at night. “There is a nightclub feel at night, in terms of color and intensity,” says Horton. “It changes the mood. They asked for a room where they could vary character at different times of the day.”
The windows along the outside wall are dressed with cafe curtains which allow sunlight in during the day. “The curtains are a beautiful metallic fabric, and there is a trough at the floor,” Horton points out. She added PAR-20 uplights by Lucifer Lighting under a metal grille in the floor to add a shimmer around the perimeter of the lobby, which also has table lamps to add a sense of intimacy.
Additional side-emitting fiber from Fiberstars is also used in the elevator lobby, where the fiber outlines the doors of the two hotel elevators. The control system for the lobby lighting is Lutron's Grafik Eye, with a wall panel in the pantry.
The European charm continues on the exterior of the hotel. The majority of the rooms have French doors which open onto small, individual balconies with flowers (weather permitting). The balconies have aluminum handrails with a matte finish, which Horton lit with MR-16 downlights, using fixtures by the French company Exterieur Verte (via Continental Lighting).
“The guest rooms are really fun,” notes Horton. “They are geared toward the European traveler, and are very residential in feeling.” Bedside lamps and table lamps are coupled with glass-shaded sconces built into the frames of oversized mirrors for dramatic effect. There are also incandescent wall sconces in the bathroom, as well as one custom-designed compact-fluorescent ceiling fixture with a milky glass plate on the bottom. The bathroom door has ribbed glass so that “you step into your room and have a glow coming from the bathroom,” Horton says.
“What is important is the integration of what we do with the interior designers,” she continues. “They set the mood and we highlight it, by finding the right fixtures and the right balance for the rooms.” For Horton, the goal was to create a certain drama with the lighting, and to make the Giraffe “more homey and friendly than a regular hotel. It is very warm and inviting,” she stresses. “People who are away from home want a certain quality.”
This quality is reflected in the large top-floor suite which is really like a home away from home. “It is very residential, with a large fireplace in the living room, and there is a dining room,” points out Horton, who used indirect lighting in the vaulted ceilings. There is also a small series of MR-16 downlights by RSA Lighting over the dining room table.
The hotel corridors are softly lit in keeping with the European elegance. Satin-finish low-voltage aluminum picture lights, or wands of light, are used to illuminate the framed black and white photographs that line the halls. All in all, stepping into the Hotel Giraffe is like stepping back in time, to a bygone era of elegance that this hotel has brought back with panache.