Every once in a while a project really stands out, making a statement; "I am different." This is certainly the case at Chambers, the 77-room boutique hotel in midtown Manhattan, where the popular new eatery, Town, is tucked into a ground floor and subterranean corner of the building. Both were designed by architect David Rockwell of New York City-based Rockwell Group, with lighting design by Paul Gregory of Focus Lighting.
For Rockwell, Chambers represents his first from-the-ground-up project in New York City. Known for his inventive design and bold use of form and color, the architect created an interesting facade of light gray limestone whose strong architectural look has very square openings set in a square structure. The concept for the hotel was inspired by the artiness of the neighborhood and the proliferation of art galleries on nearby 57th Street.
The top of the building is set back from the bottom to create a terrace level where portals are illuminated with Hydrel Series 9000 in-ground fixtures with 35W PAR-20 lamps. White neon nestled in niches on the right and left sides of the terrace adds soft, indirect illumination. "The facade lighting really makes the building stand out on the street," notes Gregory, principal of New York City-based Focus Lighting, and a frequent collaborator on Rockwell-designed projects.
The signature of the hotel is its eclectic and extensive collection of original art (there are over 500 pieces in the hotel), some of which was commissioned especially for the project. Owners Steven Capsi and Ira Druckier wanted the lobby to have the residential feel of a townhouse or elegant loft belonging to a private collector.
The furniture, lighting, and artwork reflect this concept. Stylistic choices include concrete walls, a concrete ceiling, and the idea of old finishes in a new hotel. The color palette throughout is soft and rather neutral, yet with interesting textures, as an appropriate backdrop for the art.
The lobby and mezzanine floors, for example, are wide-plank walnut with custom wool Tibetan and Turkish carpets, and leather area rugs. Fuzzy gray fabric used as seating upholstery is repeated on pillows in the guest rooms. A variety of fabrics adds to the elegance, from silk and hand-painted velvets to faux fur, mohair, and leather. Much of the furniture was custom-designed by Rockwell Group.
The First Look
In any given project, Gregory defines "first look" as the initial image you see when entering a space. "The first look walking into this hotel is the very large two-story fireplace topped by a building-wide vaulted ceiling," he explains. "It is a very strong architectural element within the lobby of the hotel." To accent the fireplace, surface-mounted Litelab Litetrax is placed within a recess in the ceiling just in front of the fireplace. Custom-shielded Litelab track heads wash the fireplace from the mezzanine and the lobby ceilings, taking advantage of ceiling slots in both high and low positions.
To give the lobby its elegant gallery-like look, the artwork is highlighted directly, while the space itself is bathed in ambient light rather than direct downlighting. Instead, ceiling uplight is provided by Rambusch Pal series fixtures located on the tops of the four major columns in the lobby. "This creates an open, clean ceiling wash," notes Diana Ades, senior designer for Focus Lighting on this project.
Tokistar low-voltage linear striplights are placed inside small coves within the leather-covered columns to make the long vertical slots in the columns glow. There is also Litelab light strip running around the perimeter of the lobby with PAR-38 lamps grazing the off-white plaster walls with clear light.
"It is important that the artwork within the lobby stand out," notes Gregory. To do this, two different methods are used. First are small "brick" fixtures by Light Projects (the shape of a brick but one-eighth the size—what Gregory refers to as a pure architectural shape) with a bi-pin quartz lamp. These are placed on low-voltage track by Targetti that is incorporated into a blackened steel raceway, artfully cantilevered away from the wall.
The second fixtures highlighting the artwork are Nulux Washlux wall washers (one of the final fixtures designed by Edison Price before his death) used in the lower ceiling areas. "The artwork stands out against the ambient glow of the rest of the lobby," Ades adds. "Also, by hiding as many of the light sources as possible, the result is much more graceful."
Another strong visual focus in the lobby is a large, freestanding Macasser ebony and goatskin parchment desk in the reception area. The textures and natural tones of the desk are accented by Nulux Spotlux downlights. The mezzanine level is illuminated with simple Washlux wall washing fixtures. The library bookshelves and handrail on the mezzanine level are lit with Lucifer low-voltage linear accents. The elevator banks are accented with Spotlux downlights and Washlux wall washers. Lighting in the lobby is controlled by an ETC Unison system.
Each unique guest room at Chambers is lit like an art gallery with museum-quality Litelab BusRun and Litelab Jewelers series track mounts and monopoint mounts lighting the original pieces of art. Much of the art is site-specific and includes custom wallpaper as well as paintings and sculptures by a variety of artists.
"The goal is to give the feeling that you are in a gallery in Soho, and not a normal hotel room," says Gregory, pointing out that the guest rooms have concrete walls and ceilings for a raw loft look, with exposed sprinklers and lighting track. Even the lighting fixtures are raw aluminum. A closet to the side of the bed, which serves to separate the sleeping area from the bathroom, has a built-in uplight with amber color filters to add a warm, ambient glow to the room.
"The bathroom lighting is interesting, in that it also lights the hallway of the hotel rooms," explains Ades. "A Litelab track light is directed at a frosted glass panel which separates the bathroom from the hallway. This light moves through the translucent glass and lights the hallway as well."
The Litelab track fixture also highlights the artwork over the bathtub. Small recessed Bega step lights by the toilet and in the shower act as a "night light," to reduce any possibility of bright light in the middle of the night, when it is not needed. There are also two elongated vertical Alkco lights on either side of the bathroom mirror.
Dining in Town
The transition between the Chambers lobby and the ground floor portion of Town is a frosted glass wall behind the bar. Backlit and glowing on the lobby side, the glass reveals a little movement of people in the bar. A recessed wall wash cove with Litelab Litetrax light strip is used to illuminate the wall with frontlight on the bar side.
The upper level of Town is actually a narrow space that had specific challenges for the lighting designers. "We couldn’t use a lot of surface-mounted lighting fixtures," notes Ades. In the bar area, for example, the solution to this problem is a long, custom-made continuous light box sconce made of light wood veneer, and recessed at eye level over the drink rail across from the bar. "This creates downlight onto the drink rail’s surface, illuminating drinks and surface area, while creating a deep, warm backlit glow within the veneer box," Ades adds.
Cellula chandeliers from Anthologie Quartett hang over the main bar, with crystal beads surrounding them and adding both sparkle to the room and elegance to a comfortable environment. The liquor risers behind the bar are downlit and gently emphasized by Belfer Lighting MR-16 accent strips.
The remainder of the restaurant is underground, and lighting a restaurant without a single window posed another challenge for the designers. "There truly are no windows, except one skylight," explains Gregory. "Before we began, the space very much had an ‘underground’ feeling." During the evening hours, Litelab Litetrax with PAR fixtures are used to emulate daylight, washing the large two-story back wall that creates Gregory’s first look for the restaurant.
"The first look is given to the floating panels on the immense two-story wall," he says. "Other things that are attention grabbers would be the beautiful backlit wood veneer banquettes that are like a glowing wraparound, as if you were sitting in front of a fire." These are lit internally using Litelab Litetrax striplights with PAR-38 lights aimed up, so that the banquettes act as "overscaled floor lamps" which simulate sidelight like windows.
"To reach the main dining area, patrons descend a dramatic staircase to a grand landing where customers stop to admire the room," explains Gregory, who used custom-made wall brackets with eight 25W torpedo-shaped lamps to provide an even glow on backlit square panels covering the stately two-story wall.
"The strength of this architectural design by the Rockwell Group lies in the symmetry and structure of the panels, and the way the soft light peers out from behind them. These panels seem to float away from the wall, giving a sense of mysterious depth," Gregory notes.
Cascades of crystal beads that hang from the 24'-high ceiling are also pure attention grabbers. The beads are lit with PAR-36 Litelab fixtures from above and MR-16 fixtures by Times Square from below. "The beads are reminiscent of a column of champagne bubbles," says Gregory. "They not only add dazzle to the warmth of the area, they also fill in the corners of the main dining area to give a curvaceous look to a square room."
A soaring skylit atrium can be seen once fully in the main dining area. PAR Litetrax were used along the side edge to emulate daylight coming from the skylight, even in evening hours. CSL low-voltage wall wash fixtures are used to light the base of the stairs at the lower level as well as the hostess area.
Sparkle on the tables comes from multi-head RSA MR-16 fixtures with dichroic glass filters by Abrisa Glass, adding dazzle to the table settings. Times Square track-mounted accent fixtures from the skylight area provide additional table light and enhance the fabric-paneled dining room walls. These are placed in an elegantly curved ceiling cove to help reduce glare.
Beneath the mezzanine is a beautiful shimmering plaster wall decorated with small frosted square mirrors. Litelab line-voltage socket strip extrusions bring this wall to life, providing extra shimmer and shine. To lighten and add texture to the dark columns supporting the mezzanine, Focus designers used Nulux lensed wall wash fixtures in the column coves to glaze their surfaces, bringing out their natural deep, warm tones. In the kitchen, lensed Juno downlights clearly illuminate the food preparation area.
Working with Rockwell from the ground up gave the designers a decided advantage. "Because we were part of the initial process, the concrete floors and ceilings were not already in place, so coordinating the placement of all the junction boxes with the architect’s needs was done earlier in the process than normal," explains Gregory. "We were able to get in-ground fixtures or recessed junction boxes or fixtures concealed within the limestone exterior without having to do any extensive demolition or core-drilling."
For the lighting designers, Town had several fun aspects as well. "Coordination of the wood veneer elements was fun, finding the best way to illuminate the surfaces evenly, and venting the sources," says Ades. "Finding positions to downlight and uplight the crystal beads in the main dining area required extensive coordination and provided a wonderful sparkling effect," she adds. "Due to the high space, concealing the light fixtures in the coves and staying out of the sightlines was also a challenge."
As always, Gregory’s lighting makes the room, the food, and the crowd look attractive. And after a good meal at Town, the best place to go is upstairs and contemplate the art in your room at Chambers, where the lighting makes you feel right at home.
Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Paul Gregory, principal designer
Diana Ades, senior designer
Diana Ades, Ken Ventry, project managers
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David Rockwell, Robert Ashton, Alice Yiu, Ed Bakos, Joe Richvalsky, Kim Silvia
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Paul Gregory, principal designer
Diana Ades, Michael Cummings, Ken Ventry, senior designers
Ken Ventry, project manager
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Chambers photos: David Joseph
Town photos: Ken Ventry