written by:
December 2, 2010

The prevailing approach to landmark preservation in New York tends to be either/or—i.e., if it’s not worthy of embalming, knock it down—which has deprived the city of many fine buildings that might have enjoyed second lives via a mixture of historic and contemporary design. The Chatwal, an 83-room new hotel off Times Square, exemplifies such a mix. Once home to The Lambs, America’s oldest theatrical society, the Georgian-style structure, built in 1905 and doubled in size ten years later, was originally designed by Stanford White (himself a Lambs Club member), and its facade and numerous interior elements were subject to strict landmarking rules. “I love historic preservation,” says architect/designer Thierry Despont—indeed, he oversaw the restoration of the Statue of Liberty—“but one has to be intelligent about what is important to preserve.” Accordingly, Despont’s Chatwal honors White’s work, and infuses it with a present-day reimagining of architectural history.

1 / 10
“I was not about to do a Beaux Arts period piece,” Despont explains, referring to White’s original. “At the same time, I was interested in giving it a sense of place—saying, ‘You are in New York.’” Despont turned to what he calls the “Machine Age design”
“I was not about to do a Beaux Arts period piece,” Despont explains, referring to White’s original. “At the same time, I was interested in giving it a sense of place—saying, ‘You are in New York.’” Despont turned to what he calls the “Machine Age design” of American Art Deco, exemplified by Donald Deskey’s interiors for Rockefeller Center’s Radio City Music Hall (1932)—“that glorious period when there was an original New York architecture.” Despont opened the lobby ceiling to the floor above. “I wanted you to feel cozy, but part of a larger space where things are happening,” he says.
2 / 10
Despont locates The Chatwal’s aspect of glamour, not in a specific color, material or decorative motif, but rather lighting and, critically, programming. “If you don’t have good lighting, it’s hard to have a successful space,” he says. “I chose warm, yell
Despont locates The Chatwal’s aspect of glamour, not in a specific color, material or decorative motif, but rather lighting and, critically, programming. “If you don’t have good lighting, it’s hard to have a successful space,” he says. “I chose warm, yellow illumination – you look good and feel good.” Glamour also derives from the little bar at one end of the lobby. “For me it has the appeal of an insider’s place, a bit of a club—when you walk in, you feel privileged.”
3 / 10
“Architecture is about memories, of things we’ve seen, books we’ve read, movies—the emotional content is very important,” Despont believes. The Lambs Club bar, which overlooks the lobby, was inspired by his memory of Charles Ebbets’ famous 1932 photograph
“Architecture is about memories, of things we’ve seen, books we’ve read, movies—the emotional content is very important,” Despont believes. The Lambs Club bar, which overlooks the lobby, was inspired by his memory of Charles Ebbets’ famous 1932 photograph of a group of Rockefeller Center construction workers, seated on a steel beam some 800 feet in the air, eating their brown-bag lunches. Wit edges out kitsch in Despont’s design, featuring “Empire State Building” downlights above an I-beam-shaped bar.
4 / 10
Along with his “contemporary historic” interventions, Despont worked closely with New York’s Landmarks Preservation Commission to restore the interior’s significant protected elements. Initially the Lambs Club library, the newly christened Stanford White
Along with his “contemporary historic” interventions, Despont worked closely with New York’s Landmarks Preservation Commission to restore the interior’s significant protected elements. Initially the Lambs Club library, the newly christened Stanford White Studio features original oak paneling, pilasters, and deep ceiling beams, all revivified and reinstalled—“a tip of the hat to Stanford,” Despont says.
5 / 10
The hotel’s Lambs Club restaurant intermingles original and contemporary design elements. The centerpiece overscaled  18th-century French carved stone fireplace was in fact a gift to the club from White (who, liked the fictional Charles Foster Kane, colle
The hotel’s Lambs Club restaurant intermingles original and contemporary design elements. The centerpiece overscaled 18th-century French carved stone fireplace was in fact a gift to the club from White (who, liked the fictional Charles Foster Kane, collected and warehoused architectural artifacts), and the walls are lined with photos of past and present members. As for the profusion of red, says Despont, “If you use it, don’t be shy.”
6 / 10
The restaurant’s chiaroscuro painting, which evokes the easy, well-lubricated sodality of Broadway in its heyday, exemplifies Despont’s use of contemporary artworks (including a double-height mural in the lobby) to locate the design in past and contempora
The restaurant’s chiaroscuro painting, which evokes the easy, well-lubricated sodality of Broadway in its heyday, exemplifies Despont’s use of contemporary artworks (including a double-height mural in the lobby) to locate the design in past and contemporary times. Indeed, “I have difficulty distinguishing history from today,” Despont admits. “If you do a new building, why not bring in elements from the past that resonate?”
7 / 10
“I worked with Ralph Lauren on his flagship store in London,” Despont recalls. “And he told me, ‘You have to make something that has never existed—but that everyone recognizes.’” In The Chatwal’s guest rooms, this notion emerges in the “steamer trunk” clo
“I worked with Ralph Lauren on his flagship store in London,” Despont recalls. “And he told me, ‘You have to make something that has never existed—but that everyone recognizes.’” In The Chatwal’s guest rooms, this notion emerges in the “steamer trunk” closets, night tables, and desks, which recall the luggage that prevailed in the golden age of the ocean liner. “Today’s traveler is a global nomad,” says Despont, and his surreal design element converts landlocked midtown hotel rooms into oceangoing fantasias.
8 / 10
Throughout the hotel, Despont has redistributed preexisting elements—wooden double doors featuring a distinctive barrel-lid motif, a handcrafted mantelpiece, the memorial commemorating members lost in the two World Wars—which, like sudden memories, take v
Throughout the hotel, Despont has redistributed preexisting elements—wooden double doors featuring a distinctive barrel-lid motif, a handcrafted mantelpiece, the memorial commemorating members lost in the two World Wars—which, like sudden memories, take visitors by surprise. Elsewhere—as with the vintage subway signage in the guest rooms—newly added urban artifacts achieve a similar effect.
9 / 10
When introducing furnishings not of his own design, Despont often reached for midcentury modern icons like the Noguchi coffee table, as well as recognizable pieces by Saarinen, Jacobsen, and others. While this might seem out of character (or simply too ea
When introducing furnishings not of his own design, Despont often reached for midcentury modern icons like the Noguchi coffee table, as well as recognizable pieces by Saarinen, Jacobsen, and others. While this might seem out of character (or simply too easy), says Despont, “There is a continuity between these modernist designs and the Machine Age—abstraction of form, with the comfort of a piece of furniture.”
10 / 10
Chatwal Hotel in New York
The prevailing approach to landmark preservation in New York tends to be either/or—i.e., if it’s not worthy of embalming, knock it down—which has deprived the city of many fine buildings that might have enjoyed second lives via a mixture of historic and contemporary design. The Chatwal, an 83-room new hotel off Times Square, exemplifies such a mix. Click here to see the thoughtfully-appointed interiors of the preserved Chatwal.

Click here to see a slideshow of the project.

Join the Discussion

Loading comments...

Latest Articles

content delzresidence 013 1
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
June 29, 2016
abc malacari marwick stair 01 0
A simple set of stairs is a remodel’s backbone.
June 28, 2016
Design Award of Excellence winner Mellon Square.
Docomomo US announces the winners of this year's Modernism in America Awards. Each project showcases exemplary modern restoration techniques, practices, and ideas.
June 27, 2016
monogram dwell sf 039 1
After last year’s collaboration, we were excited to team up with Monogram again for the 2016 Monogram Modern Home Tour.
June 27, 2016
switch over chicago smart renovation penthouse deck smar green ball lamps quinze milan lounge furniture garapa hardwood
A strategic rewire enhances a spec house’s gut renovation.
June 26, 2016
young guns 2016 emerging talent coralie gourguechon treviso italy cphotos by coralie gourguechon co produced by isdat planche anatomique de haut parleur1
Coralie Gourguechon's paper objects will make you see technology in a whole new way.
June 26, 2016
green machine smart home aspen colorado facade yard bocci deck patio savant
Smart technology helps a house in Aspen, Colorado, stay on its sustainable course.
June 25, 2016
Compact Aglol 11 television plastic brionvega.
The aesthetic appeal of personal electronics has long fueled consumer interest. A new industrial design book celebrates devices that broke the mold.
June 25, 2016
modern backyard deck ipe wood
An angled deck transforms a backyard in Menlo Park, California, into a welcoming gathering spot.
June 24, 2016
dscf5485 1
Today, we kicked off this year’s annual Dwell on Design at the LA Convention Center, which will continue through Sunday, June 26th. Though we’ve been hosting this extensive event for years, this time around is particularly special.
June 24, 2016
under the radar renovation napa
Two designers restore a low-slung midcentury gem in Napa, California, by an unsung Bay Area modernist.
June 24, 2016
Exterior of Huneeus/Sugar Bowl Home.
San Francisco–based designer Maca Huneeus created her family’s weekend retreat near Lake Tahoe with a relaxed, sophisticated sensibility.
June 24, 2016
light and shadow bathroom walnut storage units corian counter vola faucet
A Toronto couple remodel their home with a special emphasis on a spacious kitchen and a material-rich bathroom.
June 24, 2016
Affordable home in Kansas City living room
In Kansas City, an architecture studio designs an adaptable house for a musician on a budget.
June 23, 2016
modern lycabettus penthouse apartment oak vertical slats office
By straightening angles, installing windows, and adding vertical accents, architect Aaron Ritenour brought light and order to an irregularly shaped apartment in the heart of Athens, Greece.
June 23, 2016
kitchen confidential tiles custom cabinetry oak veneer timber house
A modest kitchen addition to a couple’s cottage outside of Brisbane proves that one 376-square-foot room can revive an entire home.
June 23, 2016
feldman architecture 0
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
June 22, 2016
Blackened timber Dutch home
A modern dwelling replaces a fallen farmhouse.
June 22, 2016
hillcrest house interior kitchen 3
Seeking an escape from bustling city life, a Manhattan couple embarks on a renovation in the verdant Hudson Valley.
June 22, 2016
angular
Atelier Moderno renovated an old industrial building to create a luminous, modern home.
June 21, 2016
San Francisco floating home exterior
Anchored in a small San Francisco canal, this floating home takes its cues from a classic city habitat.
June 21, 2016
modern renovation addition solar powered scotland facade steel balcony
From the bones of a neglected farmstead in rural Scotland emerges a low-impact, solar-powered home that’s all about working with what was already there.
June 21, 2016
up in the air small space new zealand facade corrugated metal cladding
An architect with a taste for unconventional living spaces creates a small house at lofty heights with a starring view.
June 21, 2016
young guns 2016 emerging talent marjan van aubel london cwai ming ng current window
Marjan Van Aubel makes technology a little more natural.
June 21, 2016
urban pastoral brooklyn family home facade steel cypress double
Building on the site of a former one-car garage, an architect creates his family’s home in an evolving neighborhood of Brooklyn.
June 20, 2016
Modern Brooklyn backyard studio with plexiglass skylight, green roof, and cedar cladding facade
In a Brooklyn backyard, an off-duty architect builds a structure that tests his attention to the little things.
June 20, 2016
the outer limits paris prefab home living area vertigo lamp constance guisset gijs bakker strip tablemetal panels
In the suburbs of Paris, an architect with an eco-friendly practice doesn’t let tradition stand in the way of innovation.
June 20, 2016
amaroso40040
When a garage damaged by termites had to go, a studio emerges.
June 19, 2016
the blue lagoon iceland geothermal spa hotel water visitors
The famed geothermal spa outside Reykjavík, Iceland, is entering a major new phase—paving the way for the area’s first five-star hotel.
June 19, 2016
heaven on earth maya lin topography what is missing california academy sciences wood video
A new monograph by Rizzoli explores the memorial project by the renowned artist.
June 19, 2016