Asbury Park is known for a lot of things—Springsteen, the boardwalk, its wide, sandy beach—but not for high-end luxury accommodations. Enter the Asbury Ocean Club Hotel, a five-star boutique property that opened quietly this summer just steps from the sand, instantly upping the sophistication quotient of this iconic Jersey Shore town only 55 miles from New York.
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Developed by iStar and managed by Salt Hotels, the 54-key Ocean Club is part of a complex that includes 130 residential condominiums, a business center, and an array of soon-to-come retailers. Designed by Handel Architects, it spans an entire beachfront block. The project’s creative director and head of overall design is Anda Andrei, best known for her work at the Hudson, 11 Howard, and Gramercy Park hotels in New York. She also collaborated with iStar on the Ocean Club’s sister property, the Asbury Hotel, which opened in 2016 and is located just one block inland.
All of the Ocean Club Hotel’s rooms and suites are arranged on a single floor four stories above the fray, and all have views of the ocean or of the hotel’s signature sand-dune garden. Amenities include 11-foot floor-to-ceiling windows, private terraces, wood floors, and a personal beach bellperson to shake out your towel or deliver your lunch. A gym designed by The Wright Fit and a luxury spa will open soon.
The heart of the hotel is the "drawing room," an intimate, glass-walled retreat at the center of the property that appears to float on a tranquil reflecting pool. There’s no formal dining room, but guests can eat here at the communal table in front of the open kitchen or at one of the many comfortable clusters of chairs, sofas, and coffee tables. On a recent evening, a jazz pianist played at the baby grand in one corner while visitors sipped cocktails, had a bite, or relaxed near the tile-walled fireplace at the center of the space.
We chatted with Andrei about the concept behind the Asbury Ocean Club and why the time was right for a luxury hotel in Asbury Park.
What was the main idea behind the design?
One of the big ideas was to put the hotel on only one floor, so it feels like a resort and not like a high-rise, and to bring the beach and dunes up on the fourth floor so you have no idea you are on top of a retail mix or whatever else is below. It’s the same feeling you get when you go to a faraway resort, where you’re spread out with sand and gardens.
Tell us about the layout.
The guest rooms are all organized around a dune garden. Creating this by itself was quite a challenge, but there’s something so magical about a guest room that opens to dunes, something you would see only on a beach. There are layers and layers of nature and views of the ocean visible from everywhere. After that it was all about the evolution from the ground floor going up.
It’s an unusual lobby—just a relatively small, white-walled room with a reception desk and two elevators.
I always call the lobby a decompression chamber. The design is elegant but it doesn’t let you suspect in any way what’s waiting for you on the fourth floor. It’s like you left behind Asbury Park and a busy day, and once you go in the elevator you arrive in a different world. I wanted to make it transporting. I wanted you, once you are up there, to wonder where you are and how you got there. That was actually the biggest inspiration—how to trick your mind into thinking, I can’t believe I’m really here and I arrived by a quick drive.
What happens when you arrive on the fourth floor?
Once the door opens, you don’t see everything at first. You see the bar and breakfast area and then you turn around and you get a peek of the outdoor deck and it’s like, what’s going on, and then you go through the drawing room before going outside and you are suddenly transported.
How would you describe the drawing room?
The drawing room is really a glass house. On one hand, architecturally, we wanted it to be classic, but the colors and the furniture and everything else—that was intentionally another thing. I didn’t want to go to the normal oceanfront colors of blue and driftwood, or green, blue and white. This is almost the staple of any oceanfront property or resort. But you see so much ocean and sky, it’s blue everywhere, so here I wanted to bring a different color palette, especially since in my head this is a year-round place and I imagine it will be as magical in winter in a snowstorm as in summer. My inspiration was gem colors, very rich greens and pinks, and flesh colors.
What else were you inspired by?
My inspiration came from all the faraway places I’ve visited in my life, like Anguilla and Spain and Portugal. There are all these little details that are almost like a collection of my best life memories visiting resorts around the world. I tried not to copy but to get the essence of those and put them into this hotel.
What about the furnishings and decor?
Everything is a little bit twisted—normal, but there’s a little twist to everything. We put the fireplace in the middle of that glass house, for example. It’s a large room, but you need to accommodate small groups and make it cozy, but sometimes it’s going to be full of people. The fireplace automatically divides the room. The hand-painted flower fabrics are very unexpected. The scale is three times normal. The flower sofa is custom made—you usually see it in leather, never in a crazy flower print. The gray landscape sofa is a great way to separate two areas of conversation. In many ways it’s an ideal living room. Even in the pouring rain, it changes every hour of the day.
The piano bar is a great touch.
Having a piano player is amazing—it brings a bit of the charm of the old world to have a quiet piano bar. If the Asbury Hotel is our extrovert hotel, the Ocean Club is the introvert hotel. You come and you’re in a cocoon of some sort—the music is quiet and everything slows down.
Before the hotel started going up, there was a long-abandoned project on this site. Its rusting foundation was a familiar eyesore to locals.
Not only was it an eyesore, but we inherited those existing foundations, so one of the things that proved to be economically positive was to keep them. So up to the fifth floor we have that grid and only from five up do we transfer into a normal grid column. So some people might find some weirdness in the columns. But everything that felt like a handicap at the beginning proved to be a design strength.
This city is now in its second cycle of revitalization since the 1960s. You seem like a believer.
I guess we bought into it for sure. iStar approached me five years ago, and yes, this is a level of taste and elegance that doesn’t seem as obvious for Asbury Park, but for me, there’s always a mystery that it’s such an incredible beach and so close to New York, so why shouldn’t there be a multitude of choices for places to stay? Was it a heavy lift? Yes, because it was such a huge financial commitment—we redid sidewalks and lighting, landscaped the street. But once you see such a commitment to a place, then more and more people come and open restaurants, etc. When we opened the Delano in Miami Beach, South Beach was nothing, it was a crime-infested neighborhood and most of the buildings were boarded up.
Do you feel that way about Asbury Park?
I just feel that beautiful places that have a soul have the potential to become the most they can be.
Hotel Management: Salt Hotels
Creative Director / Overall Design: Anda Andrei Design
Architect: Handel Architects
Interior Design: bonetti/kozerksi architecture
Landscape Design: Madison Cox Associates
Lighting Design: Light IQ
Graphic Design and Signage: Pandiscio Green