Ian Schrager Company Logo 

USA Today | August 11, 2006

Schrager's New Hotel is for the Artful Lodger

By Gene Sloan

NEW YORK — Few people have had as much influence on hotel design in recent years as Ian Schrager, who is widely credited for pioneering the too-cool-for-you minimalism that is all the rage. But the creator of such legendary — and increasingly copied — hotspots as the Royalton in New York and the Delano in Miami Beach says the slick-and-spiffy look has had its day.

"Now everybody is doing it," says the famed trendsetter, bounding across the lobby of his newest creation, the Gramercy Park Hotel. "Even Marriott. You know when Marriott is doing it that it's time to move on."

Even before it opened on Tuesday, Schrager's $200 million makeover of the 82-year-old Gramercy Park had the travel world buzzing. Everyone from Travel & Leisure to The New York Times had, sight unseen, declared it one of the year's hottest new properties — if only because Schrager was promising something completely different than his previous hotels, which he sold as a group a year ago.

And different it is. In short, slick, contemporary minimalism is out. A warmer, more eclectic mix of old-style luxury and luscious, wall-size art — quirky, eccentric and unorthodox are the words Schrager uses — is in.

"It's really a classical language, but put together in a way that makes it edgy, just like an artist's studio," says Schrager, showing off the lobby's unusual mélange of furnishings — from a medieval-style armchair to a gold-fringed red velvet sofa. "It's meant to evoke the way an artist would live."

Indeed, an artist — not a designer — is behind much of the décor. In the past, Schrager has called upon Philippe Starck and other of-the-moment design stars to craft the streamlined look of his interiors. But this time he turned to a longtime friend and art world darling, neo-expressionist Julian Schnabel.

The next trend in hotels, says Schrager, continuing a tour into the Rose Bar, which features a Schnabel-designed cast-resin chandelier suspended by bronze chains and a green silk velvet wall seat that runs the length of the room, is that there will be no trend. Idiosyncrasy will reign.

And who better to design an idiosyncratic hotel than an artist?

"They all have this innate sense of style," says the onetime nightclub impresario, who has been rubbing shoulders with the art world since he co-founded New York's legendary Studio 54 in 1977.

Schnabel's trademark romanticism is evident throughout the hotel. For the grand, two-story lobby — Schrager blew out the second floor of the historic building to make it soar — Schnabel chose a rich, hand-woven red rug accented with floral motifs that will make hipster minimalists cringe. Coupled with black-and-white Moroccan tile floors, a dark wooden ceiling, gray plaster walls, velvet curtains and a hand-blown Venetian glass chandelier, it creates a sumptuous, eccentric look that's the antithesis of Schrager hotels such as the white-on-white Delano.

Schnabel also larded the hotel with monumental, million-dollar art works — several of his own plus a massive Cy Twombly in the lobby, two Andy Warhols in the adjacent Rose Bar and a Jean-Michel Basquiat — most on loan from real estate magnate and super-collector Aby Rosen. Still, Schrager is quick to note that this isn't an "art hotel," noting the recent trend of hotels filled with big-name art.

Schrager says there are other, less obvious, differences between this hotel and his earlier properties. Notably, service and comfort are now a bigger priority. If being hip was the previous goal, being hip and comfortable is the new rule.

"It was different in the old days," he says, pointing out that the baby boomers raised on late nights at Studio 54 have grown up. "The No. 1 priority was innovation. Now, the No. 1 priority is service.

"We're trying to do a hotel for adults — more refined, more sophisticated."

Schrager has done away with the velvet ropes and bouncers that were common at his earlier properties — a move likely to shock longtime Schrager watchers. But he says he's hoping the hotel's bars will be more low-key, un-self-conscious, "literary salon-type" gathering places for a mix of people.

"I'm used to creating places that are scenes," says Schrager, whose Studio 54 escapades are legendary. (Bianca Jagger once rode into the club on a white horse.) "But I don't want to do that anymore."

The focus on comfort also has eliminated a Schrager trademark: super tiny (if super-stylish) rooms. The 18-floor hotel, built in 1924, originally had 500 rooms. Schrager had it reconfigured to hold just 185, which resulted in some of the city's most spacious quarters.

"I'm known for small rooms, but I never did small rooms by design," he says, noting that it was more a matter of the cost of renovations.

Schrager says it'll be harder for big hotel companies such as Starwood, which knocked off his sleek-and-minimalist look with its hugely successful W brand, to copy the new look.

"It requires someone with a deft hand," he says, noting that only an artist like Schnabel could pull together such an odd assortment of furnishings and materials and make it work.

Working with an artist, Schrager adds, is tough. "It was the most difficult project I ever did. If Julian wasn't such a sweet guy and I hadn't known him for so long ..."

His voice trails off.

"I wouldn't have been interested in doing another hotel unless I could do something special," he says, switching gears. "I like to shake things up."