LaGuardia Airport (LGA) may be a go-to gateway for travelers who like its close-in access to New York City, but it’s not the world’s best neighbor for an upscale hotel. The tens of millions of passengers going through the airport in the city’s Queens borough (yes, and the noisy planes, taxis, buses and rideshares they use) each year create a bustling and slightly stressed-out hotspot. That’s pretty much the opposite of the chic calm most designers strive for in “urban oasis” type hotels. That said, a $30 million renovation, while a high-profile commission, isn’t exactly the simplest RPF most design firms will ever respond to. Not that the LaGuardia Airport Marriott’s size helped, either. At 443 rooms and with 19,000 sq. ft. of meeting rooms and 10,000 sq. ft. of event space, interior design agency Krause Sawyer had their work cut out for them.
How’d they address the LGA elephant in the room? Kajsa Krause and Tracey Sawyer, cofounders of their eponymous New York-based firm, did what most people only wish they could: they ignored it. “We focused on the right design for the hotel structure without regard to it being an ‘airport hotel.’ It’s in a highly diverse neighborhood, so we focused on the incredible variety of cultures represented there,” they say. Since they didn’t want to go into obvious ways of telling that story (no mural walls here), they knew they’d use the building blocks of their design to speak for the dynamic mix of perspectives in the surrounding community. Of course, with more than 120 countries of origin for people within Queens’ borders, that wasn’t a simple solution, either.
“We wanted to keep the influences varied and reflective of the richness of the neighborhoods,” say Krause and Sawyer. “Our team spent a considerable amount of time making sure we had the right and equal balance. We found inspirations in all of the cultures and looked for the best way to express them, ultimately creating a space that is unified and serves the needs of guests in terms of functionality and comfort.”
In other words, guests probably aren’t going to go around namechecking the national origins of every piece of FF&E. Instead, it’s how that melting pot turns out as an overall experience that’s key. So, the team had to find ways to reference all those touchpoints in a way that was both great design and great storytelling.
Using more complex backstories as jumping-off points enabled them to do just that. India’s long tradition of exquisite jewelry (and the importance it’s carried there for the last 5,000 years), is channeled into a metalwork screen. Lamps reference Arabic and Indian shapes, but utilize a punched hole design more typical of Egypt. Fiber art walls in the public space might look like lace, thanks to Ireland’s historic involvement in that craft, but also, with their deep blue accents, speak to the worldwide use of indigo dye from ancient times to the present (curtains in the suites have the same blue hue). Smaller objects carry the theme through to the details: cotton-rope baskets, dyed with tea and coffee and decorated with stitching, pay tribute to African basket-weaving techniques. Other pieces speak to global influences: hand-thrown pots, flattened at the back to fit on shelving by the lounge, refer to many nations’ traditional ceramics.
Even with the bones of the concept in place, though, placing that much emphasis on textures and materials requires a crystal ball or its near cousin—great renderings and an experience-led understanding of light, reflection and refraction—to work, especially in a renovation where minimizing interruption to guests is a must. Since this project was completed in stages and key pieces had to be installed around the hotel’s schedule of events, Krause Sawyer didn’t have much time for onsite R&D. So, they took a multifaceted approach to making sure all the elements came together as planned. “We study materials and develop a color palette in house, but most importantly we look at the space as a whole. Through our years of experience, we’ve gained an understanding of the planning, how to develop elevations, and how to review the lighting and reflected ceiling plan together. Additionally, we use rendered elevations, plans and 3D models to study the design,” they say. At the property, teamwork made the dream work, as it always does when each firm and person involved with the realization of a designer’s vision has a key role to play.
Like many projects in transit hubs, along highways, in busy city centers or other less-than-serene locales, the takeaway here is that sometimes micro-local design requires careful filtering of which influences and ideas to pick up, and how to play them back in the design. After all, the postage-stamp-sized spaces allocated to people and luggage alike in airports and on airplanes hardly make for a hospitable experience, right?
Krause Sawyer: Kajsa Krause and Tracey Sawyer, cofounders
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Capital Builders Group Inc. (public spaces)
Digney York (guestrooms and corridors)
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