Developer Lightstone Group knew it wanted to chuck expectations out the window for the 612-key New York debut of Marriott Intl.’s red-hot Moxy flag (honored as one of Boutique Design’s 2017 Up-and-Coming Hoteliers). Who wouldn’t want to be a fly on the wall when George Yabu, Glenn Pushelberg (co-founders of their eponymous firm) and Rockwell Group partner Shawn Sullivan got the brief to leave their “industry titan” status at the door and break their own rules?
This wasn’t a request to channel their expertise into a new sector or bring their best practices to the conversion of a former hotel that served working-class men a century ago, before going through several incarnations, including one as the headquarters of The New York Times. Think of it more as a request to stick it to the Airbnbs, boutique brands, quirky upgraded hostels and hidden-gem independents trying to claim that only outsiders can change the hospitality game.
Marriott Intl. wasn’t hanging back, either. “No one remembers boring,” says David Kepron, the hotel giant’s vice president, distinctive premium brands. “While you may raise an eyebrow or maybe blush, you’ll talk about Moxy. Not just because of the sexy ads and collateral, but because Moxy is different. ‘Different’ defines memorable moments.”
It helped that years of research with focus groups testing out some of the key concepts gave all the teams involved a metric on the viability of hyper-social, subversive hotels and their appeal to elusive millennial and millennial-minded guests. With that green light, the designers dove into the challenge.
From the wood-lined check-in atrium to the rooftop bar with PG-13 sculptures of animals on a mini putt-putt course (called Foreplay, natch), the hotel plays with different visual shades of illicit, subversive spaces. You can even party on down in a meeting room.
“The meeting spaces are very much part of the lobby lounge in this hotel—they can be opened up and act as spill-over for the lobby bar, and that connection is reflected in the choice of furnishings and finishes,” says Yabu.
In the guest rooms, which are inspired by ocean liner cabins, the twist comes from the configurations. Beds might be placed end to end, not side by side, or in bunks. A clever kit-of-parts approach—under bed storage, an urban-meets-rustic range of textures and a neutral palette—simplified giving each of the various layouts visual continuity.
“Each room type repeats and has its own typical or standardized conditions. Despite appearances, it actually wasn’t that difficult to map out the multiple configurations and design solutions for each room type. Then we stacked them,” says Pushelberg. They also configured lighting with the flexibility to suit any possible way guests might arrange the furniture.
The Magic Hour Rooftop & Lounge space offers a punchy contrast to the innocence of the rooms. Sullivan shed his firm’s usual impeccably sensuous approach to nightlife in favor of a brash, carnival-esque feel. Bear-shaped topiary, a working carousel and Toulouse-Lautrec-worthy lighting set the stage.
Details like the rows of elephant head-shaped lights on the way up layer in eye-catching appeal. Sullivan used the same high-octane approach to guests’ first glimpse of the other dining venues (sandwich shop Egghead, seafood brasserie Legasea), even if guests are stopping by at 7 am, not 10 pm.
“The arrival experience is also a critical component in all-day dining destinations,” Sullivan says. “It’s important to think about the transition from the street and into the restaurant. For Legasea, a grand stair flanked by an antique mirror wall, with a skylight above, leads outside guests to the restaurant. At the top of the stair is a host area defined by pale green tile walls and metal and glass doors where guests can also arrive directly from the hotel lobby. Simple materials such as tile, concrete, terrazzo and brick make Egghead a cool daytime perch for guests and locals.”
Why break the rules when you can rewrite them? Projects like this argue persuasively that now is the time to question the status quo—even when it’s your own.
Yabu Pushelberg (guest rooms, public spaces): George Yabu and Glenn Pushelberg, co-founders
Rockwell Group (restaurants): Shawn Sullivan, partner
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