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Giving Hotel Decor an Antic Surrealism

Design * Playfulness trumps taste at Ian Schrager's newly opened Sanderson Hotel in London.

May 11, 2000|From Washington Post

Ian Schrager propelled hotels into the design business. Now he is propelling designer hotels to the next dimension: fun and games.

"I'm in the entertainment business," Schrager said from London, where he introduced a new adventure in stylish living.

At the Sanderson Hotel, which took in its first paying guests this month, mind games come first. The Philippe Starck-designed lobby is like a "Cocteau stage set," Schrager said, describing modern classics such as "Marilyn," a sofa in the shape of full red lips. There are Louis XV-inspired trappings, overscale Venetian glass mirrors and 18th century dog portraits. To help these disparate design elements achieve "peaceful coexistence," Starck draped the place with plenty of ethereal curtains.

In the guest rooms, landscape paintings are anchored to the ceiling above the beds. The only "walls" between the bed and bath are glass; more filmy curtains have been provided for privacy.

"We're not trying to be tasteful--others out there can do that," said Schrager. "This is a separate reality. You're not just checking into a hotel room and going to sleep."

The 150-room Sanderson is the sixth theatrical property orchestrated by the New York club owner turned hotelier and French designer Starck. Schrager first plunged into hotels in 1984, opening Morgans in New York with the late Steve Rubell, his partner in the Studio 54 and Palladium nightclubs. Morgans was designed by Andree Putman. Schrager teamed up with Starck for the 1989 opening of the Royalton (a block-long lobby furnished with romantic avant-garde furniture). They moved on to the Paramount (wildly overscaled Vermeer copies for headboards); the Delano in Miami ("Alice in Wonderland" furniture in the garden); rehabbed the Mondrian in Los Angeles (doors and flowerpots sized for giants, and bare mattresses on the terrace). Last year they opened their first London hotel, St. Martins Lane (light switches to control the color of the room).

"This is more radical than the others, more breakthrough," Schrager suggested. "We're trying to be provocative."

The Sanderson takes its name from the old-line fabric company once housed in the 1957 landmark building. Some original features, such as a staircase, mosaics and a garden with landscape pedigree, could not be altered.

The piece de resistance is a 10,000-square-foot "Agua Bathhouse" put together by Schrager's wife, Rita. There's also 24-hour gym service and "mix and match" health foods in the restaurants (low cholesterol, low fat, high protein, no carbs). All this propels Schrager's hotel into a new realm, which he describes as an "urban spa."

The bottled-water crowd may have to leave the personal trainer behind, but the fitness regimen can still travel.

"Come to London for the cure," said Schrager.

Or wait for the shiny, amorphous Starck-designed barbells to hit the stores.

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