Tim Magee finds the design of a slew of new hotels reminiscent of the cartoons of his youth. What’s nicer than living in a childhood dream?
Nobody has ever stayed at the Ritz Plaza Hotel. That particular hotel is from a Pink Panther cartoon called “Forty Pink Winks”. The only reason I know this episode’s name is because, in the interest of fact-checking, I’ve just lost hours tumbling down a Ricochet Rabbit-hole of cartoons from a very distant youth.
I’m the only person I know who dislikes Reeling in the Years, Ireland’s televised history series. My memory of the 1970s is that it was all a bit shite and stank of smoke. Our cartoon game was strong though: Top Cat, Grape Ape, Foghorn Leghorn, Jabberjaw, Dastardly & Mutley, Captain Caveman and Quick Draw McGraw and his alter ego – my hero – El Kabong, added some much-needed colour to a real world that was unnecessarily grey and harsh.
Long after I stopped watching The Ant and The Ardvaark, I had an interest in the artists who created the backgrounds. I could draw straight lines in my head connecting the stage set of Hitchcock’s Rear Window to Top Cat’s city, to the view from Don Draper’s glorious apartment.
So, while down that rabbit-hole, I wasn’t paying as much heed to the characters – the backdrop artists are the stars for me. Legends like the other Walt in Disney, Walt Peregoy. If you ever paid attention to the painted jungles, castle and forests populated by Mowgli, Mary Poppins and Cruella and later, Scooby’s haunted mansions, you will have seen his gloriously timeless static worlds too.
Over the last few years, the designs of these background artists – like that imaginary Ritz Plaza and other Warner Bros or Disney-drawn hotels and restaurants – has been reverse-engineered into some of the best hotel design today. Surely a Hanna-Barbera Hotels vibe can only be a good thing?
Visiting, critiquing and living in hotels for many years, it feels like hotel design, until now, hadn’t changed all that much for the better in decades. There are exceptions. Some designs were threaded with witchcraft, like the spectacular masterpiece from artist Julian Schnabel – the dearly departed Gramercy Park Hotel. For the most part, I wanted Jacques Garcia to design all hotels. Garcia has more than 70 under his detailed velvet belt, many with the feel of that mythically, cartoonishly, opulent Ritz Plaza.
Kelly Wearstler, the genius behind Proper Hotels… www.properhotel.com
A mention here too for the trend-proof style of the Ferragamo family’s Portrait Milan, in a 16th-century seminary, for which the fashion family enlisted the help of their longtime collaborator Michele Bönan.
Mostly though, today’s hospitality design world though is a tale of two designers. In cartoon-speak, it’s The Marty and Dotty Show – Martin Brudniski of MBDS and Dorothée Meilichzon of CHZON. These two designers, who couldn’t be more different, are the Ronaldo and Messi of hospitality design today. Three times in as many weeks in meetings I’ve heard Brudniski mentioned as an adjective, always with his surname bumbled. He first popped up on my radar at The Beekman in New York, after which he became the guy behind many Swishy McSwishypants hotels and restaurants in London and the US. Brudniski’s work is gorgeous (see The Pendry, in West Hollywood) his preternatural attention to detail feels like a natural progression in hotel design, but still feel like the real world. www.pendry.com
Exit stage left and cue a full-throated “Heavens to Murgatroyd!” (Snagglepuss) at the brilliance of the cartoon/real world crossover that French designer Dorothée Meilichzon is creating every day in her work with the Experimental Group. The Hotel Regina, Biarritz channels cartoon backgrounds come to life, yet still clinging to their 2D pastel world, a world of curved lines that help us see through a new Liquorice Allsorts prism; Play-Doh arches, like cute crowns, on everything from her famous bedheads to doorways and bathroom mirrors; bars and restaurants that look like Montessori with cocktails. The hospitality world needs more of this please. A sameness-killer, Meilichzon is the kind of background artist who gets to put us in her show.
And it’s not just in hotels and restaurants. Getting in and out of Roissy-Charles De Gaulle airport these days may be a coin flip in the angry hands of French air traffic control but if you’re going to get stuck somewhere, Meilichzon’s departure lounge might just be the place. @manandasuitcase