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Co-Conspirators

March 31, 2015

HOK and Martin Katz teamed up on the New York Palace Hotel's Jewel Suite

More than just a trendy catchphrase, “luxury co-branding” represents a marketing formula that is opening designers up to an entire new clientele base. For many of us, a full-time high-end lifestyle is simply unattainable. But what’s being sold more and more often is just a taste—a glimpse into a world that others inhabit, offered every once in a while to keep guests coming back for more.

Such is the concept behind the $140 million renovation of the New York Palace Hotel on Madison Avenue in Manhattan.

“They get a touch or a feel of that celebrity aura,” explained Dianna Facci, senior associate with HOK, who served as project lead on both the hotel’s Jewel and Champagne suites. “It creates this feeling that you yourself are perhaps wearing the jewels and there’s a chance that someday you will have this kind of luxury surrounding you.”

Facing steep competition from well-trusted brands like St. Regis and Ritz Carlton, investors were looking for ways to set the Palace apart.

“The Palace was an iconic hotel, but known for its associations with Leona Helmsley and for being a very nice hotel, but probably a little dowdy,” said David McCaslin, president of Northwood Hospitality. “We wanted to do something that would make it more classically New York and transform it physically. At the same time, we had multiple suites that were highly unusual in terms of their layout, but nobody knew about them.”

By “unusual” he means triplexes—a virtual chupacabra in New York hospitality real estate. Therefore, the suites (all designed by HOK) gave them a chance to set the Palace apart. What came next was trying to figure out exactly what represents not just money and fame to consumers, but also what annotates a New York sophistication.

The first horse out of the gate was the Metropolitan suite. HOK worked with art consultant Rare Culture to fill it with art inspired by the streetscape below. Next came the Champagne suite, a collaboration between HOK and Dom Perignon. By the third iteration, the team was left wondering how to keep up the momentum, which led McCaslin and Northwood to seek out partners of the same caliber as Dom Perignon. Originally, they discussed partnering on a “Diamond Suite” with several retailers before settling on a singular personality.

Jeweler Martin Katz had just celebrated 25 years of keeping Hollywood’s finest dripping in diamonds and jewels. And while the Jewel Suite would be Katz’ first interior design venture, he had applied his expertise in jewelry design through a wide variety of brand partnerships, including a $5 million Fantasy Bra for Victoria’s Secret and a $1 million DKNY Golden Delicious perfume bottle for Estée Lauder.

“I understand luxury co-branding very well,” Katz said. “The whole thing has been a wonderful click from the beginning.”

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It takes a select group of collaborators to make special projects such as these work, and both McCaslin and Facci agreed that while Katz brought his Hollywood-driven career to the project, he did not bring a Hollywood-driven ego.

Instead, he brought the utmost respect for supreme quality and craftsmanship.

“There are certain things that just speak of me and to me,” he explained. “One is perfectionism, in my choice of the richest colors and the finest products. So I knew as we went through the suite and went to various facilities and tradeshows that I wanted a particular quality and design that really was bespoke and something special. And I apply those same principles when I’m buying stones and creating a piece of jewelry.”

“There’s a level of detail that was important,” Facci said of the collaboration. “In the refinement of the pieces and their level of tailoring and intricacy, and that’s certainly reflected in the jewelry.”

Three glass cases of Katz’ jewelry float at varying levels underneath the suite’s spiral staircase, all arranged by a visual merchandiser and kept on constant rotation. The items are for sale, and if you’d like to propose to your honey in the Jewel Suite, the “The Ultimate Proposal Package” starts at just a cool $50K.

To select the pieces, HOK compiled palettes and options for Martin to weigh in on, and vice versa.

“We were very excited by some of the things that he brought to the table,” said Facci. “For instance, the beautiful Arte wallcovering in the living room and upper level. It’s so unique and has movement and life and depth.”

Katz also selected the artwork for the space, with most depicting photographs and renderings of his jewelry, like the original drawings of his emerald rings that stand out against the mauve and other shades of purple in the bedroom. But he also wanted to play with different mediums. One of his first attempts was a glass mosaic of his drawings, the images and colors of which were distorted and twisted, then put back together in different shapes and plains to create movement.

Also per Katz’ request, uplighting was installed under the drapery treatments in the living room, creating even more drama.

While Katz focused on building up a red-carpet flare, HOK made sure his style was properly reflected in the specifications.

“We started to think about what it is about the jewelry that makes it so beautiful, and of course it’s the detailing, reflection of light, and sparkle,” explained Facci. “It’s the colors and refinement. And we wanted to bring all of that into the furniture pieces and the lighting fixtures. We used the most opulent fabrics. We went to the best manufacturers. We wanted to celebrate the most beautiful of materials and crystals and woods. The minute the guest walks into the front entry door they are in awe of this 30-foot cascading light fixture that comes down on top of the beautiful starburst black granite marble, and of course there’s those jewelry boxes. That sets the tone for the space.”

But the suite needed to be many things to many people: a dramatic and jaw-dropping luxury dream world for some guests, an intimate and highly versatile escape for others. The finished design—complete with a small kitchen for food preparation—can accommodate a couple on a romantic weekend getaway, a small group having a dinner party, or a private event. The outdoor terrace and built-in Jacuzzi, whether it’s being used or just admired, adds to the glamour. And from the grand piano in the living room to the mirror-backed fireplace reflecting New York’s famous skyline, guests can be enchanted by their surroundings all the while.

Katz himself has hosted a number of events in the Jewel Suite. “It’s brought people there that wouldn’t have tried the hotel otherwise,” said McCaslin, adding

that the project has been a success because of the personalities involved. “Bringing in more talent can make something really wonderful happen.”

Last November, Katz and HOK walked away with the 2014 International Hotel, Motel, and Restaurant Show (IHMRS) Gold Key Award for Best Suite for their work on the Jewel Suite—proving that enticing people to shoot for unreachable stars isn’t always a bad thing.

About the Author

AnnMarie Martin | Editor-in-Chief

AnnMarie has been covering the commercial design space since 2005 and has been on the editorial staff at i+s since 2011. Her style and vision has helped the brand evolve into a thought leader in purpose-driven design and cultural movements shaping the way we live and work. She returned to the role of editor in chief at the start of 2023 and her journalism and fiction writing background have helped to craft bi-monthly issues that don’t just report the latest industry news, but tell a cohesive tale of some of the biggest topics facing designers today.

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