A Grand Entrance

By staff February 1, 2002

If you want to know what the lobby of the new Ritz-Carlton looks like, take a stroll through the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art. That's what interior designer Pamela Hughes and her team did when they were planning the inside of Sarasota's newest Mediterranean Revival hotel.

"We studied the rich fabric on the museum gallery walls, and we paid attention to all the textures and the opulent colors," says the McLean, Virginia, design professional, whose firm (Hughes Design Associates) has done nine interiors for the Ritz-Carlton so far. The 10-member team has worked on the Sarasota project for the past three years because it is Ritz-Carlton policy to bring in the interior designer at the blueprint stage.

"In every project, we strive to capture the tone and the personality of the town and translate that into the lobby design scheme," Hughes continues. "In Sarasota, the attitude is mellow Mediterranean and tropical. We wanted to keep the colors light and soft but at the same time elegant. You'll see a lot of gold tones, creams, four different shades of white, and then soft coral, celadon green, terra cotta, even some aqua. We've used silks, brocades, damasks, cotton and lots of beautiful trim on the upholstered furniture and drapery. We picked up some jewel tones for accent from the Baroque paintings at the museum, and we included original 18th-century European paintings and mahogany furniture in our scheme." The custom wool carpets were woven in Ulster, Ireland. Mirrors are big, and the frames are highly detailed. The custom millwork looks as if it cost a fortune, and it probably did.

The lobby impression (as befits any Ritz-Carlton) is definitely luxurious and imposing. But it's not daunting or cold in spite of great expanses of marble flooring and ornate carved crown molding stacked about a foot deep on the paneled walls.

"When guests walk in, we want them to take in the beauty but to instantly feel comfortable and at home," stresses Hughes. "The standard we always establish is residential; because after all, when you check into a fine hotel, it is your home away from home." The ceiling molding brings the height down to a human scale while adding richness to the space. The furniture is plush and inviting, definitely meant to affectionately envelop a weary traveler. Table lamps and bouquets of fresh flowers further play up a homey atmosphere.

"We're always conscious of making the lobby space function as a smooth and uncomplicated transition to the private guest rooms," says the designer. "We like a light, spacious environment; but we definitely want guests to experience a dramatic sense of arrival." That is grandly accomplished when the uniformed doorman sweeps open the monumental wood, glass and brass-trimmed doors and guests hear their own footsteps clicking across a polished marble floor. Service personnel snap to attention. Smiles everywhere. You can smell the flowers. Home at last!

Oh, buoy-British yacht club elegance.

There's not a single anchor, scale model boat-in-a-bottle or a peg-leg pirate anywhere in the upscale lobby and lounge of Marina Tower. When designer Judy Graham and the condominium developers Bob Skalitzky and Helen Gallagher met to establish the theme of the public spaces, they all agreed to deep six all maritime clichés in favor of relaxed 19th-century period elegance.

"We wanted a sophisticated nautical theme where every piece of furniture and design detail would reinforce a sense of luxury and comfort," says Graham, who three years ago did a nautical remodel at the Marina Jack bayfront restaurant. Marine blue and old gold are the primary colors in the carpeting, drapes, and upholstered furniture that play off the oak and mahogany antiques and built-in furniture.

"We used Southwood tables and chairs with carved legs," continues the designer, "but for the board room I found a wonderful table with brass inset detail at Curtis Bros. here in Sarasota. I had it refinished, and the table works perfectly with the more expensive antiques."

The curving custom Stark wool accent carpets came from Designer's Source in Sarasota, and the floors are pale travertine marble. The metal chandelier is a Richard Ray original from California. It has no crystal but is gilded in a manner that appears to be carved wood. Several ceiling flush-mounted Ray light fixtures in other parts of the space are smaller versions of the massive central one.

The designer didn't think budget when she chose extravagantly stunning fabric from Scalamandre and Brunswig et Fils and Houles trim for the furniture. She designed a lavish banquette to circle a massive fluted wood column and found an ancient Venetian mirror that features a deep blue frame to set it off. Graham scouted English and Italian antiques and quality reproductions at DCOTA and at Churchills in Sarasota. The drapes are silk, as bouffant and alluring as Victorian ball gowns.

The lobby and lounge also display a lot of art. Chief among the paintings is a quartet of watercolors by Linda Kauffmann; they depict four 18th- and 19th-century sea captains. One of the portraits bears a suspicious resemblance to Marina Tower resident, Dick Donegan, a man known for his love of boats. Matted in luxurious silk, the four portraits were framed by William Hartman. Hanging above an English mahogany sideboard, they are a focal point of the lounge.

The dome ceiling is lit with tiny fiber optics "stars" that twinkle in the dusky sky. And if you look out the mahogany-encased porthole (a window detail that architect Gary Hoyt added for whimsy) you enjoy a majestic view of Sarasota Bay. The walls and built-ins are rich mahogany. Marvin's Woodworking did the millwork, and Dale Rieke was the master carpenter for the project. Rieke rendered the concierge desk as a ship's bow and Kreissle Forge created custom ironwork for a curving staircase railing that descends to the ground level.

Luxurious as the materials and furnishings are, the sofas and club chairs, pedestal tables, and lamps adhere to the proportions of a residential living room in Harbor Acres or Cherokee Park. "Scale is crucial," says Judy Graham. "The lobby and lounge have to be comfortable for residents who want to gather here to watch a ball game or get a book from the library shelves or just to relax and chat with friends. Approaching a condominium lobby really is like decorating your own living room, except that you have more people to please."


Tips from Judy Graham.

[] Fresh flowers and greenery, whether a potted palm, ferns on a pedestal or a bouquet of seasonal flowers, add warmth and visual richness to your foyer design.

[] In a small foyer, a mirror can expand the space and add more light. Also, it gives people a chance to check their appearance coming and going.

[] Ceramic tiles or wood planks laid on the diagonal will visually enlarge a narrow foyer. An Oriental rug or runner adds sophistication.

[] Use furniture styles consistent with the rest of the home. Same for paint and wall coverings. The foyer sets the tone of the decorating scheme.

[] Lighting is critical. A chandelier adds importance and is beautiful. If you have a low ceiling, use flush-mounted or recessed lighting instead. Consider wall sconces, too. Include lamps on a table if the foyer is large enough. And, always put a dimmer on all foyer lights.

[] If you have no entrance foyer, play up the front door. Add molding around the door frame and to the door itself. Paint or stain the door an inviting color. How about some stained or beveled glass? And put some fresh plants near the entrance. Again, pay attention to lighting. A soft glow around the door should welcome visitors.

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