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Home Away from Home

Sunday, July 6th, 2014

By Emma Janzen

Photos by Cheryl Zibisky (1st-3rd, 5th from top), cherylzibisky.com, and James Baigrie (4th from top), jamesbaigrie.com 

Every hotel boasts the comforts of home, but few actually deliver on the promise—instead offering generic designs with matching furniture and soulless social spaces. When launching a full renovation in 2012, the Affinia 50 hotel in Manhattan hired Seattle-based interior-design studio Dawson Design Associates to create a fresh new identity that would avoid this cliché.

To achieve this goal, art director and principal Andrea Dawson Sheehan approached the project as if it were a high-end residential property instead of temporary lodging. “We wanted it to be like you could live in this hotel for months and have it feel like you’re staying in a friend’s living room—a sophisticated friend living in New York,” she says.

With the help of architect Nobutaka Ashihara, Dawson Sheehan and her team designed 41 new guest rooms during the renovation, for a total of 251 chambers. Every aspect of the rooms and the social spaces—from the open floor plans to the comfortable materials and furniture—speaks to the idea of honoring the Midtown neighborhood and creating a “home away from home,” as Dawson Sheehan puts it.

The overarching color palette takes inspiration from the history of the surrounding area, which once played home to many famous artists in the school of abstract expressionism. Bold, saturated hues like one might find in a Rothko or Pollock painting weave through a cool grey and white foundation. The artwork also reflects the designers’ overall intention; each piece was sourced from local artists and arranged in a way that feels natural and homey. “We didn’t want it to feel like a gallery,” Dawson Sheehan says. “We wanted it to be three-dimensional and have an impact on how the space felt. So it’s interactive; you can really put your hands on it. It’s not just hanging on the wall.”

Though the $18–20 million construction process was not easy—the hotel remained open to customers during the entire renovation process—Dawson Sheehan says that the team captured the intended spirit of sophisticated New York City while maintaining a strong residential appeal. “Yes, it’s stylish, and yes, it’s contemporary, but it’s also human,” she says. “We captured that New York energy from the guys who lived there.”

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