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Eight million renovation of Life Hotel in Manhattan’s NoMad neighborhood

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The iconic neoclassical building once housed LIFE magazine. The New York City property launches the new Life hospitality brand.

NEW YORK, NY – Developer David Mitchell, president of Mitchell Holdings LLC; hospitality veteran and founder Stephen Hanson of BR Guest Hospitality; designer Tara Oxley; and architect Montroy DeMarco Architecture have completed the $8 million renovation and redevelopment of the former Herald Square Hotel into a new 98-room Life Hotel. The hotel is the first property of the new Life hospitality brand established by Mitchell and Hanson.

The 1895 structure, at 19 West 31st Street between Broadway and Fifth Avenue in Manhattan’s burgeoning NoMad neighborhood (the Madison Square North historic district), was designed by Carrere and Hastings, the firm responsible for designing the main branch of the New York Public Library. The ten-story-plus-basement neoclassical building was originally designed as the first headquarters for LIFE magazine.

The redeveloped hotel echoes the original dual-use of this iconic property, where celebrated writers and artists like Norman Rockwell, Charles Gibson, and John Ames Mitchell worked, resided, and played. By offering a smartly priced and wholly service-centric experience, Life Hotel is introducing a new category of hotel for today’s traveler, blurring the lines between work and play.

“The journey we’ve taken from first stepping foot into this building to opening day has been one of passion and discovery; it has been an archeological dig from day one,” says Mitchell. “There is so much history behind these walls that we were keen to keep in tact while creating a hotel that goes far beyond the typical.”

Hanson adds, “The Life brand is all about four-star service at a smart and accessible price. You’ll feel that personal touch and value from the moment you walk into the lobby - the buzz and excitement of people working from our communal tables, enjoying a cocktail at the bar or a bite in the restaurant will be enough to convince you that you’re not in an average hotel. And just wait until you experience a night in one of our guest rooms.”

The interior spaces offer a warm, inviting environment that juxtaposes the traditional (historic wood moldings and original marble floors) with the contemporary (new artwork, brass fixtures in the bathrooms, exposed concrete).

Skyland Construction was the general contractor; the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (M/E/P) engineer was Guth DeConzo Consulting Engineers, P.C; the structural engineer was Structural Engineers Incorporated; and the lighting designer was Focus Lighting

Lobby, Restaurant, and Bars
MADGI was hired in February, 2016 to work with Oxley to upgrade the property on an accelerated schedule. “After conversations with the clients and Tara, we developed the architectural design for the renovation and completed the project this spring,” said MADGI Principal, Daniel Montroy, AIA. “Our first step was to upgrade the lobby, which was outdated and inefficient,” he continued. “We converted unused space into profit-generating areas, adding a restaurant to an existing lobby bar.” The lobby was reconfigured so that now when guests walk in the entrance, to the left is a cocktail bar with seating for 40 patrons, and there is a restaurant on the right. Elevators are in the center to the back of the space. Near the elevators is the reception area (which had been to the left of the entrance). The back-of-house facilities were optimized and reduced in size, relocated from the front left area to the middle and back left of the lobby as well as to the cellar level.

The lobby and cocktail bar both have light-colored marble stone flooring installed in a herringbone pattern. The walls feature repurposed wood paneling stained a dark color. They extend all the way up to the ceiling. The panels were repurposed from a pre-war New York City building. The cocktail bar has matching wood paneling. The bar top is 20 feet long and is made of honed white marble.  Adjacent to the bar is a lounge area with sofas, coffee tables, and chairs.

On the opposite side is the Life Restaurant owned and operated by Stephen Hanson. The restaurant is 1,000 square feet and can seat approximately 60 patrons. It features marble flooring and wood paneling on the walls. The wood is the same dark color as the panels in the lobby, but these feature a different pattern. The restaurant also has a 400-square foot kitchen.

The lobby features pendant lighting throughout, including in the lobby bar, with wall-mounted picture lights for the artwork displayed.

It is rumored that the cellar level was a thriving speakeasy for LIFE magazine employees and locals during Prohibition. “We are bringing back the concept with a 1,150-square foot, 60-seat downstairs bar/lounge, which can double as a meeting space for groups,” said MADGI Project Manager Daniel Terebelo, AIA, LEED AP, BD+C.  “This area is accessible from a dedicated street entrance as well as from inside the hotel, via a ‘hidden’ circular staircase in the lobby,” he continued.  There is also a 400-square foot kitchen in the cellar.

The facade is clad in limestone on the first and second floors, with brick above that. Two oversized (two-story-high) arch windows frame the entrance, with one in the bar and one in the restaurant. The team replaced the existing windows with attractive, custom two-story-high windows with a radial mullion pattern of blackened steel. The word LIFE still repeats on the limestone above the entrance. The building is considered to be of “outstanding significance” by the New York Landmarks Preservation Commission. 

MADGI replaced the previous entrance, as it was not ADA-compliant. The new entrance is impressive, with a modern, glazed look. It incorporates an ADA-compliant elevator.

The renovations also added to the lobby two new bathrooms, offices, and luggage storage, as well as additional egress stairs connecting the cellar, first, and second floors.

“Our biggest design challenge was coordinating the correct proportion of back-of-house facilities with the front-of-house spaces while maximizing the profit-generating front-of-house spaces,” said MADGI Job Captain, Jonathan Van Ostenbridge. MADGI coordinated carefully with the hotel management to achieve the optimal balance.

Guest Rooms
All 98 guest rooms were renovated to impart a consistent design and feel. There are seven penthouses on the top floor, with two of them featuring their own private outdoor patios. The rooftop houses a chef’s garden, which is used for communal and private dining. 

“The typical guest room has high ceilings; white walls; Victorian base, chair, and crown moldings on the perimeter of the walls; wrought-iron bed frames; a desk and desk chair; and a 60" wall-mounted, flat-screen television,” said MADGI’s Eleanor Balding, Job Captain. “We were going for a modern interpretation of early 20th century design,” she continued. The penthouses also include sofas and armchairs. 

All rooms have a modern chandelier and bronze-colored wall sconces. To enter a guest room bathroom, guests pass through a custom wood door fitted with opaque glass. The bathrooms feature floors of small-sized, ceramic, black-and-white tile from Dal Tile installed in a pleasing pattern. The walls are white 2x4" subway tiles. All bath fixtures – including the seven-inch rain showerheads – are an antique bronze color by Signature Plumbing. New vanities are by Watermark and have Carrera marble countertops.

The owners tapped young up-and-coming New York City artists to create 200 original works for the walls of the guest rooms. The corridors have prints from Australian fine-art photographer Steven Laxton. New art and photography will be rotated periodically into the space.

The studio’s markets include hospitality and entertainment, residential and mixed-use new buildings (both market-rate and affordable housing), office and corporate interiors, retail, commercial building conversions and market re-positioning, landlord services, and sustainable/LEED design. Headed by principals, the specialized studios have served as either lead designer or architect of record for some of the most innovative – and challenging – projects in the city. The firm is known for its design quality and expertise in cost control, technical issues, and addressing complex zoning regulations.

In addition to Life Hotel, the studio recently served as the architect for two of the most prominent hospitality and tourist attractions in Manhattan: One World Observatory – the 90,000-sq.-ft. observation deck and restaurant and retail space atop the new World Trade Center, and the renovated landmark Rainbow Room on top of 30 Rockefeller Plaza. Its hospitality and restaurant portfolio also includes the 230-room citizenM New York hotel in Times Square; chef Antoine Westermann’s Le Coq Rico restaurant; and BR Guest Hospitality’s Bill’s Bar & Burger locations at Rockefeller Center and in the New York Marriott Downtown, all in Manhattan.

MADGI’s retail experience includes the flagship Fifth Avenue store of the footwear designer Camper and the Camper store at the Westfield World Trade Center mall; the renovation of the landmark Rainbow Room on top of 30 Rockefeller Plaza; multiple locations of U.S. Polo Association stores; the 60,000-sq.-ft. Discovery Times Square exposition; and BR Guest Hospitality’s Bill’s Bar & Burger locations at Rockefeller Center and in the New York Marriott Downtown.

The firm’s architectural, executive design, and design collaborations portfolio includes the 230-room citizenM New York hotel in Times Square; The Dillon Townhouses and Condominiums, a 205,000-sq.-ft residential complex at 425 West 53rd Street that received a 2012 AIA New York State Award of Merit; the 11-story 560 West 24th Street luxury condominium; the 82,000-sq.-ft. Soori Highline luxury condominium on West 29th Street; and the market repositioning of the 100,000-sq.-ft. 160 Fifth Avenue office tower in Manhattan. 

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