HBCH April 2012 : Page 78
HOME FRONT jet set Renaissance, Reborn! What’s old is new again—and better than ever—at the reimagined St. Regis Florence. By Rima Suqi Even today you’d be hard-pressed to find a starchitect-branded glass structure in Florence, one of the few cities in the world with a skyline still relatively untouched by modernization (although rumor has it that Sir Norman Foster has been tapped to design a new train station there). And yet, as the seat of the Renaissance, the capital of Tuscany debuted its own version of architectural worship in the 14th and 15th centuries. Many structures built during that time—including, arguably, its most storied, the domed Santa Maria del Fiore, engineered by architectural pioneer Filippo Brunelleschi—still line the charming streets of this UNESCO World Heritage site. Lesser known is the quietly imposing palace Brunelleschi built on the banks of the Arno in 1432. Originally home to the noble Guintini family, the structure was then occupied by the Medici clan—Renaissance patrons and popes—en route to becoming the Grand Hotel Royale de la Paix in 1866. As Florence’s inaugural luxury hotel, and the first to boast spaces like a ballroom and winter garden, the Grand drew the world’s elite. Last fall, the historically significant hotel was reborn as the St. Regis Florence. And while the past decade has seen other distinguished regional continued ... hotels undergo both small-and large-back in action Florence’s original luxury hotel is back from an extensive renovation that has given every room, includings its spacious lobby (above), a modern take on old World style. 78 | | Spring 2012
Home Front Travel
Renaissance, Reborn!<br /> <br /> What’s old is new again—and better than ever—at the reimagined St. Regis Florence.<br /> <br /> Even today you’d be hard-pressed to find a starchitectbranded glass structure in Florence, one of the few cities in the world with a skyline still relatively untouched by modernization (although rumor has it that Sir Norman Foster has been tapped to design a new train station there). And yet, as the seat of the Renaissance, the capital of Tuscany debuted its own version of architectural worship in the 14th and 15th centuries. Many structures built during that time—including, arguably, its most storied, the domed Santa Maria del Fiore, engineered by architectural pioneer Filippo Brunelleschi—still line the charming streets of this UNESCO World Heritage site.<br /> <br /> Lesser known is the quietly imposing palace Brunelleschi built on the banks of the Arno in 1432. Originally home to the noble Guintini family, the structure was then occupied by the Medici clan—Renaissance patrons and popes—en route to becoming the Grand Hotel Royale de la Paix in 1866. As Florence’s inaugural luxury hotel, and the first to boast spaces like a ballroom and winter garden, the Grand drew the world’s elite. Last fall, the historically significant hotel was reborn as the St. Regis Florence. And while the past decade has seen other distinguished regional hotels undergo both small- and large-scale renovations (those that could be diplomatically described as disappointing), the St. Regis Florence stands as a successful rechristening—a historic property refurbished to reflect its roots while appealing to a modern clientele.<br /> <br /> At the helm of the ambitious revamp is Michael Stelea, president and principal designer of L.A.-based HDC Interior Architecture + Design. Stelea was a logical choice, given his connections to both the brand and Italy—his firm had worked on the Hotel Imperial Vienna, a hospitality gem for Starwood Resorts and Hotels Worldwide, St. Regis’ parent company, as well as St. Regis Rome. Still, acknowledges the Romania-born architect, “[It] was not an easy assignment,” more like “restoring an apartment with 100 rooms, with no two the same.” <br /> <br /> Drawing inspiration for the St. Regis Florence from its New York sibling, celebrated for its exclusivity and service, Stelea got to work. The decision to emulate was clear, but execution proved more complicated, with the Florence structure much older than its NYC muse. Still, notes the architect, it did bring good bones, large (but not too large) public spaces and an undefined reception area. “When you check into a St. Regis, there is no registration desk,” Stelea elaborates. “You sit in a library or living room, and you meet your butler while sipping prosecco. That fit this building very well.” <br /> <br /> Also fitting is the cache of priceless swag—incredibly valuable antique furniture, aesthetic adornments and art, much of which is incorporated into décor in the hotel’s main lobby, 81 re-envisioned guest rooms and 19 suites. Also noteworthy for their originality are the elevator foyers, which are, Stelea maintains, singular to the St. Regis Florence. Both purchased and custom-made materials were sourced from local craftsmen, artisans and artists. “Florence is the capital of craftsmanship in Italy,” the architect explains. “You can find anything you want within a 40- or 50-kilometer radius—woodworkers, metalworkers, leatherworkers and the best antiques.”<br /> <br /> To walk through the hotel is to be a lucky guest in a very grand home. The lobby incorporates a cozy Library where you can hunker down on a chesterfield sofa, sipping espresso and perusing a tome plucked from Assouline-titled shelves. There’s also a sitting area for private check-in and butler meet-and-greets, and the Heritage Room, a trove of books, photographs and other history-rich memorabilia like guest registries overflowing with the names of late 19th-century glitterati.<br /> <br /> A trio of guest room styles—Florentine, Renaissance and Medici—feature antique furniture as well as equally aged Italian engravings with etched gold-leaf frames, crystal chandeliers, dramatic hand-carved wood canopied beds, hand-painted and meticulously restored Florentine frescoes and, with a nod to modernism, marbled bathrooms and well-designed closets. Narrow hallways twist and turn, with the odd staircase leading to a hidden wing. One points the way to the one-of-akind Bottega Veneta suite, where a neutral palette blankets everything from furniture to ornamentation designed by the company’s creative director, Tomas Maier.<br /> <br /> Dramatic touches extend to the hotel’s bespoke dining venue, Etichetta Pinchiorri. Strategically positioned in a room that once served as a winter garden, and directly under a magnificent, 19th-century art-glass ceiling anchored by one of the largest Murano glass chandeliers ever made—this restaurant serves innovative regional Mediterranean cuisine and boasts one of the best wine lists in town.<br /> <br /> Miraculously, the entire restoration of the supremely elegant St. Regis Florence took just 10 months—the result, undoubtedly, of serious commitment. “We always felt a responsibility to do this hotel right,” Stelea says. “[There was] no excuse to do it otherwise.”<br /> <br /> Eat <br /> <br /> True, it’s laughable to suggest Florence’s abundant dining outposts can be narrowed down to a choice handful, but we gave it a go— and nearly cracked up trying. Here are restos noted for their design, or the design types who flock to them. Either way, satisfaction is yours.<br /> <br /> Ristorante La Bussola <br /> <br /> Via Porta Rossa, 58; 39. 055.293376 Fans of mod design should belly up to the bar at this family restaurant established circa 1960. Why? Perfectly aged marble and rounded stools made of tubular chrome, for starters—mouthwatering, dreamworthy pizza and sips not far behind. Please, take a seat.<br /> <br /> Trattoria Sostanza <br /> <br /> Via Porcellana, 25/r; 39. 055.212691 Located in an old butcher shop on a quiet side street, Sostanza lacks style points but makes up for it with fashion, design and art types clamoring to squeeze in the door. The draw? Simple but delish Florentine fare served at communal tables. With only two sittings nightly, reservations are required. Bring cash.<br /> <br /> Il Santo Bevitore <br /> <br /> Via di Santo Spirito, 64/r, 39. 055.211264 Those turned away from Sostanza hit this local spot, another buzzing hive removed from throngs of tourists on the “other” side of the Arno. Credit a great wine list, contemporary Italian cuisine and friendly staff for its popularity (and crowds). Lunch and dinner—all day, baby! Call ahead for reservations.<br /> <br /> Se Sto on Arno, 3, Piazza Ognissanti, 39. 055.27151, sestoonarno.com Perched atop the roof of the Westin Excelsior, situated across the piazza from the St. Regis, this glass-enclosed restaurant, designed by Antonio Sullo and Stefania Galanti, boasts some of the best city views and cellars 300 labels of vino. Cozy up to the alabaster bar for sips or freshly made savories from Executive Chef Entiana Osemenzeza.<br /> <br /> See <br /> <br /> Heads up, gallery hounds, by all means hit the Uffizi (home to Botticelli’s babes among countless other masterworks), but don’t forget to take in the artistic sights as well.<br /> <br /> Museo Nazionale Alinari della Fotografia Piazza Santa Maria Novella 14a, mnaf.it Florence’s national museum of photography exhibits both permanent and temporary collections and highlights the history of lens art, invention and technique—snap!<br /> <br /> Gucci Museo Palazzo Mercanzia on the Piazza della Signoria, 39. 055.759233027 or 39. 055.75923300 Founded in 1921, Gucci has morphed from a purveyor of leather goods into its current standing as a force in the world of fashion. The entire evolution is on display here. Browse the bookstore and stop by the café for a jolt, complete with sugar made in the shape of the brand’s logo.<br /> <br /> Shop <br /> <br /> Flair, Piazza Carlo Goldoni 6/r, 39.055.2670154, flair.it This Florentine sister to the SoHo, New York store proffers an exquisitely curated collection of vintage furniture and décor, as well as jewelry and (wait for it) a charming pooch named Lulu—go fetch!<br /> <br /> Lungarno Details, Lungarno Acciaiuoli 2P–4D, 39. 055.27264095, lungarnocollection.com Sift through a stylish selection of modern home furnishings, accessories and art at this shop located at the entrance of the Lungarno Suites Hotel—some of the same accessories dazzling hotel guests at this property are sold right here.<br /> <br /> Studio Dimore Collection, Via dei Fossi 41/r 39. 055.287632, studiodimorecollection.com Source new, vintage and antique furniture and décor at this mustshop store that specializes in European gems from the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s. Here, gigantic crystals, sculptures and ornaments of the drool-worthy variety—it looks as if an art curator or Anthropologie window dresser were at work here—complete one ultra-refined shop.<br /> <br /> Brandimarte Argento Viale Ariosto, 11/c, 39. 055.230411, brandimarte.com Expect the most exquisite handmade silver tabletop wares— those dressing the tables at Italy’s most discerning households and white tablecloth restaurants— run by founder Brandi’s son and daughter. Being served never felt (or looked) this good, promise.<br /> <br /> Setificio Fiorentino Via Bartolini, 4 39. 055.213861, anticosetificiofiorentino.com Since 1786, this fabric workshop has been a go-to for European nobles—think opulent silk brocades and damasks handwoven on 18th- and 19th-century looms (some reportedly inspired by designs by Leonardo da Vinci). In short, it’s the real deal. Today fabric is available to mere mortals—for a price (somewhere around steep). Phone first for an appointment.
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