Today, this historical hotel is called the Willard Inter-Continental. The hotel occupies a building constructed around the turn of the century. Over the years, it has been through a number of renovations. The most recent one was completed last year and focused on the guest rooms and suites, guest hallways and two restaurants.
"The guest areas were not connected to the rest of the hotel in terms of detail," says Deborah Lloyd Forrest, FASID, principal, ForrestPerkins LLC, Dallas, TX, and Washington, DC. "Our goal was to tie them more closely to the American Empire style that is predominant in other areas of the hotel and add some embellishments for a refreshed and refined appearance."
Guest rooms are on floors two through 12 of the hotel. Rooms on the 12th floor are built into the mansard roof of the Parisian-type building, thus making for interesting dormer windows and ceiling shapes. These rooms include four specialty suites—capitol, federal, presidential and honeymoon—seven oval suites, called such because of their oval living areas, and two junior bedroom suites.
PERSONALIZED GUEST ROOMS
In the guest rooms, Forrest and her colleagues strove to create a more residential feel than is typical of most luxury hotels. One aspect of any residence, of course, is the sense that it has been personalized for its occupants. To achieve this, the guest rooms are designed in three different color schemes—red, blue and green. All three schemes have rich colors that are "federal in feel," says Forrest, and guests are welcome to request their favorite scheme.
According to Forrest, all of the rooms were completely refurbished and much of the materials and furnishings were custom designed and fabricated. Beginning with the floor, Forrest designed a custom carpet of Axminster construction. While the body of the carpet remains consistent from room to room, the border changes to complement each color scheme. Woven into the carpet at the entrance to a room is an area rug design placed to create a more welcoming and residential experience. This area rug is a blend of gold, red, blue and green and thus ties into the three color schemes.
To strengthen the concept of personalized color schemes, the wall coverings, bed fabrics and window treatments vary according to scheme. Not only are the colors different, but the patterns and prints change, too. For example, in guest rooms with the green color scheme—which Forrest considers to be the most feminine of the three schemes—the medallion print fabric used on the bed's outline quilt reappears on the decorative valance over the window. Rose-colored accents and the subtle pattern of the wall covering enhance the room's femininity.
In guest rooms that follow the red color scheme, Forrest again chose a medallion print for the bed coverlet, but this time the pattern is much stronger and distinct. Medallions of gold wreaths are individually outlined against a rich, red background. The color combination is repeated on the window treatment, but in a different pattern and with different values of red and gold. Wall covering with a yellow tone-on-tone stripe softens the room.
In all of the guest rooms, the furniture was designed and chosen to be reflective of Federal style. Mahogany is dominant, and thus nothing here is delicate, but rather rich and substantial.
"The furniture that we replaced had been Louis XVI," says Forrest. "It wasn't connected to the city of Washington or to the hotel. We were very conscious of trying to select furniture that not only would serve guests well, but create a sense of place that had been missing."
Crown molding was added in both the guest rooms and guest bathrooms to further their residential appeal. Likewise, beautiful artwork was selected. According to Forrest, a combination of historical etchings and photographs were used in the rooms and baths. The subjects of the photos are architectural elements of familiar Washington tourist attractions such as the Lincoln Memorial and the Capitol. However, they are depicted in unusual ways. The photos were taken with an old black-and-white, Russian-made camera. Images are slightly out of focus and the edge of each photo is somewhat indistinct. The result is a photograph that, Forrest says, usually gets a second glance.
DOWN THE HALL
The guest corridors presented an interesting lighting and color challenge.
"If I had to choose one word to describe the hallways it would be 'flat,'" says Forrest. "The lighting was flat and the wall color was flat. Visually, the combination created a long, narrow hall that had all the appeal of a bowling alley."
The first thing Forrest did was redesign the existing ceiling fixtures, which had a cut-crystal bowl with brass fittings that fit over a fluorescent bulb—hence the flat lighting. (In between the doors to each guest room were wall sconces with incandescent bulbs, but these did not generate enough light to overcome the effect of the fluorescent ceiling fixtures.) A new faux-alabaster bowl replaced the cut crystal to create a golden cast. In addition, a down light component with a quartz lamp was placed in the middle of the fixture to shine a spotlight on the floor. Existing wall sconces remained in place. Thus, a more rhythmic lighting effect was generated all the way down the corridor.
A golden color of wall covering further enhanced the new lighting and complemented the carpet colors of gold, green and blue. As in the guest rooms, crown molding was added in the corridors and in the ceiling coffers. The coffers, which were placed where guest room doors are grouped together, create high and low spots on the ceiling. At this same juncture, an Oriental area rug design was woven into the carpet to create a sense of arrival as guests approach their rooms.
FOCUS ON SOFT GOODS
Forrest and her colleagues also renovated two of the Willard Inter-Continental's restaurants: the Willard Room and Café 1401. In the Willard Room, which is a popular restaurant for power lunches in Washington, the renovation focused on selecting soft goods to contrast and highlight the room's magnificent carved oak walls. Before renovation, the window treatments, upholstery and carpeting were mostly red, causing the walls to blend rather than stand out. In order to shift the emphasis to the millwork, shades of golden yellow were selected to dominate the soft goods.
For the carpet in the Willard Room, Forrest researched historical patterns and found a Savonnerie rug in Versailles. She adapted the pattern of this rug to reflect the carvings of fruit garlands above the windows in the Willard Room. Hence, garlands of fruit and flowers in shades of blue, yellow and gold are scattered across a field color of fresh green.
The blues, yellows and gold of the carpet are repeated on the new brocade fabric covering the room's original dining chairs. Forrest's sister, Diane Lloyd Kliebenstein, designed the elegant draperies. A fine damask fabric was selected for the window coverings and swag valances. A red and gold bullion fringe accentuates the swag, while the leading edge of the draperies are highlighted with a silk brocade flat-edge trim that was salvaged from the previous window treatments. Underneath the damask draperies are woven lace sheers meant to cloak the view of a neighboring loading dock. Beautiful window etchings at dining height also help conceal the view.
Other architectural details that the new soft goods enhance include the Willard Room's ceiling and marbleized columns. The ceiling, although original, was restored in the mid-1980s. It is made of plaster, including the beams that were fashioned to match the millwork on the walls. Molding on the ceiling was accented with a bronze colored paint. The columns were marbleized during the hotel's turn-of-the-century construction and were likewise restored in the '80s. The base of each column is genuine marble.
Forrest is uncertain whether the restaurant's ceiling light fixtures are original or were added during one of the hotel's restorations. Nevertheless, they remain along with beautiful girandoles that were part of the renovation during the 1980s. These, along with room dividers made of wood and etched glass and a baby grand piano, make for a genteel dining experience even if the topic of conversation is politics.
ForrestPerkins LLC is currently renovating the Willard Inter-Continental's ballrooms and Peacock Alley, the pedestrian walkway that connects the hotel's entrances.
Dallas, TX 75201
Deborah Lloyd Forrest, FASID, principal
Stephen Perkins, AIA, principal
Cliff Tuttle, ASID, senior designer
Michelle Meredith, ASID, senior designer
Melissa Dosier, ASID, designer
Mendy Huddleston, designer
Huy Hong, designer
Bethesda, MD Guest Rooms
Benjamin Moore Co.
Metro Contract, U.S. Vinyl
Dauphine, Harrison & Gill
Lounge chair/ottoman fabrics
Valley Forge Fabrics, Brunschwig & Fils
Valley Forge Fabrics
Valley Forge Fabrics
Sofa pillow fabric
Occasional chair fabric
Valley Forge Fabrics
Hancock & Moore, Delta
Desk chair, leather
Desk chair, fabric
Valley Forge Fabrics
P. Kaufmann, Valley Forge Fabrics
Sheer drapery fabric
Kobe Fabrics, P. Kaufmann
Bed skirt fabric
Valley Forge Fabrics, F. Schumacher
Bed bolster and pillow fabric
Valley Forge Fabrics
Bed pillow trim
Scalamandre Willard Room
Bullion trim and key tassel at valance