When the Royalton Hotel renovation was unveiled in New York in the fall of 2007, it marked the end of an era. It was also a public marker of the beginnings of another, one that had been simmering. Gone were Philippe Starck's playful-philosophical chairs. Gone were the round shapes and cartoonish forms, relics of a design time that thrived on words like “blobby,” “organic,” and “computer.” Gone were the jokes, the puns, the inside references.
There, now, was a hand-forged fireplace grate, a wrapped metal screen, fur. There, at this Manhattan media hotspot, were spun rope nets, polished wood banquettes, deep heavy colors. The architects of the renovation, Roman and Williams, had so thoroughly removed Starck, had so completely stamped their own gritty and dark nostalgia onto the place, that critics didn't know what to do. Some mourned the loss of an icon. Others complained about the materials. Mostly, they didn't know what to say.
As it turns out, we weren't losing an icon. We were being offered a new one. While the Royalton's designers, Roman and Williams, were working, other establishments with a similar sensibility were cropping up as well. Allen & Delancey, for example, a brick-walled, book-lined, velvet-curtained restaurant, opened on New York's Lower East Side and served dishes like marrow bones, boiled beef, and scallops with cream. In Paris, a seventeenth-century building was transformed with slick all-black walls, and in San Francisco, a former speakeasy reintroduced the use of the password for entry.
The projects that follow show that we have become nostalgic for a time that never existed. They demonstrate, through this re-creation of history's deep colors, polished woods, velvets, furs, leather, and burnished metals, that we would rather live by creating our present through an imagination of our past. We love these dark materials for their ability to evoke emotions and moods, for their warmth and acceptance of the somber sides of life. We are re-creating our own history and embracing the darkness that comes with it.