December 1, 2009
Crosby: Good Neighbor
A new hotel in SoHo exudes a homey British feel while paying proper deference to the often contentious surrounding community.
When the Crosby Street Hotel finally opened its doors in October, even SoHo natives could be excused for walking past without quite noticing. The first Stateside offering from the British husband-and-wife team Tim and Kit Kemp, co-owners of London’s Firmdale Hotels, the 11-story building clocks in at a robust 85,000 square feet, but its placement—the facade sits back a respectful 27 feet from the curb—emanates a polite restraint not usually associated with large brick-and-glass structures.
“The whole point of this project was to create a village feeling,” says Kit, and by that she means everything from how the building relates to its environment to the uniquely homey yet lively interiors, which she designed herself (along with those of Firmdale’s six other luxury boutique hotels, all in London). Of course, “Producing something that ‘fits in’ can be dangerous,” says Paul Taylor, of the New York–based Stonehill & Taylor Architects, who started drawing up plans in 2006. “You wonder, Where is the personal statement? But in this case, the personal statement is to be a good neighbor and may-be even to make the neighborhood better than it was before.”
Being a good neighbor is a particularly tricky feat in SoHo. The Crosby Street Hotel falls just outside the historic district and its myriad regulations—the boundary runs right down the center of Crosby Street itself—but there were still plenty of commercial-zoning issues to navigate, not to mention the impressively organized fury that is the SoHo Alliance, a local community group. In this respect, the Kemps were particularly fortunate to have fallen in with Taylor. He has run his own firm out of an office just down the block since 1986, and he has a great appreciation for the area, as well as ample neighborhood contacts.
As a result, rather than merely paying lip service to the community’s needs, the Crosby team actually took them into account. When the SoHo Alliance expressed concern that two planned outdoor spaces would keep residents up at night with raucous parties, the Kemps offered to refashion an interior courtyard as a sculpture garden available only to guests, and open only until 11 p.m., and to turn a rooftop terrace into a mini wildflower meadow. They also added another outdoor courtyard and a rooftop vegetable patch for the kitchen. Now what had been a decrepit lot full of rusting parking towers is an urban paradise seeking LEED Gold certification. In its fall newsletter, the SoHo Alliance concluded a dispatch outlining the unreasonable demands of developers with a flattering reference to the hotel, calling the Kemps “a reasonable developer who will listen to the community’s concerns,” and with whom the organization was “pleased to work.”
The design process adhered to a similarly cooperative ethos, with architect and decorator engaged in an ongoing conversation about what best suited the needs of the hotel. Together, they dreamed up a constellation of interlocking areas ranging from cozy to buoyant. These are spaces with a mature sense of fun, meant to delight and soothe. “If you’re traveling and you get homesick, or feel a bit lonely or down, you want an atmosphere that makes you feel happier,” Kit says. “Often color and texture can do that.”
This simple thread—an abiding faith in the importance of context—pervades the Crosby Street Hotel, from the building’s environmental sensitivity right on down to the vase of fresh flowers in each suite. “So many new hotels adhere to a formula that the excitement of travel is lost,” Kit says. “We are trying to bring back individuality.”