Deluxe Paint Job

Armed with a Newtonian color wheel, the architects at Stamberg Aferiat infuse a midcentury hotel with a burst of visual energy.

Faced with the challenge of refreshing a hotel built in the early 1970s in Scottsdale, Arizona, Andrew Zobler, the founder and CEO of the Sydell Group, went to the architects Peter Stamberg and Paul Aferiat and asked them to turn the property into “the most welcoming of places in the entire city.” In its previous incarnation as the Mondrian Scottsdale, the 194-room hotel had been painted entirely white. It’s situated at the center of the city’s downtown adjacent to the retro, seventies-era Civic Center Mall and Old Town’s central shopping and arts district. “Scottsdale had written into its building code that everything had to be natural and about the desert, so colors had to be beige and sand colored,” Stamberg says. “The planning commission is so strict that when you change your socks, you basically have to call them.”

The solution? The New York–based Stamberg Aferiat Architecture realized that the desert was full of inspiration, and with the help of the landscape architect Chris Winters, it identified a dozen indigenous wildflowers, which it presented to the planning department as the basis for color choices. It was this homage to the landscape of the Southwest that blended the original building’s modernist architecture with vibrant yellow, orange, and pink tones.

The architects then took out their secret weapon—the Newtonian color wheel, a system of hues outlined by Sir Isaac Newton where red, green, and blue are deemed primary colors and their complementary hues (cyan, magenta, and yellow) are placed across from them on a circle. Armed with a floor plan of the hotel, the designers set out to apply color. “The outside balconies have two walls, so the west-facing walls had the colors of the spectrum wheel going in one direction, and the east-facing walls had the colors of the spectrum going in the other direction,” Stamberg says. “The result is that the balcony color came into the room complete on one wall, and it’s balanced by another color to be used on the cabinetwork of every room. Every room is different.”

Fortunately, the team met Kim Chalfin, their “guardian angel” at the planning department, who understood that the proposal was in harmony with the natural environment. And after Stamberg Aferiat showed the planning department a full-size mock-up of one third of the courtyard, the project was quickly approved. The architects continued their strategy of using color accents, paying careful attention to interior details such as custom textiles and well-coordinated sheets and blankets. The hotel has been renamed the Saguaro, after the iconic cactus of the Sonoran desert, and the Sydell Group now plans a chain of hotels that use the colors of the Southwest as inspiration. Stamberg and Aferiat have just completed their second renovation for the company, a redo of a former Holiday Inn in Palm Springs, California.

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