May 28, 2021
In Omaha, Nebraska, The Cottonwood Hotel Roars Back to Life
A renovation brings back the historic building’s Jazz Age charm with distinctly contemporary touches.
The Kimpton Cottonwood Hotel, in Omaha, Nebraska, has an almost cinematic quality. It greets visitors not with the large, open lobby we’ve come to expect in modern hospitality, but with a series of smaller rooms, each one leading into the next, like scenes in a film.
This, of course, is no accident. Midnight in Paris, a 2011 film by Woody Allen, was a main source of inspiration for the recent renovation of the Blackstone Hotel, as the property was known when it first opened in 1916. In the film, an aspiring novelist vacationing in Paris tours the city alone by day, but every night he’s mysteriously taken back in time to the 1920s, where he experiences the exuberance of the interwar years with iconic cultural figures like Ernest Hemingway and Pablo Picasso. Like the film’s protagonist, the design team charged with the renovation was enchanted by the past they discovered in more than 300 archival images of the space.
They painted such a vivid picture of not only the interiors, but also the life of the hotel,” says Staci Patton, who leads interior design for DLR Group’s hospitality studio, which led interior design and experience programming. On this project DLR Group partnered with Leo A Daly, which served as lead design and preservation architect, as well as lead MEP engineer
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As it turns out, the hotel had quite the life. In addition to events and a lot of high-spirited socializing, the hotel regularly saw celebrities and politicians among its guests. Given its storied past, the renovation’s sharp focus on public spaces is not surprising. Patton describes guest rooms that are “edited and beautiful,” and baths luxuriously appointed, even though the originals were rather basic. Yet both in tone and concept, private spaces are light and airy, in contrast to moodier, more nostalgic social spaces like the Cottonwood Room, a speakeasy-style bar recreated in the basement, or the Orleans Room, a space dominated by ochre tones and dark woodwork and, incidentally, the alleged birthplace of the Reuben sandwich.
The design preserves some of what Patton calls the “dripping, frothy” qualities of the original hotel, even though many of them had to be recreated after a 1980s renovation destroyed much of the original character. Rich ornamentation is paired with modern furniture and contemporary local art, which both reflect the Kimpton brand of hospitality and, just as important, ground the renovation honestly in the present.
To provide space for additional guest and meeting rooms, Leo A Daly designed a new annex linked to the back of the historic tower through a connector solarium. According to the firm’s director of design, Ryan Martin, the new structure was modeled after some of the stately single-family homes of the surrounding neighborhood. The annex and solarium overlook the new pool deck, a luxurious cabana environment, and the front lawns that may be used to extend event spaces.
The elevated service opportunities made possible by the addition—and, indeed, by the entire renovation—are the product of looking for ways not to recreate the past, but rather to match its richness. Patton describes the approach as an attempt to “recreate a playground.”
“Let’s have five food and beverage outlets, a rooftop terrace, a pool club, the lawns…let’s bring it all back,” she says. The features and amenities are back, but cleverly modernized and reinterpreted. As Ryan puts it, there’s nothing kitschy, fake, or hyper-modern here—“We built on the story that was there, and we were able to infuse this extra chapter into it.”
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