contributed by Sheree Schold [ASID & IIDA student member / ID journalism dabbler / owner, Haberdash Designs]
February a year ago, P&C published my article (essential reading as a preface to this commentary) on renovation plans for the historic Greenbrier Resort. The Greenbrier is a U.S. National Historic Landmark and there was much hubbub regarding the upcoming changes from the general public, not to mention this magazine’s readers. Some said that the plans were too modern for the “Old White,” and some said its history would be erased with such changes, transforming it into “just another resort hotel.” February a month ago, I went back to the Greenbrier to see the changes for myself, and here’s what I found…
Before I say anything else I must tell you that regardless of whether it is historic, modern, or “just another resort hotel,” it is without a doubt first class, remaining true to its roots and persona. As it always has, the property combines southern elegance with worldly charm. The size and scale of the interior, as well as exterior spaces, are still huge. History permeates every nook, cranny and crevice.
Not even Dorothy Draper could wipe away the history of the Greenbrier with her late 1930’s renovation, although she did wipe away some of the antique colonial furnishings. Likewise, Carlton Varney could not delete the very essence of history with his modern take on Draper style.
The Greenbrier has always been a bit different than other resort hotels and still is. Guests can experience falconry, fly-fishing, and skeet shooting (to name but just a few quirky recreational pursuits). After tiring themselves out with personal training, swimming or off-road vehicle maneuvering, visitors can indulge themselves at a world-class spa, hit the lanes, or patron the movie theater without ever leaving the hotel.
The one thing you couldn’t do – until now – was enjoy a more modern restaurant experience comparable to any you may have had anywhere in the world. Don’t get me wrong, the Main Dining Room of the Greenbrier – with it’s fabulous Austrian crystal chandeliers, attentive wait staff, coat and tie requirements, silver finger bowls, and menu of haute cuisine – is up there in quality on a global scale. But is this really the type of fashionable restaurant we now search for when planning our travels”
I, for one, love the historic charm of the Greenbrier’s Main Dining Room, but another choice for a trendier, more modern, more chic, more “designer,” more global, more upscale experience certainly fills a void for a vacation in White Sulfur Springs, West Virginia! There are restaurants outside the Greenbrier gates – and some fabulous one, too – especially in the close historic town of Lewisburg. However, most pale in comparison to the Greenbrier’s new Hemisphere restaurant.
So (drum roll please), do you want to know what the renovated restaurant interiors at the Greenbrier are like” I’ll be happy to give you my opinion: They are wonderful.
The space is what we would expect to find in one of the world’s most fabulous destination resorts. It, along with the redesigned nightclub, brings a new dimension to the Greenbrier experience. It is not glitzy. It is not outrageous. And it is certainly not Las Vegas. (What I think of as “negative Vegas” is mostly all exteriors / gambling spaces / blinking lights, but Vegas can do anything imaginable in their interior spaces, and Dorothy Draper‘s Greenbrier style would fit right in.)
The Varney Team and of all the designers and contractors have done an amazing job of placing a restaurant meant for today’s styles and tastes into an historic atmosphere. As I stood in the newly renovated restaurant and looked out the large windows, I saw green grass, rolling hills, glimpses of gardens and façades of the “Old White.” I was amazed at how gracefully the new interior spaces complemented the exterior views.
Although modern and quite global in appeal, the Hemisphere design is a temporary intermediary for the rest of the place. It is like taking sterling, crystal, and fine china out into a large country meadow for an unforgettable meal. We would not say that the fine accoutrements of such a picnic would spoil the history and nature of the meadow. Such an experience would be whimsical and delightful in the same way that Hemisphere is to the Main Dining Room, which is located just down the long, marble-floored hall.
There is contrast, of course, but it is understated contrast – not a flamboyant or an “in your face difference.” Gaze at the long hall (1) leading to the Hemisphere. This hall, that sits immediately adjacent to the far end of the Greenbrier’s Main Dining room, was previously very dark and sort of dingy. You could hardly see from the steps to the far end. New marble steps are now installed and one of Dorothy’s more vibrant colors has been applied to the walls above the wainscot. Compare this long entry with what awaits you inside the Hemisphere (2).
The new space still feels huge, but the scale fits. The vibrancy of color continues, and the more modern elements are certainly present. A water feature is large and contemporary using steel and glass and stone. The designers have thoughtfully added a bit of Zen to help soften the transformation from Dorothy’s 1930 & 40’s extravagance to today’s world. The soft water sounds are relaxing, the mosaic tile floor intricate, and the wood columns stately.
Take a look at the main bar area of the hotel that has not been touched (3). Can you find some common ground” Compare the waiting area (4) of Hemisphere with the long hallway of the first photo. A more modern take on Draper style” Can you honestly look at this Draper Drum light and window trim in another part of the hotel (5) and then tell me Dorothy wouldn’t have loved this blown glass masterpiece (6) now in the Hemisphere”
Notice the curved backs of the built-in seating and the tufting (7). Examine the drum light and the whimsical play of more traditional fabrics with modern geometric. Look closely at some whimsical interpretations of traditional Greenbrier silver (8). Go further into the Hemisphere and experience a more modern open kitchen with Chef’s table (9) and private eating space that showcases the vast Greenbrier grounds.
As usual, pictures do not do the spaces justice. The kitchen is stunning and juxtaposed to the more serene window views from the Chef’s table, creating a balance of softness and modern edge. The private dining space with the large circles in the carpet is actually quiet when experienced in person. This tranquility is repeated and strengthened while viewing the exterior grounds from within the interior private space.
Then back up and retreat down the hall to the Main Dining Room (10). Different” Quite. Check out the Draper Rhododendron plates (13) and the more modern Asian influenced sample bowl sitting on it, served to me in the Main Dining Room (12). Do you think the entrée, on a more modern rectangular plate (14), would destroy the atmosphere and design of the Main Dining Room”
Now compare the restaurant that formerly resided in the new Hemisphere space (11). Notice the four columns – that were shown in a preceding photo of the renovated interior – with the curved and tufted built-in seating. The previous space was a bit drab, albeit interesting and somewhat whimsical. It was 1940’s cocktails and smoking with dimly lighted chandeliers and live music. True, it reveals history, but its paneling and atmosphere in today’s world is likened to an aged restaurant past its peak that we might find anywhere (and probably not in a world-class resort).
A keynote speaker at the recent ASID Interiors 08 Conference on Design said that we interior designers “create social architecture” and that we “have the power to influence what happens in a space.” He strongly stated that if we don’t think about the future of that space, we will fail. The new Hemisphere is both the present and the future. The social connections of the space are global and future-oriented while remaining part of a historical landmark. Although a traditionally significant attraction, the Greenbrier is still a vibrant, first-class resort hotel. It is not a museum.
Take a quick look at the new nightclub interior (15). It is truly a modern social watering hole, not the lackluster nightspot it previous was. The way I look at it is: If you can put a bowling alley (16) into a hotel and make it seem perfectly normal, then you can certainly include a nightclub comparable to any in the world.
Except to say they fit into the “Old White” just fine, I’ll leave the marketing of the newly renovated guest rooms to the hotel folks. They are extremely comfortable, have all the technical amenities you would want, and include a fabulous bathroom with soaking tub and separate glass shower. Heaven!
Peruse even more photos of Hemisphere and the nightclub on my private album. Then you tell me if you think the newly designed spaces are appropriate to the historic landmark, the thriving world-class destination resort, and the tastes of today’s consumers. Would you like to explore the vast grounds and savor a meal in the Hemisphere‘s social architecture” Enjoy an 1800’s recipe Mint Julep in the Main Bar and experience the formalities of the Main Dining Room” Go bowling and see a movie” Indulge in some relaxing spa treatments and experience high tea” Dance the night away in the energy-infused nightclub and waltz through some grand public spaces” And all in one place” All discussion of design aside, if you have an opportunity to experience this resort, GO!