Public Spaces, Private Lives

Miami Beach's Art Deco hotel lobbies are really social laboratories

The Delano's haute contemporary design stands at the opposite extreme from the National's idea of a restored interior plan -- and it's equally legitimate (though not in the eyes of the Miami Design Preservation League, which has withheld its approbation). The main character here is the furniture, which makes you feel as if you're inside a museum, an impressive accomplishment, though it also lends a sense of remove. I felt a little edgy sitting on the Eames's spectacular "La Chaise," perhaps because of the way it was framed -- all by itself. (Why not place a complementary stool next to some of these important pieces?)

What the Delano does with furniture the Sagamore does with art. The motif here (1671 Collins Ave.) is white all over, but in general there's more attention to detail. Architect Albert Anis's 1948 design has undergone a renovation that is minimalist and clean, spacious and restful. Most accessories are white (upholstery, floor, walls), as is a huge Rasheed-like circular leather sofa on a white rug, under a grayish globe lamp next to huge floral photos by Austrian artist Tina Dietz.

Among the nice touches are end tables with metal trays (filled with oranges) and votive candle arrangements suggesting an environment of contemplative luminosity. The "mushroom" installation above the front desk by artist Roxy Paine is simply adorable and shows how viable and flexible fine contemporary art can be.

The Sagamore's renovation is minimalist and clean, spacious and restful
Jonathan Postal
The Sagamore's renovation is minimalist and clean, spacious and restful
The National: This is "historic" renovation, being as faithful as possible to the building's original splendor
Jonathan Postal
The National: This is "historic" renovation, being as faithful as possible to the building's original splendor

In addition to internationally known artists, the Sagamore displays work from important Miami artists. Stop by Mark Koven's 3-D "moving" photos, Jorge Pantoja's drawings inside a glass-and-wood shelf, and Rafael Salazar's photo collages in the lounge room.

The Sagamore's lobby exudes a relaxed sophistication, though at the time of my visit, the lobby's white rug showed signs of a late-night feeding frenzy. In 2003 the hotel was voted among the "Top Twenty Hottest Beach Resorts in the World" by Condé Nast Traveler.

Within easy walking distance is the Shore Club (1901 Collins Ave.), one of South Beach's latest à la mode destinations. The new design by David Chipperfield, among Britain's best-known minimalist architects, actually combines two hotels -- the 1949 Shore Club (whose columns still adorn the lobby) and the 1939 Sharalton.

The interior is spacious yet intimate, and highlights big and comfortable generic sofas covered with cream-colored fabric. The columns, dressed top to bottom in transparent curtains, proffer a diaphanous sense of meditation, heightened by lanterns over the greenish, lustrous floor. The idea is to make you feel as if the lobby (and you) are floating.

Beyond the front desk's glassy purple station you can see the patio and its blue columns. The contrast with the green-and-white interior works well. The "siren" motif mural, painted in dark gray against the light-beige wall, is also very appropriate. As a bonus, don't forget to visit (in the back of the hotel) star chef Nobu Matsuhisa's eponymously named restaurant, considered among the best sushi establishments in the nation.

The Shore Club's ingenious idea to use middle-of-the-road furniture in a cool interior is clever, though for my taste it's a bit tame. How about a pair of huge male/female Polynesian or African sculptures (which would be Deco-friendly) to break up the blandness? This interior is a reminder that nice design doesn't have to be too expensive, which brings me to another hotel, one that doesn't quite get it -- Murray Dixon's 1936 Tides (1220 Ocean Dr.).

An imposing building for the Ocean Drive hotel strip, the Tides presents a nice pink geometric entrance. Its interior, furnished in light beige, goes well with the fair-colored terrazzo floor and its geometric patterns. Though comfy, the canvas-covered furniture arrangement here seems too informal, almost lacking. I also have a problem with those tacky canvases in the rear, filled with crayon-handwritten quotations from that enfant terrible of the language, Oscar Wilde. My advice: If you love Wilde so much, color-Xerox an old edition's page, enlarge it, and frame it nicely. Aesthetic connoisseur that he was, Wilde would approve. (The hotel will soon be converted to condominiums, giving the new owners a chance to make changes.)

My final stop was L. Murray Dixon's Raleigh (1775 Collins Ave.). Built in 1940, the hotel was featured on the cover of Life magazine; its award-winning swimming pool was Esther Williams's favorite. The Raleigh was one of the first remodeled hotels on the Beach, and under new proprietor André Balazs (who also owns the luxe Chateau Marmont and Standard hotels in Los Angeles and the Mercer in SoHo), it has been redesigned in a way that retains its intimate, tropical Art Deco aura.

You'll enjoy the cozy little coffee café with its original metalwork; the intimate Bauhaus bar; its informal, island-inspired, fiber-woven furnishings; the large ceramic planters topped with svelte ferns; and above all its massive pink-coral front desk. To the rear of the lobby and elevated a couple of steps is a darker but soothing lounge area with period pieces upholstered in green, the walls filled with celebrity guest photos.

In keeping with the cinema's affection for sleek hotel lobbies, the Raleigh's mood took me to a moment inside a lesser-known 1948 film noir in which I found myself watching Yvonne De Carlo, who sat across the lobby looking grand in her sultry taffeta dress. She returned my gaze and playfully smiled. Just as I'm about to make my move, a sweaty, creepy little Peter Lorre got in my way, whispered something in her ear, and together they ran off. I hated him for that, though in the end he would catch the bad guy.

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