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Overnight Sensation

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By Jura Koncius
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 8, 2000; Page H01

You are where you sleep.

With this concept, Ian Schrager, former proprietor of New York's legendary Studio 54 disco, has been filling hip hotel rooms from L.A. to London with the young and the restless. Design makes Schrager's hotels rock, turning mere hotel bedrooms and lobbies into style icons and celebrity hangouts.

Schrager revolutionized the boutique hotel business over the past 16 years, opening seven properties that have become some of the defining visual spaces of our time. He will be in Washington tonight at the Corcoran Gallery of Art to talk about designing hotels that rise beyond providing a night's rest to creating a theatrical experience.

Schrager's talent is staying ahead of the trends. His ideas draw attention for their sheer wit and indulgence: wading pools filled with outdoor furniture; green apples placed on a pedestals in guest rooms daily; mini-bars stocked with Dean & DeLuca Gummi Bears; sushi served on minimalist Calvin Klein stoneware.

He and designer Philippe Starck influenced bedrooms everywhere when they brought crisp white linen slipcovers and all-white beds to the Delano in Miami's South Beach and topped beds at New York's Paramount with giant Vermeer silkscreens in gold frames.

The Sanderson, just opened in London, is loaded with attitude and fantasy: silver-leafed 19th-century sleigh beds, flickering screens showing video artists, stainless steel tables.

For information on Schrager's Corcoran lecture tonight, call 202-639-1770. At press time, tickets ($16) for the 7:30 event were still available. We chatted with Schrager about his projects and about why Washington is so low on edgy hotels. And by the way: Where is he staying tonight? Turns out he's just flying in for the gig.

Your New York hotel Morgans, which opened in 1984, was your first venture into the world of trendy hotel design. What's changed in that time?

Morgans was like a flower appearing in the desert. Now there are a lot of things out there, and I don't have that market all to myself. So I have to keep going further and further so people will take notice of what we are doing. What Morgans started is this demand not to accept the generic accommodation experience. A hotel is more than just a place to sleep. People used to say, "You are what you wear." Now you are where you sleep. People go to a hotel because it says something about the kind of person you are and the kind of lifestyle you lead.

What's exciting about the Sanderson?

At the Sanderson, it's a completely new and different aesthetic, a balancing act between baroque and quirky. The bedrooms have no interior walls; the bathroom is enclosed in glass that gives a translucency. It has the most expensive linens we have ever used--400-thread-count Egyptian cotton. The Sanderson is much more extravagant and has more excess--but not the excess of the 1980s, individual excess. The rooms look much older and much richer. Well, because I'm older and richer.

What about that mail-order catalogue of hip hotel stuff you promised and your Web site?

I keep getting delayed. Everyone has taken our ideas, from Crate & Barrel on. Even Ethan Allen is coming up with things that are more on the edge and more visual. My Web site? I'm so embarrassed that I don't have a Web site. People say to me, "You are the avant-garde hotel company, and I can't find your Web site." You know why? I'm not a very good delegator. I want to reinvent the idea of a Web site because I would want it to be an entertainment experience to visit our site.

What are some of the things you're planning for future hotel rooms?

One thing that interests me is technological advances we can make. I don't want to just do technology for technology's sake, like loading up the room with modems and other mindless things. But I want to think about how we can take the existing technology and turn it into something that can lift the spirit and enhance the stay.

So what about doing a hotel here?

I've always wanted to do a hotel in D.C. I'm always careful about the selection of my next site. I follow my customers, and there's a real circuit they are on. I have two cities prominent on my list for expansion--Boston and Washington, D.C. Both of them have an inordinate number of young people who want something fresh and original.

© 2000 The Washington Post Company

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