Best Foot Forward The Spectator
at first, was a bit flashier than was considered gentlemanly; however, it was eventually popularized by the Duke of Windsor, and soon began showing up in Fred Astaire movies, summer house parties in the Hamptons, and Kennedy family vacation photos. For years, the Spectator shoe was the epitome of casual, luxurious style. Think Gatsby-style garden parties, art deco glam, and the Golden Age of Hollywood.
It is precisely this brand of glamour which inspired Charleston’s new Spectator Hotel, which boasts a prominent location at the corner of State and Linguard Streets in the French Quarter, a block from the City Market. The swanky boutique hotel opened in July of 2015 and, in short order, earned a spot on Garden and Gun’s The South’s Most Stylish Hotels list, and was named one of the 10 Best Luxury Hotels by USA Today. Just shy of the hotel’s first anniversary, The Spectator was named #1 Hotel in the Continental U.S. by Travel + Leisure, and #2 Hotel in the World. One might say that the Spectator, in its inaugural year, is an unqualified success. This is no accident. The Spectator’s owners, Jay Keenan and Batson Hewitt, began the project with the goal of creating the best hotel in Charleston, and the LS3P design team led by Stephen Ramos exceeded all expectations. Every detail, from the graceful and timeless exterior to the shimmering gold chandelier in the lobby, is carefully crafted to help create an extraordinary guest experience. (Impeccable service, world-class cocktails, and personal butlers also play a part in an unforgettably charming visit.)
so the Spectator’s exterior needed to provide an enticing entrance while also integrating with the historically significant architecture of Charleston’s French Quarter. The corner site offered an opportunity to establish a grand presence while maintaining a pedestrian scale and engaging the street. The two-story entry volume grows to four stories at the interior of the site, and subtle variations in the planes of the façade create dimension, depth, and an interplay of light and shadow. The brick façade utilizes two colors of brick, cast stone, and zinc paneling, and all with careful detailing which creates subtle scale and texture. The wrought iron railings nod to both the French Quarter’s historic aesthetic and the intricate detailing on the Spectator shoe. At the prominent corner, balconies carved out of the corner suites provide a sense of lightness and transparency that are reminiscent of Charleston’s famous side porch while also framing views of St. Philips Church.
Walking through the grand entrance underneath the black metal Spectator canopy into the lobby is a truly memorable experience. In designing the space, Ramos studied architectural precedents to identify the factors that transform a hotel lobby from merely functional to monumental: comfort, amazement, authenticity, opulence, and activity. Blending these elements successfully requires a good bit of intuition as well as technical proficiency and a clear sense of identity, and the design team labored over every aspect of the space to make it outstanding.
High ceilings, a marble fountain, elegant lighting, and custom millwork all frame the minimal check-in desk which welcomes visitors with unassuming Southern hospitality. The lobby flows into a cozy but upscale library and lounge, with a variety of seating areas which encourage guests to linger over crafted cocktails. The intricately detailed dark wood of the back-of-bar space contrasts with the white marble bar top. The coffered ceiling, inset with antique mirrors, draws the eye upward and animates the space, and a white peacock (named after Gatsby’s love Daisy Buchanan) perched on the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves anchors the corner with elegance and a touch of levity. Dark wood, sculptural metal light fixtures, and a rich color palette of deep blues with gold and white accents all echo the grandeur of eras past.
Though it may be difficult for guests to stray far from the hotel’s enticing public spaces, the appeal of the 41 luxurious guest rooms will make it worth the effort. Ten different furniture settings ensure that rooms are tailored to the needs of each guest. Suites have stunning framed city views, and the spacious bathrooms come with white Carrera marble, double vanities, make-up mirrors, and even electric towel warmers. Even the hallways, which are accented with mirrors, art-filled niches, white wainscoting, and deco sconces, feel like special spaces.
In addition to meeting the extremely high standards of the client, the design teamed faced a number of challenges which come with building in Charleston’s historic French Quarter. The region is called the Lowcountry for good reason; this area in particular is prone to flooding and required particular attention to dealing with this reality. The main floor is 18” above existing grade to minimize issues. The elevation required steps from the entry down to street level, and the addition of a ramp for accessibility, and a ramp with a gentle 1:20 slope avoids the need for handrails. The ground floor structure is concrete, and is designed to withstand up to 7’ of flood water.
The high level of detail in the design also required close coordination with the contractor. Elements such as the coffered lounge ceiling, custom millwork, and polished brass finishes were all installed with great care and precision, and the craftsmanship shows in every detail of the end result.
Charleston has long been known for its Southern hospitality, and offers no shortage of hotels to support the city’s thriving tourist industry. In such a saturated market, it can be very difficult for any particular hotel to distinguish itself. In re-imagining Charleston’s traditional palette of materials and architectural elements in a unique and timeless way, however, the Spectator quickly created an incredible sense of place. Distinguished by its character, identity, and charm, the Spectator has already rocketed to international must-visit status in its opening year. Its world-class reputation firmly established, the Spectator can now look forward to charming guests for generations to come.
INTERIOR DESIGN BY JENNY KEENAN DESIGN. ALL PHOTOS COURTESY OF THE SPECTATOR HOTEL AND STEPHEN RAMOS.