She was extremely surprised at seeing a door, over which was written, ‘Beauty’s Apartment’. She opened it hastily, and was quite dazzled with the magnificence that reigned throughout; but what chiefly took up her attention, was a large library… she took a book, and read these words, in letters of gold:
"Welcome Beauty, banish fear,
You are queen and mistress here.
Speak your wishes, speak your will,
Swift obedience meets them still.”
This ‘tale as old as time’, written by Jeanne-Marie LePrince de Beaumont and immortalised in Jean Cocteau’s 1946 film Beauty and the Beast, was the inspiration for the latest instalment of fairy-tale designs at the Mondrian SoHo, which is part of a hip boutique hotel chain that first opened its doors in West Hollywood in 1996. The man in charge of bringing this story to life was quirky New York interior designer Benjamin Noriega-Ortiz.
“We were looking for a fairy tale that would work in New York City. The city is always portrayed as a beast. It’s hard to make it here, it’s dirty and ugly, and people are rude. But New York works on you until you fall in love with it and, all of a sudden, the city is gorgeous! That’s exactly what happened in Beauty and the Beast,” Benjamin explains. The Beauty’s journey, far away from her home, begins as guests step off the hip SoHo streets into a dramatic arched tunnel, where sinuous vines lure guests into an enchanted palace. At the end of this portal to another world is an all-white lobby with hints of dramatic French blue (Beauty’s favourite colour). One wall in this space is a blue mirror, which Benjamin explains, “Is very flattering because it doesn’t show your wrinkles, so it introduces you to this beautiful parallel universe.”
Isola Trattoria, the hotel’s Mediterranean restaurant, is located off the lobby and offers guests a glimpse into the Beast’s enchanted garden. This room is Benjamin’s interpretation of Cocteau’s glass garden gazebo where the Beast kept his prized jewels. The focal point of this dramatic space is a sculpture by Beth Lipman, where oversized glass goblets and tableware symbolise the banquet that the Beast laid out for Beauty every night in the hope that she would fall in love with him and break the curse, turning him back into the handsome prince he once was.
Up in the guest rooms, Benjamin offers a look into the princely life of the Beast. All corridors are drenched in royal blue and rooms, although small, are made to feel palatial with their decor and sweeping views of the big, bad city – Benjamin’s beast. “In your room, you are royalty: you are the beast and that’s why there is the royal blue carpet. The room’s main decoration is New York City, with amazing 10-foot floor-to-ceiling windows,” he explains. Furniture is kept to a minimum, and is all white with polished stainless-steel details. The glamour-enhancing blue mirrors reappear here, often reflecting the city views. Rich, white marble bathrooms enhance the princely appeal.
For Mr H, the hotel’s hip bar and lounge, Benjamin was asked to present something completely different from the hotel’s overriding theme. Given the property’s location on the edge of Chinatown, he decided to create a dramatic red lair. “The idea was that a group of guys got together and decided to open a bar,” Benjamin says. “It was opened in the year of the rabbit, so there were a lot of rabbit references.” A series of Chinese characters is painted on a wall behind a burlap drape, while a curio of strange objects behind the bar, a montage of frames and a flickering neon sign on one wall add to the slightly seedy, speakeasy feel of Mr H.
The Mondrian SoHo injects a dose of Hollywood glamour into its quiet, residential Crosby Street neighbourhood. But Benjamin has succeeded in making sure that it doesn’t interrupt the tranquil vibe of its environs. Enchanted by the tale of Beauty and the Beast, the drama he creates is understated, unlike many overly trendy New York hotels. This is at once a relaxed urban retreat and a place to see and be seen.