A Design Aesthetic Worth Illuminating

by | May 28, 2021 | News

Photo Credit: Designed by Denniston and courtesy of Aman

Spring is always celebrated as a sign of new beginnings, and when it comes to hospitality in New York City, this season is poised to welcome an impressive slate of openings. Among the most exciting additions heading to town is Aman New York, located in Manhattan’s iconic Crown Building (which this year celebrates its 100th anniversary) at the crossroads of Fifth Avenue and 57th Street. Overlooking Central Park, Aman New York features a hotel and exclusive branded residences—the first urban Aman Residences worldwide—that will offer its signature exceptional service, worldclass dining, entertainment venues, and the comprehensive three-story Aman Spa, the home to the brand’s new flagship Wellness Center in the western hemisphere. We connected with David Schoonbroodt, Senior Interior Designer at Denniston and the Design Leader for Aman New York, and Nathan Thompson, Principal of The Flaming Beacon—who worked with Denniston on the lighting design—for insights on their process and how the Crown Building’s striking architecture is being restored and infused with the spirit of Aman.

“The combination of Aman’s Asian DNA in a western setting like the Crown Building was an interesting challenge for us. Being in New York City, you enter an Aman world, so the spaces are designed and laid out in an Asian fashion, yet we have used western materials,” explains Schoonbroodt. “In these western materials, we implemented touches of gold in the details as a reference to the carved gold window mullions. The elegance and graciousness of space of the early century architecture is represented in the great volumes that we have been able to achieve on the main level with a double-height ceiling lobby lounge typically like palaces of the same period.”

When it came to the role of lighting within the design approach, it played a critical part for Schoonbroodt and his team. “Lighting is crucial for a successful interior design! We always involve the lighting designer in a very early stage of our design process,” he says. “We consider lighting as part of the interior design composition—not an addition. Therefore, it is quite common that we adjust our interior details in order to make sure that the lighting effect will be successful and blends in perfectly with the interior as a whole.”

For Thompson and his team, a working relationship with Denniston for more than 25 years has played a critical role in their ongoing collaborations—including Aman New York. “We get involved with them sometimes during the concept stage, more usually after they’ve got their conceptual stuff sorted. In the preliminary design stage, we sit around, brainstorm, and try to catch them at a time in the process where they know what they’re doing,” he explains, “but they haven’t resolved it. That way the lighting can influence and not just answer their needs, but also contribute to the overall solution finding.”

As far as inspiration, for Schoonbroodt, lighting choices are related to the stories they want to tell in the spaces he and his team design. “Our source of inspiration is most of the time related to the context or the environment of our projects,” he says. “For example, the lighting approach on a snowy mountain, in a city, or on a beach would be treated totally differently.” For Thompson, inspiration comes from trying to get things right. “It’s a kind of an old-fashioned approach to design that says we are in the process in order to find clever, creative answers to design problems,” he says. “It’s not to make a fashionable statement or to try to hype something necessarily—unless hyping is a part of the design brief, which sometimes it can be.” In the case of Aman New York there was a circle of life motif that kept going through the project, Thompson adds, as an abstract idea that sometimes manifests into a physical thing like the circular elements in the spa pool.

Designed by Denniston and courtesy of Aman

It is quite common that we adjust our interior details in order to make sure that the lighting effect will be successful and blends in perfectly with the interior as a whole.

― David Schoonbroodt

Throughout Aman New York, there are some stunning custom fixtures that make up the surroundings including the spa pool, the building’s entrance, and residence bedrooms—all of which are custom made. “As designers, we design. It is very rare that we source anything, particularly in terms of lighting, so each fixture is custom-designed to fit in—in terms of size, material, and performance as we envision them,” notes Schoonbroodt. “During the development of a lighting fixture, we tend to focus more on its performance to achieve the lighting atmosphere within the context more than the outlook of it. Of course, this is the hard route since it requires a lot of coordination, research, and development to achieve the effect wanted.” Thompson is of a similar mindset to Schoonbroodt and says that his team doesn’t like to take the furniture plan and just work out how to build lights. “We like to try to find a way that the lighting appears to be an extension of what the furniture is doing,” he says. “Often that means that the furniture gets rearranged in order to find a holistic arrangement where the interior and light planning can come together.” In the guestrooms, the pivoting screens that separate the bedroom from the bathroom became a primary element by their lighting—not just by being a dividing screen, adds Thompson. “They become an organizational element in the room that can have different daytime and evening looks.” This was the first time he and his team ever did this, and it exemplifies what he means by not knowing if the screens are an interior or lighting element. Overall, from the design sketches, they appear to succeed in being both.

As for the choice of fixtures, Thompson revealed that they fall into a couple of different categories. “Our interest is making a brightness arrangement, so we want to arrange it in a way that makes the right ambiance—and the right ambiance is the one that is going to satisfy the particular clientele,” he notes. “The question about light fixture types becomes quite secondary. We end up with a bunch of technical lights that need to do what they need to do, and we have to find a way to integrate them so that they are not too present. Then there are decorative lights, which are really just an extension of the interior scheme.” He noted.

Courtesy of Flaming Beacon

In light of COVID-19 and life in our “new normal,” Schoonbroodt also revealed some trends he’s been seeing in the hospitality design space right now. “Hotels and resorts are no longer just great hotels with facilities. Particularly in cities, more and more hybrid hotels are popping up. You find urban resorts offering all the facilities, yet in a much more layback setup and atmosphere—in opposition to corporate classic hotels,” he says. “The new lifestyle drives operators to rethink their products according to the evolution of their guests. The young generation does travel and live very differently than their parents. The best is still required but in an informal setting.” Meanwhile, Thompson has taken notice that making moments—photographable ones to be precise—is now more prevalent than ever. “We’ve moved into a situation where our record of life seems to be through a collection of Instagrammable events, so maybe that’s a contemporary phenomenon influencing lighting design,” he concludes. “What’s good at the moment is that the not-so-new technology of digital lighting is becoming really good. We can make things that a few years ago would not have been possible with solid-state lighting. It’s good for the planet. It’s good to find there is a possibility to not have to make a choice between whether something looks good or whether it’s energy-efficient. It’s now possible that the two can coexist better.”

This article was originally featured in the April issue of designing lighting (dl)