Updated: Jan 16, 2020
Already heralded as one of the most anticipated hotel openings this year, and maybe even the decade, the new TWA Hotel is a remarkable salute to the golden era of air travel. Housed in the former TWA terminal at JFK airport in New York, the property pays tribute to the 1960's design aesthetic by staying true to that era, all thanks to some incredible design.
This month we are speaking with two individuals intimately involved in the creation of this fantastic project, to learn what it’s like celebrating that era, recreating an iconic mid century design aesthetic, and uncovering the unique challenges of meshing today’s standards with the look of yesteryear.
Interview with Sara Duffy, Senior Interiors Associate
How do you incorporate new technology into a vintage design? The whole concept was inspired by the year 1962, when the original TWA terminal made its debut, so there were numerous elements we focused on to bring technology to a vintage aesthetic. I think the most interesting thing is that every room has a 1950’s Western Electric 500 rotary phone retrofitted with modern technology. Of course, we also wanted to make sure it was easy to plug in electronics with outlets at the bed, desk, minibar and bathroom.
What were the pros and cons of using the original structure of the terminal? Our original scope was the guestrooms, which are housed in two new structures. The challenge we faced was making the guestroom design stand on its own, while still letting the Saarinen building be the real star. As designers, being associated with an Eero Saarinen building is awesome and overwhelming. We felt honored to be a part of this.
How did you turn an empty shell of a plane into the Connie cocktail lounge? How did you find the seating? We were so excited when Tyler Morse [MCR Development] asked us to design the inside of the Connie. Our edict was that it had to be 1962 but feel luxurious and give guests a taste of what travel was like in the golden age. We sourced 12 original Connie seats, and we had them upholstered with fabrics reminiscent of that era. Then we designed banquettes that line either side of the plane paired with small tulip tables, giving the space a more cocktail lounge feel. Fun fact, The Connie (or Constellation jet) has a navigator’s station with a window in the ceiling where the pilots could look at stars and direct the flight team.
Luxury looked a lot different in the 60's than it does today, how did you create a luxury hotel and incorporate what luxury was then? The obvious impact is from the moment you walk in. For example, people are dressed from the era wearing classic baggage claim uniforms. Everyone has vintage costumes on and every detail makes you feel like you’ve been transported to 1962.
How did Samuelson work with you? They were very involved in the process. They are a great partner and extremely responsive and happy to help us through the entire process in every way. We spent a lot of time at the factory with the prototypes, refining every detail.
What considerations did you take into effect when choosing a furniture maker? It is all about relationships. We wanted to work with someone we knew and like, and we have a strong record working with Samuelson on variety of projects. Plus, it is important to find the right balance between budget, quality, and design.
How involved were you with the casegoods and seating manufacturer in engineering and developing this product. How did Samuelson make a difference? Our whole team was super involved. Details such as placement of the headboard seams were critical for us to discuss because each headboard had to arrive in three pieces just to get it in the building. Everyone had to come together to make this project successful.
What design elements did you include in the casegoods to make it feel vintage? We used materials such as walnut tambour, which was very much of that era. Additionally, thin tufting which was popular in 1962, and brass accents bring that whole thing home.
What design elements from the 60's inspired you through this design? Of course, our biggest inspiration was Saarinen’s design work itself as well as other mid-century standards. We wanted to dig deeper into the history of the building and the era. As soon as we started the project, we dove into research. I think we own every book on TWA, Saarinen and aviation in the 1960s. We also watched doc