As Washington, D.C.’s first “unapologetically luxurious” stomping ground for the rich and famous, The Watergate Hotel recently underwent a $125 million modernizing facelift. Inextricably connected with the Watergate scandal, the hotel has maintained its avant-garde design and curvaceous, classic elegance in a nod to its 1960s design by Italian architect Luigi Moretti.
Moretti designed a series of curvilinear buildings made from reinforced concrete as a counterpoint to Washington’s conformist neoclassical architecture.
New York–based real estate developer Euro Capital Properties commissioned Ron Arad Architects to design the lobby, whisky bar, and restaurant, filling these spaces with custom-designed sculptural furnishings by the architect.
“In its heyday, the Watergate Hotel was a playground for powerful people. My vision was to recreate that by celebrating [Luigi] Moretti’s original design and updating it with modern, luxurious details that guests and locals will value,” said Rakel Cohen, Vice President of Design & Development, Euro Capital Properties, in a statement.
Floor-to-ceiling windows in the lobby frame views of the Potomac River, with the graded black granite ceiling and floors creating a floating sensation akin to Moretti’s inspiration of a boat sailing on the Potomac. Pops of color complement the sculptural metalwork and showstopping chandeliers, while a wall of hand-patinated brass tubes draws the eye toward the Potomac.
Avoiding straight lines altogether, the 46 foot-long brass reception desk recalls the building’s signature curves. Meanwhile, twisted columns made from mirror-polished stainless steel tubes create distorted reflections.
On June 16, 1972, four men rented two rooms in the Watergate Hotel and dined on lobster at the hotel restaurant. That same evening, they broke into the Democratic National Committee headquarters on the sixth floor of the Watergate office, triggering the scandal that caused Nixon to resign two years later. Arad admits that the Watergate scandal was an irresistible lure for him when asked to come on board.
“Working within such a significant period piece, you can’t ignore the context, but at the same time you don’t want to mimic it. Instead, you want to create something complementary, but most importantly, something new,” Arad said in a statement.
“We have tried to enhance Moretti’s original curves using our own, while at the same time influencing the anticipated flow of people through the spaces. To honor Moretti, we introduced a brilliant Italian fabricator to the project as a way of completing the cycle,” Arad continued, referencing Italian furniture designer Moroso, which manufactured most of the hotel’s sculptural furnishings.
The lobby of the 377-room hotel features a new double-height space carved out of the original building, with casual and fine dining concepts under a black polished plaster ceiling with eight custom-made spiral chandeliers. The fine dining restaurant is wrapped by a red, curving banquette and decked with bespoke Watergate Chairs designed by Arad for Watergate Hotel and manufactured by Moroso.