Q: What is it? A: One of the very original boutique hotels, created by Ian Schrager, designed by Andrée Putman in 1983 and upgraded by her twice. You may do the math; this is a modern hotel, more than 30 years old.
Probably the most recognized lobby carpet in the entire hotel world with a pattern worthy of M.C. Escher. The carpet instantly introduced guests to the white-grey-black color scheme of the Morgans. After two redesigns – both by Putman; the most recent one in 2008 was one of her very last projects) it’s still there.
While this may look like the quintessential hotel bedroom today, the interior design was a completely different when introduced in 1984. Putman’s opinion was that hotels were grand and vulgar filled with ”faux-Versailles clichés” and ”too much Louis and too many flowers”.
The bathroom with the sink that Andrée Putman designed for Mach 2-travel in 1993. It was originally created and introduced on Air France’s seven Concorde aircraft but I will testify that it is functioning just as well at sub-sonic speeds (like in a hotel).
Can’t but wonder how many of the guests who realize that they are looking at some quality art on that wall? Note the signature. Yes, it’s an original Robert Mapplethorpe photographic print, commissioned for the hotel. There’s a different one in every room.
The exterior on 237 Madison and 37th, next to what was once banker and art collector J.P. Morgan’s mansion. Hence the name of the hotel. For orientation: The Empire State Building is found on 34th Street.
Let’s take a trip back in time.
Let’s look at Manhattan during the early eighties. People are still doing the hustle on the dancefloor. Big this year is Ms. Pac-Man, MS-DOS 1.0 and Blade Runner. A better hotel is palace-like with gold and mirrors and marble and thick carpets and tassels and fringes. They are Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell of the infamous Studio 54 have just spent 13 months behind bars for evading taxes. Now they are free men with their eyes set on the hotel market and an ambition to overturn it.
A designer who had only done a few stores.
Their focus in particular is the Executive Hotel, located in a 19-storey building on Madison Avenue, at Murray Hill. They bring in Paris-based designer Andrée Putman who has never taken on a project of this scale. She is given the brief ‘modern luxury’ and a very strict budget, living on the site during construction, and creates a monochrome and minimalistic space with the emphasis on meeting and socializing rather than bed and breakfast. There are leather armchairs and black lacquer tables and 1920s-style nickel lamps. Its understated design becomes an instant hit with both crowds and the critics.
The first time I stay at the Morgans…
I’m checking in for the first time in early 2001. The hotel had already turned 17. Its restaurant Asia de Cuba is one of the hotter restaurants in town with a very much talked-about Philippe Starck decor and a huge bouncer outside. I’m greeted by a rather indifferent front desk. I’m disappointed. A tad too late I will find out that there’s no hot water. After complaining I get a letter from the manager and my next stay in on the house. Now, some 12 years later, I am once again checking in. It’s looks the same. Almost. One of Andrée Putman’s last projects, before her passing away in January 2013, was the 2nd major upgrade of the Morgans.
Great staff but no more calamari salad.
This time the staff is excellent. They help out where they should without being overly intrusive and we are joking and discussing design and I’m learning things about the sink in my room (see picture above). I’m missing Philippe Starck’s interior in the restaurant and their legendary calamari salad but today’s breakfast is decent by New York-standards. The bar is no more but will open with a new concept. On the Robert Mapplethorpe-print above the desk in my room the concierge comments ”We don’t catch too many thieves”, which leads me to believe that most guests are not noticing it*. That probably goes for the entire interior, which should be interpreted as a great compliment. The Morgans may have one of the more timeless designs in the hotel world (although rooms may feel a bit worn – my bathroom in particular did).
Check-check the rates, y’all.
One interesting thing about the Morgans is their rates. Which are more volatile than the Netflix stock price. With that said, it’s a sound thing to check them out regularly. If you’re heading into the Big Grapefruit you may find the Morgans either mysteriously expensive or – which is more common – pretty dirt-cheap. If you’re not into French interior designers, you will probably not be excited by this hotel, nor will you be dazzled or very impressed, but you will be treated like a guest and that isn’t a bad thing.
*In all fairness, it should be noted that the Mapplethorpe prints at the Morgans are more about flowers in a pot rather than the big, muscular men who were into other big, muscular men that he got famous/notorious for.
237 Madison Avenue
New York City, NY 10016