The building was designed by Schwartz & Gross in 1914 in a Renaissance Revival style, with a very large lobby connecting two separate elevators.
In the 1980s the lobby was “spruced up” with polished plaster finishes, new lighting fixtures and a new oversized doorman station. The combination of the mottled yellowish waxed plaster, inauthentic light fixtures and oddly placed desk feels ad hoc and dated.
We carefully examined the lobby to understand what was original and what was not: our goal was to try to restore the original features so that they could, again, play their part in setting the tone for the spaces.
We tested the finishes and discovered that the moldings and the distinctive pilasters that give structure and rhythm to the spaces are made of “Caen Stone” a man made material imitating French limestone popular in the early 20yth century (it was used in Grand Central Station, which is contemporary with 500 West End Avenue).
We then did a mock-up on site to test the feasibility of various restoration techniques and finishes; with the mock up shareholders could also understand the process and see our recommendations.
The final design calls for a new small doorman desk in the vestibule (which will be air conditioned), new custom designed light fixtures based on historical models, restoration of original moldings, new glazed metal leaf finish in the wall panels and the removal of the waxed plaster from the pilasters. The ceiling will be painted a medium grey to give scale to the large space. We will place a large round table in the center for flowers and have two area rugs with seating. On axis with the entrance door on the far wall will be a tapestry. The combination of new stone finishes and furniture will give character and softness to the space.
The challenge was to devise an approach that would be (1) affordable and (2) take advantage of the fact that the original condition could not be fully recovered. The pilasters, with their delicate classical relief have been damaged by the 1980s treatment and we decided to treat them as an archaeological find, that is, not to over patch them once we had removed the waxed plaster. The idea is not to over restore but to use selected signs of the passage of time to give depth and charm to the new work.