Interview: Adam D. Tihany
By Stacy Shoemaker Rauen
Adam D. Tihany is establishing—somewhat accidentally—a new reputation as the go-to designer for reimagining historic, iconic properties, from the King David in Jerusalem to the Beverly Hills Hotel.
It’s a job, he says, not everyone wants to take on. “These are complicated, problematic, historic venues that require a special finesse. It’s not so much an expertise, but really it’s an affinity,” he says. “I respect the history and I try to do something that’s century Photo by Bill Hughes
appropriate, but without erasing the values, stories, and DNA of the place. The intrinsic value is the history of the property—it’s not in the ego of the designer. It’s about what’s appropriate and how you can marry the old and the new.”
Take HMF at the Breakers in Palm Beach, Florida. Working as a design consultant to Peacock + Lewis Architects, Tihany crafted the new bar in the notable Florentine Loggia that is a seamless blend of past and present. Modern furnishings and a new argyle patterned carpet don bold colors like cognac and Cyprus green, inspired by the room’s original, elaborate painted ceiling modeled after the 14th-century Palazzo Davanzati in Florence. Two bars are done in mahogany with bronze accents, and seven-foot-tall floor lamps run the length of the 6,500-square-foot space, “a trick to make the room a little bit more intimate, otherwise it would feel like you are sitting in a train station,” he says. “When you put the contemporary furnishings into a traditional room, the room looks less frightening, less stodgy, and the contemporary furniture looks less edgy—like they all woke up with each other. It’s a cooling effect. And if the mixture is right, and the lighting is right, it gives everyone a level of comfort.”
HMF, inside the Florentine Loggia at the Breakers in Palm Beach, now flaunt modern furniture and an argyle patterned carpet
Photography by Eric Laignel
Noticeable additions are the 3,000-bottle wine room, which does double duty as an anchor for the long room and a backdrop for the private dining room, as well as an open kitchen and sleek buffet stations that now occupy a once “under-utilized area” between the lounge and the Circle Room, the hotel’s main breakfast venue. “That was like a heart transplant,” says Tihany. “It brought the whole place to life.”
He says sitting at the packed new bar on a Saturday night proved what’s old needs to be new again. “There were young people at the bar and older people sitting in the lounge. The energy was cross-generational,” he says.
A new open kitchen and sleek buffet stations enliven a once-neglected zone at the Breakers
Photography by Eric Laignel
But it’s a fine line between honoring the past and introducing the new. “There’s new blood that’s coming in; generations of customers have celebrated at these storied properties and the kids now have children of their own. The younger generations are nostalgic for the old days but it’s a different nostalgia than the older generations who don’t want anything to change. The young people don’t want to forget the times they had there, but they want everything to suit their current lifestyle. So it’s an interesting balance.”
There’s no tougher balancing act than with the Beverly Hills Hotel, “which every local person considers their living room,” Tihany says. For the Pink Palace’s 100th anniversary, he’s breathed new life into the lobby and the legendary Polo Lounge, one of the favorite spots for Hollywood’s power scene. “I don’t know the formula to success, but I do know the formula to failure is to try to please everybody,” he says. “You have to take a standpoint but listening to people is also part of the process of learning about the project.”
Seven-foot-tall floor lamps run the length of HMF's 6,500-square-foot space
Photography by Eric Laignel
In the lobby he paired a palette of soft tones (including the hotel’s signature pink and green hues) with mid-century style sofas and artwork by local artists celebrating California’s unique culture. As a nod to the hotel’s famous motif—the banana leaf—its silhouette appears in a limestone floor medallion and wrought iron and glass chandelier.
He left the beloved banana leaf wallpaper in the Polo Lounge (there’s some five miles of it throughout the hotel). “Everybody says to me, ‘You’re not going to remove the banana leaves, are you?’ Of course I am not going to remove the banana leaves. Why would I? It’s such an iconic part of the hotel that removing it is just going to create grief for everybody, and it is part of the design, and it’s beautiful.”
In fact, Tihany’s entire MO for the Polo Lounge was to simply enhance what was already there, creating a sharper, sexier version of the elegant room. “I ripped it out and put it back together. And it came out looking as it should have looked before I ripped it out. It looks like somebody really polished the patina,” he says, noting that he and his team replaced everything that needed replacing (worn furniture, fabrics, carpet), and wood paneling now graces the walls instead of carpet. “The biggest challenge was to make sure that you couldn’t tell it was all brand new, so when you walk in you say, ‘Wow, this guy spent a lot of money on nothing.’ And that was, to me, a big accomplishment.”
Next up: Tihany is crafting a new poolside restaurant (it will also serve dinner) and renovating the guestrooms and suites, which he says “will be very different than the previous ones except that they’re totally Beverly Hills. It’s the kind of room where you would walk in and say, ‘This is what I was thinking about when I booked the Beverly Hills Hotel; this sunny Californian, mid-century, sexy, movie star kind of place.’” And he’s also designing a new Italian restaurant at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs that will look like it has always been there—another welcome challenge for Tihany: “It’s not simple, but at the same time, it’s what I enjoy doing. If there was no problem, I guess they wouldn’t need me.” hd