Hotel Needs to Be More Than Good-Looking

Tom DeSimone is a motion picture and television writer and director who lives in North Hollywood

I was greatly amused by the article "Welcome to the Hotel Surreal" (Calendar, Dec. 3) regarding the renovation of the Mondrian Hotel by French architect Phillipe Starck for hotelier Ian Schrager. I wonder if your critic, Nicolai Ouroussoff, has ever been a "paying guest" at one of the Schrager and Starck hotels? Unfortunately, I was.

In December 1994, two friends and I made our annual Christmas trip to New York and booked ourselves into the Royalton Hotel, Starck and Schrager's "greatest success," according to Ouroussoff, on the advice of a New York friend who told us it was the "latest rage." I booked a single room and my friends booked a suite. Once there, our first thought was: "How quickly can we get out of here?"

The elevators were so small and dark that the bellboy had to light a match to see the buttons. The hallways were no better. Long, dark, narrow passageways made to resemble some sort of "nautical theme" gave us the feeling of being suffocated on a sinking submarine.

Once inside our rooms, we found them "littered" with the kind of nonsense usually found in pseudo-SoHo art galleries. Tiny chrome tables barely big enough to hold an ashtray, chairs in the shape of triangles with three legs, a mattress and box spring without a frame sitting on the floor (we wondered if the maid had to kneel to make the bed; we did to get in it) and stark gray slate walls--all this combined with all the chrome to give the entire room a cold and uninviting atmosphere.

The bathroom was also "bathed in an atmosphere of chilling elegance," as your critic so aptly notes regarding the Schrager and Starck sister hotel in Los Angeles. The floor and walls were of black slate and the shower enclosed in floor-to-ceiling glass.

Over the free-standing pedestal sink was a tiny glass shelf barely wide enough to hold a bud vase and single orchid bathed in a 40-watt pin spot. Was this the light by which I was expected to shave? And I had to place half of my toiletries on the floor under the sink.


Ouroussoff marvels that "everything is off-balance" at the Hotel Mondrian. That certainly was the case at the Royalton. When one of my friends sat in one of the triangular chairs it, and he, toppled to the floor.

Looking at the photo in your article of the Mondrian's lobby "game chairs," I am reminded of 12 tortuous years of parochial school classes. Are these hard-backed wooden chairs supposed to be comfortable or merely "fashionable" for "people who want to be seen?"

Probably most irksome is the remark that the rooms are "beside the point!" Why else would anyone check into a hotel if not for the room? I, for one, would not want to spend up to $385 a night to sit in a "trendy" lobby where, it seems, all of the emphasis is in a Starck and Schrager hotel.

It would appear that Starck has forgotten who actually uses a hotel. It's people who travel! And when you've traveled as extensively as my friends and I have, you expect certain things from a good hotel, such as functional furniture, comfortable beds, a place to put your things and good service. If I want "modern art" I can visit a museum.

Last--and most surprising--about the Royalton was the fact that we were required to pay for the first night in advance. I have always paid my hotel bills upon checking out. But at the Royalton, the first night was requested up front. Could they have known the obvious? The very next morning we all checked out and went to a different hotel. One wonders if this is the norm for people who visit there unprepared for the inconveniences.

I just wanted to inform your critic that when he reviews a hotel he should try to avoid using phrases like, "chilling elegance," "shrink you down to the size of some mischievous imp," "public voyeurism" and "dwarfish stage props." These are the last things I am looking for in a hotel. What I expect is a good night's sleep.

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