Redisign of the Hotel Rex in San Francisco

Interior decorator Candra Scott and furniture designer Ted Boerner successfully redesigned the Hotel Rex in San Francisco, CA. The theme celebrates the literary and artistic life of the city from the 1920s to the 1940s by hanging cheap wall art of pre-war California artists on the wall and introducing several salons throughout the hotel. Furniture and paint were also carefully selected to reflect the desired mood. The result is a unique and enchanting atmosphere.

But the task of conceptual conversion was considerably more challenging than the comment might imply. First to be reckoned with was the Spartan all-inclusive budget of $800,000. Additionally there was quite a lot of territory to be covered, not so much in terms of square footage but in the diversity of ways expressing the stated theme. To be romanced and revitalized were the lobby with reception and bar areas plus 94 guest rooms/suites on the seven floors above. All this in a 1907 structure that had begun life as an apartment building, was converted to hospitality use two decades later, and taken over by the present hoteliers in 1995. By then the property had gone through several occupations along with slews of destructive renovations.

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To create a setting sympathetic to the site-attuned and arts-oriented quality sought by the clients, Boerner gutted the lobby, retaining only the ten decapitated pilasters that had lost their heads in a 1980s-added false ceiling. In the absence of documentary records, the designers, having done their architectural homework, determined that Ionic capitals were historically correct. Plaster replacements were made and added just below the offending plafond. (Cash curtailment ruled out reinstatement of a solid ceiling and repairs of buried detailing.) Upstairs guest quarters, their bathrooms having been updated before the ownership transfer, needed only Scott’s magic infusion of custom wall coverings, fresh fabrics and paints to look cheerful and young.

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Next the designers selected the elements that establish a pervasive personality. The goal was to create a series of salons, inspired by the meeting milieux of the Bloomsbury group but given a local flavor. Furniture choices here deliberately dispense with meant-to-match monotony, focusing instead on polyglot variety that might have been collected over the course of many years. Period and provenance are dissimilar too. To assemble this multifarious lot, Boerher and Scott scouted thrift and antiques shops, flea markets, auctions and other offbeat outlets for varied addenda. Interspersed with comfortable seating and basic lobby items are touches of nonconformity and whimsy: a centrally positioned circular table, its top painted to simulate a clock face, reportedly alludes to the Round Table at the Algonquin in New York. Nearby is a 1930s stool from Czechoslovakia (Czecho Deco?) in concentrated colors as bright and merry as a floral bouquet. And framing the mirror above the fireplace are sketches made by Boerner’s grandfather. Wall art consists of portraits by pre-war California artists. Even the hotel’s name, formerly Orchard, was converted to capture the new romantic spirit, honoring as it does one Rex Roth, a “literary gadfly” who held court in the San Francisco salons in days of yore. Latter-day literati, hip to current art and lit, are said to make up the majority of the hotel’s clientele and staff.

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