April 29, 2013
Pretty Hotel Gritti
Venice’s iconic 5-star hotel gets a lavish makeover by Rubelli and native Atlanta designer Chuck Chewning of Donghia
By Nancy Staab
Here’s all the nitty-Gritti on the regal renovation of this hotel grande dame on the Grand Canal, once favored by everyone from Hemingway to Sophia Loren.
The 15th century Gritti Palace has enjoyed a storied history as colorful as its rich velvets, silks, damasks and multi-colored marbles. Everyone from Venetian grand Doges, Churchill, and Queen Elizabeth to writers like Ernest Hemingway and Somerset Maugham to movie stars like Elizabeth Taylor, Sophia Loren, Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall and Ingrid Bergman, have slept in its hallowed halls. More recently, the likes of Nicole Kidman, Mick Jagger, Pavarotti, Kate Winslet, Woody Allen, Tom Ford and Julian Schnabel have lodged here, while in town for the Venice Film Festival or the Venice Bienniale.
But the early Renaissance palazzo that was converted into a hotel in 1948 was overdue for a bit of a spit and polish under new owners Starwood Hotels and Resorts (the hotel is part of Starwood’s Luxury Collection). That’s where the iconic Venetian property suddenly became linked improbably and indirectly to Atlanta—in the person of designer Chuck Chewning. The once-Atlanta-native Chewning was recently tapped to oversee the meticulous, $50 million-dollar restoration and renovation of the regal hotel as the Creative Director of Donghia, the NYC-based furniture, textile and decorative accessories company.
Chewning was the perfect man for this sensitive and prestigious job. His resumé combines historic preservation, and luxury hotel design with a timeless, design sensibility that fuses the antique with the elegantly modern. Chewning received a degree in Historic Preservation of Architecture and Interior Design from Savannah College of Art and Design and earned the first SCAD Distinguished Alumnus Award in 2008. After 16 years designing luxury hotels and other projects with Hirsch Bedner Associates in their Atlanta, London and Milan offices, Chewning co-founded CCID, Inc. with Jan Clausen in Atlanta. The custom design studio focused on global, luxury residential and hospitality projects, including a One & Only Resort and Spa in the Maldives and Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Miami. Chewning later relocated to New York City to become the Creative Director of Donghia. It is under this job title that the 15-month “dream project" to renovate Gritti Palace Hotel, virtually fell into his lap. Donghia is owned by Rubelli, the sumptuous, 160-year-old Venetian fabric house that provided much of the original textiles for the grand hotel. The rest is history. Chewning tapped Donghia and Rubelli, as well as approved Italian artisans in everything from marble work to stucco, to breathe new life into the dowager hotel, while retaining its aura of faded, Old World glamour.
CCP-Luxury.com reports that, “Every inch of the hotel has been restored and renovated, with utmost attention to detail. The walls have been redecorated with precious fabric upholsteries from local manufacturers; the hand painted boiserie and Venetian lacquered painting have been carefully restored; ceiling stuccowork has been redone. Most of the antique mirrors and Murano chandeliers, as well as original furniture have been restored too.” Indeed, Architectural Digest devoted a lavish feature with 12 pages of gorgeous photos to the restored hotel in its May 2013 issue, declaring that after “an exquisite restoration by designer Chuck Chewning, the Gritti is rejuvenated—and more luxurious than ever.”
Chewning pored though the Rubelli archives to resurrect old fabrics for the hotel and in some cases to design new ones. One of the fabrics was inspired by the lining of an 18th century doge’s cape and used for the hotel’s Club del Doge restaurant; another was inspired by a 17th-century document that was then employed in the new Explorer’s Library. The Explorer’s Library is a tribute to the literary legacy of the hotel and Venice’s highpoint as the center of the Renaissance trade world. It is bedecked in sumptuous fabrics and filled with antique volumes, astrolabes and other curiosities. The centerpiece of the interior is a vintage copy of the Renaissance portrait of the Venetian Doge, Andrea Gritti, from whom the hotel takes its name. In many cases, Chewning also commissioned Dohnghia to re-create antique pieces of furniture for this and other of the hotel’s opulent rooms, each individually decorated.
The hotel has also received a needed update in terms of modern amenities like state-of-the -art marble bathrooms, high-speed wi-fi internet access, automatic AC controls, and integrated entertainment systems with LED TVs from Samsung and Bang & Olufsen in its 82 rooms and 21 suites. Several suites, named after famed guests, were redecorated, including the Peggy Guggenheim Suite. It is crammed with colorful modern art (of course) and comes with a one year membership to all the Guggenheim museums. The La Fenice Suite, inspired by the 18th century Venetian theater, contains a harpsichord from 1704 and signed letters by Verdi and Puccini. The Redentore Suite boasts two floors connected by a spiral staircase and leading to a panoramic rooftop terrace and plunge pool.
In addition to refreshed private and public rooms, the hotel added a brand new spa, Blue Mediterraneo by Acqua di Parma, when it reopened in late February, 2013. This is only the second location of this spa (the other is at Costa Smerelda, Italy), which boasts posh skincare treatments inspired by Italian ingredients. Another feature, The Gritti Epicurean School, teaches guests how to whip up elaborate gourmet dishes and pastries in the Italian fashion. The hotel’s classic Bar Longhi boasts a bar made out a Baroque marble altar rail (!), while three painting by 18th century genre-painter Pietro Longhi preside over the renovated space. Several public terraces, including one off Bar Longhi, allow guest to take in the spectacular, Canaletto-like views of the Grand Canal…
All told, the Palazzo’s graceful, top-to-bottom restoration, sensitively but imaginatively overseen by Chewning, re-creates the opulent life of a Venetian doge or… a modern day film star.
For more information on The Gritti Palace hotel visit: www.thegrittipalace.com