By Beth Herman
It was the year flailing New York crowds first welcomed The Beatles to "The Ed Sullivan Show." And though its own brand of fanfare was less about screams and more about shoji screens, a traditional 1960s 416-unit high-rise in Rockville, Md., with a decidedly Asian interior, went up to public acclaim at about the same time.
Renovated only once since then, in the 1980s, the quietly dignified Grosvenor Park III, 10401 Grosvenor Place, cautiously courted a more modern facelift, its loyal residents desiring to preserve as much of the building’s Far East legacy as possible. Manifested in such elements as jade-colored marble base molding, Japanese shoji screens, finely etched glass panels—a gift from Chinese General Chiang Kai-Shek—mounted in floor-to-ceiling teak, and both Chinese and Japanese artwork, time had nevertheless eroded and faded fabrics, furnishings and flooring. Glass panels had essentially become jaundiced with age. With the décor a mix of Chinese and Japanese, where the former is traditionally ornate and the latter very clean and spare, bringing the building’s 3,000-s.f. main lobby, elevator lobby, mail room, and reception and entry areas into the 21st Century without sacrificing their heritage was a feat not easily undertaken.
“It didn’t look terrible, but there were elements that included (outdated) draperies all over the windows, and a terrazzo floor had cracked,” said owner/ principal JoAnn Zwally of Ashton Design Group, responsible for the redesign. “The reception counter was very old and had not even been changed in the last renovation. It was just not functional—dark wood and a design that really needed to be updated.”
The best of East and West
Embracing Shanghai and the luxe Peace Hotel (now the Fairmont Peace Hotel), to which she’d traveled, Zwally recalled singular Chinese art deco elements, including mosaics, deciding to base Grosvenor Park III’s redesign on the same. Working in tandem with building resident and design team head Alice Scherr, Zwally set about transforming the vast, dated lobby spaces and corridors of all 17 floors into modern quarters, the older incarnation’s blue and green hues manifested in a more contemporary and vibrant teal.
Culling obsolete wires and dormant cables from the reception area, and eliminating cluttered and confusing signage (only one sign currently exists), the designer replaced older materials with teak panels in an effort to mirror the treasured teak on the other side. “Today’s teak is not what it was the 1960s,” she said, “but we matched it as closely as we could.” The addition of a sleek, bi-level black granite and glass countertop with aluminum stanchions provides for staff privacy with a nod to modernity. A new soffit contains the lighting, and a newly-created wall conceals security monitoring equipment.
In the lobby, a Murano glass chandelier illuminates a curvilinear table, made from Bubinga—an exotic wood found largely around equatorial Africa—something Zwally designed herself from an antique she saw online. Art deco-style furnishings, including durable round-arm chairs by David Edwards, continue the theme, and computerized shades manipulate light and heat for energy conservation.
In a modern take on bread crumbs, Zwally integrated two large four-foot black diamond inserts and a few smaller ones into the floor of an elongated passageway, ushering residents to the elevator, and redolent of the rich black hue in the lobby space’s Chinese art deco rug. Dark-toned antique Asian doors at the end visually foreshorten the long trek.
Upstairs, Zwally swathed 17 floors in carpeting with a horizontal design strategy. Created to help proportionalize corridors 200 feet long but only five feet wide, “interlocking ovoids in different scales were used,” the designer said, larger in the more rectangular spaces where one exits the elevator and smaller where the hallways narrow. “We hand-measured every doorway because there were places where things were not exactly the same,” Zwally explained of the process, adding the carpet had to break strategically in between.
Shoji screens on every floor with a quiet, organic quality were obtained when the structure was built, though painted green in the prior renovation. This was something the Japanese culture would never do, according to Zwally, though residents were still quite partial to the screens. Accordingly, they were remade to look clean and contemporary, and reflect their natural origins.
With the addition of increased, though energy-efficient lighting fixtures, especially around the elevators, Zwally brightened the building’s public spaces considerably, ensuring residents and guests are able to savor the fruits of the redesign at any time of the day or night.
“Everything in this renovation is very durable,” Zwally said, speaking to the anticipated longevity of a large, public space. Chiang Kai-Shek, who lived nearly 88 years, would undoubtedly approve.
Photos courtesy of Geoffrey Hodgdon