Penthouse Panache

In researching another post a while back, I came across the remarkable work of Champalimaud Design. Although a full service interior design firm, they are known primarily for their award winning work in the hospitality design sector. Founded by Alexandra Champalimaud twenty-seven years ago, they have completed renovations on hotels, restaurants, and spas around the world from the Carlyle and Algonquin in New York to the stunning suites at the Dorchester in London (one of my favorite projects – the bathrooms are incredible!) to the St. Regis in Beijing.

dorchester living room
dorchester bathroom

One of their most interesting projects, however, was the renovation of the Fairmont San Francisco Penthouse, which just won the 2010 Americas Property Awards in the category of Interior Design, USA. The Fairmont has a fascinating and rich history. Originally scheduled to open late in 1906, the hotel survived the Great Earthquake on April 18th but was destroyed by the fire that followed. It opened exactly one year later, symbolizing the rebirth of the city.

Designed by Julia Morgan, the first female graduate of the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, the hotel cost $5 million to build in 1907. Morgan, as you may remember, went on to design the famous Hearst Castle in San Simeon.

The hotel has been the site of many firsts. It was the first hotel in the United States to offer the services of a concierge. In 1945, it witnessed the drafting of the United Nations charter. And in 1962 it provided the stage for Tony Bennett to introduce “I Left My Heart in San Francisco”.

The extraordinary Penthouse Suite at the Fairmont spans the entire eight floor of the hotel, encompassing 6,000 square feet. It includes three large bedrooms, a living room – with grand piano of course, formal dining room that can seat 60, kitchen, spectacular 2 story library with a rotunda that has a celestial map not unlike Grand Central, a billiard room totally sheathed in Persian tile, shown below, and a gorgeous terrace with unparalleled views of the city. In addition, for a little intrigue, there is a concealed door behind the bookshelves in the library leading to a secret passageway.

The Penthouse, currently valued at $20 million, was originally designed by Arthur Upham Pope in the 1920’s for John S. Drum, president of the American Trust company, who leased it for $1,000 a month until 1938. Pope, a renowned archeologist and art historian, was also a scholar on Persian art and architecture and The Penthouse still shows his exotic influence.   The next resident was Maude Flood, heiress to a mining fortune, who lived there for the next 30 years, followed by Benjamin Swig, a former owner of The Fairmont, who lived there from 1966 until his death in 1980. In 1981, The Penthouse was opened to the public.

In 2009, Champalimaud was brought in to lead the restoration. The $1.8 renovation is a “luxurious marriage of East meets West”. The team took the Moorish influence of the billiard room as inspiration for the project as you will see – be patient, it’s coming! The suite also includes a significant art collection including Hockney, other contemporary artists as well as a grouping of impressive Chinese porcelain. “The Penthouse of The Fairmont San Francisco is like no other hotel suite,” said Champalimaud. “This mansion in the sky is a perfect example of the grand and richly detailed residences that were built for families of San Francisco’s great fortunes almost a century ago.” On that note, let’s take a look at this incredible project.

The entry is updated classic and elegant but the purple offers a hint of the exotic to come.

I love how they extended the purple subtly in the living room with the chairs and pillows.

The master bedroom is spacious and elegant with a nod to the exotic through the painted headboard and spicy tonality.

A second bedroom has a fabulous hand painted map.

And the third bedroom is my favorite with dreamy colors and elegant millwork. Notice how they cleverly brought in the rust color in the artwork.

The dining room is nothing short of spectacular with its hand-painted Chinoiserie walls, breathtaking views and stunning chandelier.

Here are is a detail of the beautiful black and silver walls

The 2,000 pieces of crystal on the chandelier, original to the suite, were taken off, cleaned and repaired.

The two story library is magnificent

with the glorious hand painted celestial ceiling

The tiled billiard room shown at the beginning, the inspiration for the suite, has a remarkable stained glass ceiling. During the renovation, the 1,800 pieces of etched glass were each removed by hand to be cleaned. I’m glad I wasn’t the one standing on a ladder 20 feet in the air removing them.

Can’t you imagine luxuriating in this splendid master bath? The tilework is subtly exotic

whereas in this bath, there is a more obvious nod to the east

The terrace is the crowning glory to The Penthouse. It feels like you are visiting the Alhambra in the middle of the city. Atop Nob Hill, the views are breathtaking.

In case you are considering making a reservation for this luxurious travel experience, let me add that for the price tag of $15,000 per night, you will also have available a round-the-clock butler and team of housekeepers, chef, masseuse, personal trainer and chauffer.

The Champalimaud team has been working on many other exciting projects including the renovation of the historic Astor Hotel, Tianjin, Starwood’s first Luxury Collection Hotel in Asia, which opened last month and the ongoing renovation of the very hip ski resort, Green Leaf Hotel in Niseko Japan, due to open for Christmas. Hopefully we will be able to revisit these and other projects from this stellar firm later in the year.

16 thoughts on “Penthouse Panache

  1. This design firm is definitely at the top of the pack. The purple entry–do you have any idea whose paint and which color it could be? I sold a George Washington Kittinger desk identical to the one in the third bedroom a couple of months ago–now I am really convinced of this firm’s greatness. Thank you for this super post.

    • Mary – I unfortunately have no idea about the purple – you could always try contacting Champlimaud directly. That desk is a lovely addition – substantial but still light looking.

  2. Simply stunning – love reading about the history of the penthouse and the previous owners… and love how Champalimaud kept the essence of the decor while making it more updated and modern. The Moroccan style tilework in that sink is gorgeous!

    • the buzz – exactly right – respecting the history while making it modern – they did such a beautiful job!

  3. You would love Alexandra Champalimaud, an extremely classy, intelligent and beautiful person. And I think she lives somewhat near you. Have you met? d

    • No, I have never had the pleasure of meeting her but certainly admire her stunning work and am not surprised to hear that she is all that you say. I know she owns a spa, Charym, in Litchfield so perhaps she lives up near there.

    • Cristina – Yes, the firm is so fabulous with all the details – when you have time, check out some of their other projects – beautiful!

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