Since opening its doors in 1884, the historic Hotel Chelsea has grown into a New York legend, as famous writers, artists and musicians—ranging from Mark Twain to Madonna to Andy Warhol—have taken up residence in the red-brick, Victorian Gothic landmark on Manhattan’s West Side. The dreamlike, bohemian refuge was recently transformed into an upscale boutique hotel, but remnants of its storied past persist in the new design, and modern additions retain the site’s original charm.

Lighting design by L’Observatoire International is key to preserving the hotel’s old-world charm in the new, urban spa, for example, which is located at the top of the building’s famous central staircase. Vintage fixtures and warm, low-level lighting carry design elements from the iconic lobby up 12 levels to the rooftop sanctuary, while simultaneously establishing an upscale, relaxing ambience that ensures maximum visual comfort for guests.

To achieve the desired effect, the design team utilized a primary core layer of light to provide general ambient illumination via indirect fixtures integrated into millwork, which wash surfaces and textures with warm light. In the reception, for example, simple downlights highlight wood materiality, window frames and wainscotting. The fixtures are kept minimal so as not to distract from interior elements and décor. Architectural shelving highlighted by linear LEDs provides accent lighting in the apothecary, which is complemented by decorative vintage wall sconces.

Salvaged decorative pendants retrofitted with LED tape light carry into the corridors, where the fixtures are ceiling mounted to provide wayfinding and illuminate artwork on the walls. Additional sconces and central ceiling pendants anchor the adjacent lounge area, again illuminating wall-mounted artwork and found objects.

The technique for ambient light changes in treatment rooms, where downlighting would cause glare to the treatment beds. Instead, uplight creates the indirect, ambient layer in these spaces.

The fixtures can be set at a high light level for cleaning purposes and reverted to a low light level for guest comfort. In addition, under-cabinet lighting enables staff to identify products.

Outside the lounge, a terrace with low-level landscape illumination offers a romantic garden vibe. Keeping lighting minimal on the terrace, which includes a pergola and water fountain, maintains the warm, cozy aesthetic for guests traveling between interior and exterior spaces.

Finally, the lighting control system enables pre-set scenes, where lighting cycles through morning, afternoon, evening and night/cleaning settings throughout each day.