By 2013, Baltimore’s Radisson Plaza hotel wasn’t much more than a depressing last resort for visitors who couldn’t get a reservation elsewhere. “There were four chairs in the lobby, and one of them was broken,” recalls Gene-Michael Addis. “Light bulbs were out everywhere, and the ballroom was a disaster.”
The signage and interiors belied the building’s history as a French Renaissance Grande Dame that had opened to great fanfare in 1928 as the Lord Baltimore—the city’s biggest hotel at the time, and today, its only historic hotel left standing.
Addis is the general manager of the Lord Baltimore, which has returned to glory as a modern version of its Roaring Twenties self since the family-owned Rubell Hotels purchased it in 2013 and spent millions on its renovation.
Owner Mera Rubell assembled a team to restore the beauty of its original architecture while making it inviting—and affordable—to modern-day guests. She brought in New York designer Scott Sanders, who’d worked with her on three previous hotels, to oversee the transformation.
To his delight, Sanders quickly realized the shabby décor was merely a veneer; untouched were the hotel’s original Baccarat chandeliers and sconces in the lobby, restaurant, and ballroom. Also intact were the brass, marble-lined elevators; the detailed floral-relief plaster ceiling in the lobby; and—best of all—original murals in the ballroom depicting 18th-century scenes of early Baltimore.
“The bones were so gorgeous—the iron railings, the coffered ceilings, the scale of those [lobby] columns—it sent chills down my arms,” Sanders says. It was just a matter of calling out those details, which had been shellacked in decades of (bad) paint. Sanders covered the columns and millwork in the ballroom and lobby with high-gloss white, which pops against the darker rugs and walls. The original moldings in the bar adjacent to the lobby, meanwhile, are lacquered black.
Sanders paired the classic architectural elements with classic mid-century furnishings: He filled the lobby with Saarinen tables, Jean-Michel Frank sofas, Hans Wegner armchairs, and custom leather armchairs based on a design by Edward Wormley. “It’s like a classic lobby chair from the ’40s in an old Hollywood hotel.”
While the main public areas are decidedly masculine—emulating the generations of colonial lords for which the hotel is named—Sanders went for a more feminine look in the French Kitchen restaurant, which was originally called the Versailles dining room. He gilded the pilasters and decorative plasterwork, which stand out against newly turquoise walls and the coffered ceiling in robin’s-egg blue. The Versailles-inspired mirrors that cover the walls are framed in crisp white. And in an ode to the city, Sanders upholstered the banquettes in a Clarence House fabric that channels the Matisse collection at the Baltimore Museum of Art, and accented the décor with vintage sideboards and consoles from local antiques stores.
The guest rooms are much more modern, since there weren’t any notable elements to preserve. Besides, Sanders says, “You want a hotel room to feel fresh.” The crisp gray, black and white palette—with abstract artwork by Rubell’s sister, artist Sabrina Baron—emulates that feeling.
Addis, the general manager, loves the combination of old and new throughout all the hotel spaces. “This strikes a great balance,” he says. “I love the way it looks, because it’s very clean and it’s very modern, and it’s very calming.”
Next on his list, however, is restoring another old relic—a two-story speakeasy they discovered behind the Versailles room’s mirrored panels, although no photos from its Prohibition heyday survive. Indeed, Addis says, smiling mysteriously, “There is a gray area in the history of this hotel.” We’ll toast to that.
All images via Lord Baltimore Historic Hotel.