Blouin ArtInfo: Corporate Apartments (Finally) Get a Design Makeover

Blouin ArtInfo: Corporate Apartments (Finally) Get a Design Makeover

Corporate Apartments (Finally) Get a Design Makeover

Jennifer Parker


The day has come. You’ve been angling for an expat package for years. Finally, those long-awaited words “we’re relocating you” are floating from your boss’s lips like a pencil cartoon balloon.

Where you’re actually going to be living is suddenly a chief concern. You’ve heard the horror stories about tiny, crumbling pre-war apartments. Local public transportation might very well be an ancient Greek labyrinth. And if you’re working for any major corporation — take your Fortune 500 pick — you probably have no say in your abode whatsoever. You’re on your way to a corporate apartment of your firm’s choosing. Even if this sounds about as fun as a getting a root canal, keep reading. There is some good news that could affect your situation.

Most corporate housing companies, such as AKA, Furnished Quarters, BridgeStreet, and Oakwood, are facing intense pressure from non-traditional competitors like residential hotels and Airbnb, which now offers similar comforts governed by fewer rules, for less money. As a result, “corporate housing” properties — once a niche sector of the hospitality industry restricted to offering 30-night minimum stays — are being recast as design hotels with impressive art collections and a sleek aesthetic. “We’re all concerned about AirBnb. They’re offering empty apartments, which is really corporate housing, without paying hotel taxes. And we think it’s unfair,” said Steve Saide, executive vice-president of Design for Furnished Quarters. Currently, Airbnb operators do not pay the same room tax and tourism fees that are levied on hotels. Meanwhile, Saide and his peers are reacting with good old-fashioned gamesmanship. They’re trying to take the “corporate” out of corporate housing. (Enter the design team. Send in the starchitects!)

This has already taken shape. Furnished Quarters’ latest venture, for example, is a swanky 132-room hotel in New York’s financial district called Q&A. A collaboration between Steve Saide and Benjamin Noriega-Ortiz (best known for the Mondrian Hotels), the hotel’s aesthetic is quirky and intellectual. Each room features original art installations inspired by inventors such as Thomas Edison, the Wright Brothers, and Benjamin Franklin. In one room, a sculptural plane hangs from the ceiling. In another, Albert Einstein’s integral calculus equations are splashed across the wall.

These same walls used to buttress grey cubicles and Bloomberg terminals. Q&A lives inside the art deco landmark at 70 Pine Street, the former headquarters of AIG Insurance, which was bailed out in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. Now, the building houses 600 residential apartments and the hotel, which we’ll soon hear more about when Michelin-starred chef April Bloomfield takes over the top four floors for her outsized new restaurant and bar, slated to open early 2017.

Further uptown, AKA is also pushing an artful agenda by hiring architect Piero Lissoni and his US design firm BY Lissoni to create interiors for its properties in New York and Philadelphia.

For AKA Times Square, Lissoni constructed a floating steel and glass staircase in its 13th-floor lounge, flanked by floor-to-ceiling windows and sky views. Grey Venetian plaster walls surround tables made from blackened ribbons of steel and glass. Downstairs, the bar top is made of sleek black granite, and an adjacent vaulted wall gleams with vodka bottles. When AKA’s new Wall Street hotel opens this May, we can expect similar design and a new restaurant from celebrity chef Wylie Dufresne. AKA is higher up the luxury echelon in corporate housing (average daily rates hover around $570), but the basic concept of design hotel add-ons is an industry-wide trend.

“We are seeing that as more people become global nomads, they get exposed to finer design and their tastes are becoming more sophisticated,” said Elana Friedman, VP of global marketing for AKA. “It wasn’t always the case, but design is now part of our daily vocabulary.”