Piero Lissoni Completes Renovation of Jerusalem’s David Citadel
A five-star hotel brings back its original designer to create a fresh look that is at once eclectic, classic, and inextricably tied to its location. Mark Orwoll writes…
Jerusalem’s David Citadel Hotel is more than a five-star property with great views. It’s a fundamental part of the game-changing Mamilla project, which took a war-ravaged slum just outside the 16th-century Old City walls and created a vibrant, upscale, urban oasis of shops, restaurants, apartments, and a lively street scene.
But the hotel, designed by the creative minds of architect Moshe Safdie and designer Piero Lissoni, was approaching its twentieth anniversary (it opened in 1998) and was, frankly, a bit tired looking. So when the owners decided it was time for a major refresh of the hotel’s 385 guestrooms, corridors, and public spaces, they once again called on Lissoni. The result, which was completed in December, is a remarkable updating of what has become one of Jerusalem’s iconic luxury hotels.
The first thing an observant guest will notice when walking along the guest-room corridors is the dark-oak walls and the tan and brown carpeting featuring an oversize though discreet floral pattern. They’re a bold switch from the former look, which featured colorful carpets and light-wood doors. But the new design exudes a richness, a sense of privacy, lacking in the former appearance. And for anyone who thinks the hallways are too dark, just open the door to any guestroom and the light will shine through. It’s pleasantly disconcerting.
“Jerusalem is very sunny,” says Revital Carmeli, who was the hotel’s director of creative during the renovation and is now director of guest relations and delegations. “We have lots of light. Most of the rooms face the Old City with big windows. The carpet is a light gray. The beds are covered in white duvets. Although the oak paneling in the rooms is dark, even the dark colors aren’t heavy. We blend the dark and the light. It’s a balance.”
The 11-story, U-shaped hotel provides drop-dead-gorgeous views of the city walls from most of the rooms. During a recent walk-through of the property, it became instantly clear that Lissoni used the historic ambience as his key inspiration in the remodeling. “It’s like meeting ancient Jerusalem in a new place,” says Nofit Broshi, sales manager for incoming tourism.
Gone is the heavy plush carpeting in the guest rooms, replaced by oak parquet laid in a herringbone pattern. Nondescript decorative prints have been removed; Lissoni chose instead classic illustrations of ancient Jerusalem to add interest to the walls, plus, in the entryways, wall-size reproductions of 19th-century Middle East lithographs by David Roberts, whose artworks tantalised Victorian-era Europeans.
“We mixed velvet with leather, glass and marble,” says Carmeli. “It’s an eclectic design, but classic, sophisticated.”
The bathrooms, too, received Lissoni’s attention. Each has been given new fixtures of Lissoni’s own design, plus grooved marble walls and a huge mirror, featuring a built-in television, over the marble basin.
Considering that the hotel is popular with world leaders and celebrities (Hilary Clinton, Vladimir Putin, Denzel Washington, the Kardashians), plenty of thought was given to the suites. The Yitzhak Rabin Suite, for example, named for the former Israeli leader, features a private kitchen, a private study, a vast living room, and a bedroom with Old City views. Lissoni’s treatments in this room are as bold as elsewhere, featuring chairs in startling green velvet, two tiny children’s chairs upholstered in gold-and-black striped silk, a button-tuck leather sofa, and a rich blue rug over the oak floor. Throughout are touches referencing the room’s namesake in photos and sculptures.
Elsewhere in the hotel, the executive lounge was redesigned, an initial step toward the subsequent renovation of the guest rooms. No surprise to discover a mix of velvet and leather, dark paneling, and light parquet. The Seasons restaurant, with its view-to-die-for terrace, is cleaner and fresher, but not so overdone as to compete with the panorama.
As Lissoni told the hotel’s in-room magazine: “I couldn’t have brought paintings of Marilyn Monroe.” He stayed true to Jerusalem. He uses words like romantic, classical, natural. But some visitors will simply use the word eclectic, which when you think of it, is appropriate. Because with its polyglot culture, its pilgrims, its harsh sunlight and darkened old-city lanes, its colourful markets, and its abiding sense of history, Jerusalem may very well be the most eclectic place on earth.
Nothing wrong in using that as the inspiration for a Jerusalem hotel.