Taking on this vast public space in The Ahwahnee — one of the most iconic hotels in America — was a welcome challenge – one that enabled us to roll up our sleeves and put all of our research and resources to work. Here, we set about righting some wrongs, improving comfort and function along the way.
Guided by history – the archival photos and other documents in the National Park Service archives – we engaged in some “design forensics.” We began the project by stripping away layers of inappropriate décor, removing the unfortunate vestiges of a previous redecoration that included enormous ceramic table lamps that blocked sight lines, voluminous draperies that blocked stunning views, and retail-style vignettes atop the writing desks (coiled ropes, a boot with spurs, non-native basketry, and other curiosities). To honor the original 1927 design intent – to draw the eye upward to the remarkable geometric stained glass and stencil work — we also removed a series of large framed black and white portraits mounted on the piers (now hanging in the cafeteria at Curry Village).
We cleared the fireplace mantle of the decorative props from World Market and Pier 1 (vine balls, candlesticks, woven boxes from China) replacing them with the authentic native basketry of the type and vintage that once graced the hotel.
We repaired and reupholstered every damaged historic chair or settee we found in storage (using high abrasion and stain resistant fabrics), clustering seating groups on reintroduced authentic woven Persian kilims.
We haunted eBay and other resources for Japanese Imari lamps to place on side tables around the room’s perimeter, and we commissioned some authentic Stickley chairs and tables to replace the room’s long-lost originals. We also changed and reconfigured the seating before the fireplace — the most popular place in the room – to double its guest capacity.
During our decade-long association with the hotel, the seating in the Great Lounge had all been oriented toward the center of the room – chairs and sofas with their backs to the windows – and the views. Using the historic photos as a reference, we re-set the room with some chairs facing windows and we opened writing desks that had been kept closed for years; adding period appropriate Georgian oak chairs from D.R. Dimes and custom-designed bridge lamps beside each desk invited guests to use them again. And they did – immediately.
The restoration of the Great Lounge is one of our proudest design accomplishments, successful because of what we removed as much as by the things we added.