Renewed Jewel in a Fragile Setting: The Gritti Palace

By Kyle Hoepner 

Next week (Wednesday, May 14, to be exact) will bring us another in the fascinating series of speakers and special guests the Boston Design Center has invited to town this year. Designer Chuck Chewning, who serves as creative director for Donghia and design director for Studio Rubelli, will discuss his work on the renovation of the famed Gritti Palace hotel in Venice.

One of the grandest of grand hotels, the building began life as a 15th-century palazzo, served as home to the doge for whom it is named, and later went through, um, a grittier period (sorry, couldn’t resist) while still hosting notable guests such as John Ruskin and Ernest Hemingway. Several decades after a serious upgrade in 1947, more-recent owners Starwood Hotels & Resorts decided to undertake a complete renewal beginning in 2011.

This, no doubt, will be Mr. Chewning’s subject on Wednesday, so I won’t give away too much in advance. (If you’d prefer to do homework ahead of time, though, the property’s transformation has gotten a lot of admiring press, including an excellent article by Adam Gopnik in Architectural Digest last May. By way of appetizer, here are a few pictures from that story.

The hotel’s exterior on the Grand Canal. Photos by Björn Wallander, from the May 2013 issue of Architectural Digest

The library

The dining room

A room in the Hemingway Suite

The roof terrace of the Redentore Terrazza Suite, complete with breathtaking view of Santa Maria della Salute and much of the rest of the city

As you might expect, the hotel’s restored spaces are gorgeous, and full of new Donghia furniture (frequently custom) and Rubelli fabrics and leathers, mixed in a remarkably sensitive way with the hotel’s existing antiques.

On a somewhat less cheerful note, Chuck Chewning’s talk will be introduced by Christopher Carlsmith, chair of the lecture committee of the Boston chapter of Save Venice.

You might ask, “Save Venice from what?” About the time Architectural Digest’s Gritti Palace story came out, Anna Somers Cocks published an essay in The New York Review of Books, called “The Coming Death of Venice.” It outlined, at depressing length and in worrying detail, some of the challenges to the continued health of La Serenissima. The overall existential danger to the city of rising water levels and flooding was just a backdrop; the foreground featured damage from vast cruise ships traveling through the Giudecca Canal, problems associated with hordes of daytrippers, and a deeply dysfunctional mosaic of competing government bodies and other agencies and authorities that, far from cooperating to help the situation, often seem in competition to make things worse.

Who knows…after hearing Mr. Chewning speak, perhaps you’ll want to go experience his design for yourself on your next trip to Italy. And, after hearing Mr. Carlsmith, you might want to schedule your trip sooner rather than later, just in case.

The Gritti Palace event will run from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. next Wednesday, May 15, in the fifth floor seminar room at the Boston Design Center, with a cocktail reception to follow in the Donghia showroom. An RSVP in advance is required; visit http://BDCgrittipalace.eventbrite.com for more information. And to learn more about Save Venice and its mission, please check out savevenice.org.

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