Linda Snyder–Designing the Hilton Madison Monona Terrace

Linda Snyder and project designers
Photograph provided by Linda Snyder

In the world of hotel design, I imagine it’s easy to fall into the trap of familiar layouts, where a hotel in Florida is no different than one in Colorado. But for Linda Snyder, it’s imperative that the hotels she designs are familiar reflections of their cities. Using the Hilton Madison Monona Terrace, Linda and I discussed her process and how she approached visualizing the space.

“We don’t have a signature look,” says Linda. “We approach every property specific to the owner, the location, the architectural feature that might be part of that property. It is a part of our process to research the area and, whenever possible, see the area to get a personal feeling of it.” With the Madison Hilton, Linda visited on more than one occasion to understand what defines the city and its people, latching on to some prominent aspects of Madison culture and a few things I believe residents often overlook.

“In my very first visit to Madison, I did spend quite a bit of time exploring the community. It just has such a great feel. I was interested initially by the connection of the hotel to the convention center, which is, of course, a Frank Lloyd Wright design. The university has a big impact on all aspects of the community. When I started looking into the university and graduates of the university, I quickly discovered that Dale Chihuly was another graduate of the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He’s so well known for his glass work, and I also really like his paper pieces.”

Linda felt strongly that she had to bring local art to the property. “This is a community really involved in the arts, and there were other really well-known artists that also went to the university. I just thought it made sense to let art be the focus of our renovation.”

As well as contacting Teresa Abel at Abel Contemporary Gallery, Linda “looked into some of the artists in the university, discovering the works of Brian Kluge and Emily Arthur, ideally suited for the installation. Everything about it was just really perfect for the installation. … What I wanted to do is utilize artwork on this property in unconventional ways. Using large murals in the coffers of the ceiling of the lobby and in the restaurant was an early concept that we had. … The piece we used for the lobby ceiling was on display at Teresa’s gallery. It was such a strong image; I was immediately drawn to it.”

With a prominent concept of local art, the next step was to give it all a sense of place in the Madison isthmus. “Because of our location on the lake, we wanted to tie the design to water. The image by Eric Thomas Wolever reproduced as two ceiling panels in the lobby is a bold abstraction of rowboats, while a print by Emily Arthur of the cranes native to the lakes was installed in the ceiling coffers of the restaurant.” The strongest lakeside allusion is achieved in the installation of clay buoys sculpted by Brian Kluge. “If you had to pick one from the collection as a favorite, it would be a difficult task, as each is special and unique in very different ways.”

The artwork connects each space through river and lake muses, but the space itself needed to have a kinesthetic flow as much as a visual one. “It was a challenge to create a connection to the restaurant and bar because the elevators are positioned in the center of the space, with narrow passage on each side.” The design goal was to employ a full bar to connect the spaces. “The most difficult thing was to figure out the flow from the entry to the front desk, then maintain it through the restaurant to the convention center while assuring that the bar is approachable from all spaces. The dining flows directly off the bar, which is also oriented to draw guests who are waiting in the lobby.”

It’s all in an effort to “create public space where the guests want to be. Whether they want to work individually or they want to hang out with other guests.” Linda discussed accommodating those who want to connect in the restaurant on their computer as well as spaces that function for large groups. “We didn’t want the restaurant to be a sea of tables. We wanted different styles and configurations of furniture to provide groupings that would appeal to each guest. … We incorporated various partitions to keep the flow open as much as possible, but at the same time creating more intimate dining areas for guests.”

Strategically placed in the restaurant are paintings of local scenes by Madison artists leaning against the wall on a ledge next to the fireplace, recalling an artist’s studio or a collector’s home. Linda calls it “a more casual approach to displaying a collection of art,” and I found myself appreciating the way it shifts the balance of the wall toward the patrons and away from the ceiling.

Specific choices in lighting fixtures with attention to color temperature and intensity help to direct the guests’ journeys. Color is another design tool used to identify separate functions within the flow of the public areas. Wall finishes within the lobby are crisp white, while The Audrey restaurant’s walls are treated with an impactful deep blue. Carpets and area rugs provide softness, identify seating groups, and help with acoustics throughout the open-space plan.

Brian Kluge’s sketches of his buoys have been framed for display in the lobby, directly referencing the actual pieces in the restaurant in a deliberate recall to connect the public spaces aesthetically through color, lighting, and local-inspired artwork by Wisconsin artists. The large installation of clay forget-me-nots behind the front desk by Megan Sullivan immediately sheds a layer of separation between guests and staff with a strong message of compassion—a statement by the artist of Alzheimer’s leading to a family member retreating as a wallflower. Yet the whole space wants to be explored and experienced. Nothing feels taboo to interact with and begs an impetus for individual discoveries. Linda has truly created her own work of art in her design, and each day brings with it a blank canvas only nearing completion through lively or reticent interactions and profound or incidental utilizations.

You can find more about Linda Snyder and her design work at lwsadesign.com .

Kyle Jacobson is a copy editor and writer for Home Elements & Concepts.

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