It wasn’t long ago that hotels felt like places favoring function over aesthetics. You need a place to sleep? Here’s a bed. It’ll feel like home because we put a painting of a flower over the headrest. For maximum comfort, enjoy our television. We have HBO. You’re hungry? Bagel and coffee—it’s continental. Then all the facilities felt like they came out of the drab motel-like nursing home in Bubba Ho-Tep. Actually, in some places this hasn’t changed.
But when the Hilton Madison Monona Terrace decided to remodel, they aimed to create spaces guests would make a point to seek out. It starts with checking in. “The front desk used to be a very old style with a barrier that was tucked into the wall,” says Skip Harless, general manager of the hotel. “[Designer Linda Synder] took it and moved it out into the space to make it freestanding, so the guest services agents can move around very quickly and easily.” In addition, the guests find the staff to be more accessible without the degree of separation inherent in having a closed off area for staff only.
The front desk is shared with a lobby that’s part library, part coffeehouse. Tile floor mimicking the wood planks of a spa connects the spaces to transition past a Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired screenless shoji-wall partition. There, white spherical fixtures and circular accents give contrast to a very linear backdrop and foreground of carpet and couches. This is all next to a great hearth of brickwork also inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright.
Partially in the lobby is the bar—a long white marble cane-shaped top with slender Edison bulbs hanging overhead like celestial raindrops. Skip says, “We were trying to pull the bar together into the lobby instead of having a formal lobby setting. This is a place you can drink. You can have some food. Everything works together.” Blue marbled vinyl stools add to the refinement, guiding guests to the Hilton’s new signature restaurant: The Audrey Kitchen + Bar.
The Audrey is named after Audrey Munson, America’s first supermodel and the first American female actor to appear fully nude in film. She’s also attributed to nearly 100 sculptures, 3 of which are part of the Wisconsin State Capitol, including the bronze statue at the dome’s peak.
Much like Audrey, the restaurant has the versatility to accommodate all needs. More Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired partitions help create cozy nooks, movable seating adjusts for groups of various sizes, and there’s even a space that can be altered to create a large table. Along the far wall, paintings from local artists sit on a ledge, rather than being hung. “Everybody always asks when we’re going to hang the art,” says Skip. “But it’s exactly placed as the designer wanted it.”
The real charm of the remodel comes through in pieces by Wisconsin artists, found in abundance throughout the lobby and restaurant. When Linda came from Los Angeles, CA, to get a sense of Madison, she was struck by the number of notable artists in the area, including Emily Arthur, Barry Roel Carlsen, John S. Miller, Deb Gottschalk, and Eric Thomas Wolever. Some of the most prominent works featured in the redesign are by Brian Kluge. His collections of clay buoys are displayed to not only complement the other pieces, but to add to the motif of water hinted at through blue carpeting, walls, and beach-house bathroom doors. “He spent hours laying these out,” says Skip. “He originally placed these on a board to get the angle the way he wanted so they look like they’re floating.” Sketches of the buoys are framed on the lobby’s library shelves, a touch that gives the layout a feeling of totality in process and coherence.
The largest piece is behind the front counter. Large ceramic forget-me-nots, the bottom row full of color and the top fading away, are as lovely as they are personal for artist Meghan Sullivan—breathing a powerful whisper to the mental deterioration that is Alzheimer’s.
To the left of the front desk is the Hilton’s new event space: the Liberty Room. Here, images from Norwegian culture and the early days of Madison sparingly give life to the wall. Dropped headers create white honeycombs wherein light fixtures add to the natural light given by large windows at the far ends of the room. Ranette Maurer, the hotel’s director of sales, says, “This is another option for people looking for a unique space, such as a private room in a restaurant in Madison, because it’s not traditional hotel ballroom space. It has a very distinct look and feel that’s a little bit different. There’s a lot of personality. It’s a bit more sophisticated.” It’s not garish, which can happen in hotel spaces.
The remodel accomplishes much in differentiating itself as a distinct piece of the state, capturing the regency of the capitol, the idyllic lure of the isthmus, and the profound eye of the Wisconsin artist. Its big open concept transitions with ease from calm to esteem, both seasoned amongst one another to balance their potencies. Linda’s realized vision certainly has a lot to say to residents. It’s a fantastic reminder that speaks to easily overlooked facets of our culture worthy of celebration.
Kyle Jacobson is a copy editor and writer for Home Elements & Concepts.
Visit homeelementsandconcepts.com for an online exclusive article featuring project designer Linda Snyder. Also pick up Madison Essentials and visit madisonessentials.com for more on the art and artists.
To learn more about Hilton Monona Terrace’s new restaurant, The Audrey, check out
Hilton Madison Monona Terrace
9 E. Wilson Street
Madison, WI 53703