Then-and-now: A new, and old, look



A part of Montreal’s history gets updated

“The existing guestrooms were very scary. It was hard to imagine this was a Ritz-Carlton,” says J Lee Rofkind, founder and managing director of Hong Kong-based Buz Design, the interior-design firm that oversaw the recent renovation of the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Montreal.

Rofkind elaborates on the state of the historic hotel when she was approached to do the project: “It had really languished for a number of years. It’s not so much that a major change was required, but that everything needed to be refreshed. At the same time, we wanted the design to be more true to the original building, which was built in 1912.”

Part of the original vision for this major overhaul included hardwood floors throughout the hotel, including the guestrooms. Yet, as Rofkind explains, undertakings of this size often encounter unforeseen circumstances. She says, “This project originally started before the economic downturn in 2008. Afterward, we couldn’t be as ambitious as we wanted.”

Plan B involved going with hardwood floors in some areas, such as suites, but the guestrooms would have carpeting: the wall-to-wall variety; no tiles. Like many creative professionals, Rofkind desperately avoids looking back on finished projects because she sees every little flaw — as she sees it. The guestroom carpeting serves as a good example.

Then and now sep oct 2013

In refreshing the old suites (top left), hardwood floors won out (see cover). An entire level of the hotel (top right) was gutted as part of the makeover. The very ‘80s look in the washrooms (bottom left) was replaced with a simple but elegant design that more reflected the hotel’s heritage.

Rofkind explains, “No project will go exactly as you want it. You’re part of a team. Committee decisions are made. With the carpeting, they went with a plain beige colour. I wanted something bolder to provide more accenting to a room. It’s how it goes sometimes.”

Another example of a project not going according to plan involved an all-too-common nemesis to renovators: asbestos. Yet, in this case, because the building is so old, the kind of asbestos was completely unexpected.

According to Rofkind, “I have literally seen asbestos everywhere; under tiles — you name it. But I have never seen it in the plaster in the walls, as it was in the hotel. It changed our plans completely, and considerably delayed the completion of the project.”

Rofkind likes to rely on user feedback to assess the success of a public renovation such as the one completed for the Montreal Ritz-Carlton. In this case, she says, “I was approached by people who got married in the hotel, had their honeymoons, or other special event. And virtually all of them were so happy. They kept saying the hotel they cherished so much looked better than ever. I’m very pleased with that.”

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