“I can’t do everything myself,” Anda Andrei says as she sweeps through the lobby of 11 Howard, a former Holiday Inn in New York’s SoHo that she revamped at the behest of the developer Aby Rosen. So when Rosen suggested that she “try something more Scandinavian” for the guest rooms, Andrei knew whom to call: Space Copenhagen, the designers of the celebrated restaurant Noma. Under her direction, they created the hotel’s custom furniture.
Andrei is a natural collaborator. As the design guru to Ian Schrager for 29 years, she helped him realize one iconic hotel after another, starting with the Royalton, in New York, the Delano, in Miami Beach, and St Martins Lane, in London; for all three, it was her job to take the designer Philippe Starck’s sometimes bizarre ideas and make them buildable. After Schrager and Starck parted ways, Andrei collaborated with Julian Schnabel (Gramercy Park Hotel), John Pawson (the condo adjoining it), and Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron (the apartment building at 40 Bond Street, where Schrager occupies the penthouse). “I got to work with the best people in the world,” she says. “Even if I were dumb, something would have rubbed off on me.” Andrei, who emigrated from Romania at 27, is anything but dumb—she kept one of the most demanding bosses and some of the most exacting designers happy. Says Pawson, “Anda possesses a rare and formidable intelligence—in terms of design, but also of people. I could always confidently say yes to any project she was a part of.”
Andrei grew up in Bucharest; in 1981 she and her architect husband, Lucian, moved to New York with $200 to their names. But Andrei says she was “a pretty little thing,” which may explain why her first interview, at Gruzen Samton, led to a job. The architecture firm worked on the Royalton for Schrager, who quickly hired Andrei away. Each successive project, she recalls, involved a short period of brainstorming, followed by a much longer period of execution. “The best days are the first three and the last two. The years in between, you’re just in pain.” But it’s pain she can live with. Three years ago, when Andrei hit 60—looking, somehow, 40—she decided it was time to go out on her own. Widowed since 2001, she had been playing the field for years, but now has a serious boyfriend, Billy Ghitis, who encouraged her budding entrepreneurialism. Among her other recent projects is the revamp of the restaurant at the Brooklyn Museum. And then there’s her New York apartment, where she is—ironically—having trouble completing a minor renovation. The place, she says, isn’t designed. “It’s just a history of my life.”
Schrager, who was under the impression that Andrei was retiring, reportedly hasn’t been happy about her slate of new hotel projects. But Andrei insists her entirely unpremeditated return to that business was the result of a chance encounter with Jay Sugarman, who persuaded her to see the 35 acres of waterfront property that his company, iStar, had bought in Asbury Park, New Jersey, with the intent of creating a city within a city. “How can you not want to do a little town?” Andrei asks. Soon she was ticking off ideas—“If you want people to come see how great it is, you need a hotel,” she told Sugarman—and making plans to turn an old Salvation Army shelter into the 110-room Asbury. The hotel opened in May. Andrei designed the rooms to look like beach bungalows, with rubber-tile floors and posters pasted right onto the walls; the rooftop bar features artificial turf and white picket fences. She hopes the Asbury will be a hip hangout that will lead to demand for more buildings on the plot. (A condo by the architect Chad Oppenheim is in the works.) As for 11 Howard, she succumbed to Rosen’s entreaties, in part, she says, because she wanted to have another “baby”—a hotel in New York that feels like her own.
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