Willard InterContinental exhibit wall panel


Willard InterContinental exhibit wall panel


Wall panel from the 2013 New York School of Interior Design exhibit "Designing the Luxury Hotel: Neal Prince and the Inter-Continental Brand."

The Willard Inter-Continental has a long and storied history, dating back to 1816 when a row of two-story houses was first built on the corner of 14th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue and transformed into a hotel. In 1901, Joseph E. Willard built a Beaux-Arts “sky-scraper” at that site, soaring 160 feet high. He hired the architect Henry Janeway Hardenbergh, who was already well-known for designing New York’s Waldorf- Astoria Hotel. American presidents have stayed and dined at the Willard, and Martin Luther King Jr’s famous I Have a Dream speech was penned there days before the march on Washington. The hotel’s interiors were as grand as
their guests, featuring 35 kinds of marble quarried in Europe, red rugs laid upon mosaic floors, scagiola columns, gilt-colored cornices, crystal chandeliers, and other elaborate details that announced the sensual exuberance of the Victorian period.

After a period of steep economic and urban decline in 1960s Washington, D.C., the building was in a terrible state of disrepair. The hotel was officially closed in 1968, and was slated for demolition, but in early 1974, the National Trust for Historic Preservation stepped in. On June 12, 1978, ownership of the Willard passed to the U.S. Government through the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation (PADC), which had been formed to clean up the neighborhood.

Shortly thereafter, InterContinental was contracted to manage the hotel, and Prince’s team planned an extensive restoration of the grand public spaces and hotel rooms. . For his final project, Prince hired Sarah Tomerlin Lee of Tom Lee, Ltd. to restore the glamor and sumptuousness of the lobby, Peacock Alley, the Crystal and Willard Rooms, the Ladies Lounge, the Robin Bar, and the oval suites including the Presidential. Lee was well-known for her ability to marry historical interiors with modern interpretations of traditional styles for an updated aesthetic.

Prince and his department at Inter-Continental worked in close consultation with Lee to meticulously research the original condition of the hotel, salvaging pieces of original woodwork and plaster to create molds that could be used in the restoration process, and scraping through as much as 16 layers of paint to arrive at the original color of the walls. Ironically, what they found through historical research was that the original palette was too harsh for modern tastes, and had to be softened. Scraps of fabric from the original furnishings were used to fabricate plush Victorian reproductions for rooms and seating areas. Balconies and bulls-eye windows were reconstructed to capitalize on the hotel’s arresting views. Tin ceiling tiles that once adorned the lobby with state seals were reproduced by set designers from the Metropolitan Opera. Lee spent three years on the Willard project, not only restoring the historical features, but also modernizing the guest rooms in a French style that complemented the surrounding architecture. The refurbishment brought the hotel back to life and helped InterContinental brand the Willard as an important historical American hotel.


New York School of Interior Design


Prince, Neal A.


New York School of Interior Design




Willard Intercontinental (Hotel)
Inter-Continental Hotels and Resorts
New York School of Interior Design. Gallery
Hotels--Designs and plans


Neal A. Prince Special Collection & Archives, New York School of Interior Design, New York, NY, United States




New York, NY




New York School of Interior Design, “Willard InterContinental exhibit wall panel,” Designing the Luxury Hotel: Neal Prince and the Inter-Continental Brand, accessed June 17, 2024, https://nealprince.omeka.net/items/show/110.