Little Rock’s Capital Hotel, Restored and Resplendent
Passing through the entrance of the landmark Capital Hotel is like dabbling in selective time travel. You’ve been transported to the lobby of a grand luxury hotel of the Gilded Age – impressive in its soaring proportions, fine decorations, and elegant materials.
But since its multi-year, $24-million restoration, you experience it through the sophisticated 21st-century vision of David Kleinberg Design Associates, who masterminded the re-design in close collaboration with the owners, Harriet and Warren Stephens. Opulent without being flashy, tasteful without being bland, what you see is a light and uplifting interior, blessed with great architectural bones and layered with pleasing details, from meticulously restored original features, to seamless classic additions.
The walls and the massive columns supporting the second story oculus are cool white trompe l’oeil marble, artfully grained with delicate traces of grey. The colonnade forms a strong symmetrical axis from the entrance to the rear, with the reception desks along one side, echoed by corresponding floor-to-ceiling mirrors on the other. A dramatic staircase rises symmetrically to the second floor and beyond. Bold accents of bronze top the columns and ring the oculus, underscored by a rich Victorian palette of garnet, rust, and gold in the carpeting and upholstery. The floors are a vast expanse of energizing mosaic composed of white hexagonal tiles picked out in a colorful pattern of rust and green. The tiles were painstakingly restored, and roughly two-thirds are original to the building. Overhead is the jewel in the crown of this handsome interior, a brilliant stained glass skylight with an image of the state capital dome in the center.
Tailored sofas and comfortable armchairs form congenial seating arrangements in the lobby, the centerpiece of which is a grand four-sided dos-à-dos, a back-to-back settee favored by stylish Victorians, in glorious rust-colored damask with deep silk bullion fringe. Potted palms lend an air of breezy glamour.
Ashley’s, The Capital Hotel’s signature fine dining restaurant, shares the lobby’s handsome classic design, punctuated by cheerful nods to its high-style nineteenth-century origins. Creamy walls and a deep coffered ceiling provide a peaceful geometry, while the space is enlivened by neat rows of gilt-framed mirrors, carpeting of dramatic black and gold swirls, tufted garnet hued banquettes with rust colored throw pillows, and a collection of sparkling cranberry crystal.
Above the hotel’s grand entrance portico on West Markham Street is an open-air lounge with casual rattan furniture and a sheltering frosted glass ceiling. This seating area affords the best view of the Capital Hotel’s remarkable cast iron façade, which was shipped to Little Rock from New York when it was built in 1872.
Originally constructed for retail and office use [incorporating space for "gentlemen's living quarters," as well,] the no-expenses-spared building became a hotel in 1876. In 2005, it closed for a massive renovation, the purpose of which was to reclaim The Capital’s position as the premier hotel in the city of Little Rock. To achieve that, completely new systems were installed, infrastructure created, and facilities –including five professional kitchens – were built. The 120 guest rooms became 94 of a more gracious size, with more substantial closets and more than ample bath space.
Because of the quirks of buildings of this age, those guest accommodations are largely individual, having dimensions and layouts – even window sizes – all their own. The design team therefore treated the rooms in a residential fashion, evoking in each one a particular sense of restrained Southern charm. Calming peach palettes are accented by deep burgundy upholstery and gleaming mahogany furnishings. Glass lanterns hung from the high ceilings sparkle overhead, and all guest rooms, from the intimate Superior Queens to the regal Capital Kings, are enhanced by Frette linens, Molton Brown bath products, wi-fi Internet service, and large flat screen televisions. Many of the ‘capital rooms’ were part of the hotel’s original suites, and retain their sense of grandeur in features like four-poster beds, large separate soaking tubs and shower enclosures, and comfortable seating areas with sofas and club chairs.
The suites function as elegantly appointed apartments within the hotel, perfect for entertaining and conducting business. Discreet powder rooms off the entry foyers, dining tables seating eight, massive desks equipped with full internet capabilities, and multiple seating arrangements combine ease and efficiency.
“Southern Comfortable” is how The Capital likes to characterize its elegant new look. The design has been described as “worldly and refined.” With all the modern amenities now complementing its traditional Southern grace, you’ll say, “I’ll be back!”