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My, How Time (Square) Flies

Designers turn to an innovative tile-over-tile installation system to overcome time and budget constraints in the renovation of the Hilton Times Square.

By Ron Treister | Photography by David Archambault


Designers turn to an innovative tile-over-tile installation system to overcome time and budget constraints in the renovation of the Hilton Times Square.

Interesting fact: Times Square wasn’t always called Times Square.

In early 1904, New York Times publisher, Adolph Ochs, moved the newspaper’s operations to a dynamic new skyscraper on 42nd Street in an area known as Longacre Square. From there, he persuaded Mayor George B. McClellan, Jr. to construct a subway station right at that location. Shortly thereafter, on April 8th, 1904, the area was renamed Times Square.

From that day on, the neighborhood in Midtown Manhattan has continued to change and evolve. One of its latest evolutions comes exactly 109 years after the square first came to be, as Sunstone Hotel Investors, owner of the Hilton Times Square, embarked on a major renovation of its 540 guestrooms.

“We wanted to incorporate a timeless, unique design that would have a minimum impact on the occupancy of the property,” recalls George Hensen, Sunstone’s vice president of design and construction. It was for that reason that Sunstone contracted with Flick-Mars, a Dallas-based firm specializing in hospitality design. The company’s creative philosophy centers around designing unique guest experiences centered in a location’s indigenous surroundings, and the Hilton’s iconic location provided many options for the team to tap.

“We like to tell a story of the place,” says Matt Mars, architect and partner with the firm. “In doing so, guests will experience some of the locality’s visuals, and quite possibly some of its history, right in their rooms. At the same time, we want the rooms to be calming. Whereas there is so much energy and activity outside of the Hilton Times Square, the guestrooms should be a respite. For example, we want the room experience to be unique, similar to living in New York, rather than visiting New York.”

Kathy Moran, senior associate at Flick-Mars, was the lead designer on the project and tasked with researching the area’s rich history.

“My first course of action was to check up on the history of Times Square,” she says. “I found out how the New York Times influenced the area, and thus incorporated a printing theme into my designs.”PageBreak

As a result, guestroom headboards have been custom-built to emulate the look of old-fashioned printers’ blocks; the ‘time’ theme is captured through artwork with clock motifs and the incorporation of wall clocks in each room. The carpet pattern, with its tactile texture, was inspired by a birds-eye view of the Manhattan cityscape. “For every design, there was a strong rationale of Time Square’s influence,” Moran adds.

The design team also wanted to use an Italian-made porcelain tile in the guest bathrooms, but the high cost and time demands of tile installation quickly forced them to search for alternatives. “This hotel always has at least 95 percent occupancy, so we needed a tile product to be installed with a dependable installation system that would ultimately save time and money for our client. Rooms at the Hilton Times Square simply have to be available; they cannot be ‘down’ during any renovation,” Moran says.

The answer came in the form of Daltile’s SlimLite 1/8-inch porcelain panels. Cut to a designer’s specification from a 3 by 10-foot sheet, the thin panels can be used for large spaces like tub surrounds while minimizing grout joints. Perhaps more importantly, the system enabled a “tile-over-tile installation,” greatly reducing labor costs and demolition—and in turn helping the team meet the aggressive timeline and budget.

“We really liked the SlimLite material because of the monolithic look we could achieve,” Moran adds. “We also knew that this product would be easy to clean and maintain, which would keep hotel housekeeping prices down.”

The team also opted to use the LATICRETE installation system to meet the project’s stringent demands. “This was in no way an ordinary tile installation,” says Tom McKeon, LATICRETE technical representative. “If the large-format Daltile porcelain wall panels weren’t installed correctly and were to break off at the corners, for example, it would be much more difficult to replace them than just removing a 6 by 12-inch tub surround wall tile and replacing it. This installation had to be as close to perfect as possible.”

The overall renovation started on floor 44 and moved downwards floor-by-floor to the lowest level, the 22nd floor. Led by Newark-based Del Turco Bros., craftsmen installed both the SlimLite panels and other porcelain tiles designed to emulate the look of polished Crema Marfil, using various grout and thin-set products from LATICRETE for the floors and in the tub surrounds. “We were working under strong deadlines,” says Paul Del Turco. “We actually were asked to complete half of one floor per day. That was challenging.”

The renovation of the Hilton Times Square was completed by the end of April 2013. “We believe it brings the hotel a level above its competition relative to overall design and installation professionalism,” says Moran. “It’s a good feeling to know that professional suppliers are there at all times to support our creative efforts.”

Perhaps the entire scope of this major renovation was best described by Kaizad Charna, general manager of the Hilton Times Square. “Everything has been done so professionally. I can’t recall any interruptions to our normal business flow. For the most part, during this renovation, we have been able to operate our business as usual.”