By Chris Teale (Photo/Chris Teale)
Built in 1986 in the style of a Federalist mansion, the Morrison House has been awarded four diamonds by AAA’s hotel ratings classifications 29 years in a row, marking it as one with upscale features, extensive amenities and a high level of hospitality and service.
Now, the hotel owned by Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, which also operates the Hotel Monaco and the Lorien Hotel & Spa in Alexandria in addition to 59 other hotels across the country, is getting a facelift. Morrison House is scheduled to close temporarily in February for multi-million dollar renovations to its 45 guest rooms and restaurant, known as The Grille, which will close and be completely refreshed into a new 70-seat eatery. It is slated to re-open in April 2016.
Matt Hurlburt, Kimpton’s area director of operations and general manager of the Hotel Monaco, said the renovations will make the hotel more open and inviting while maintaining what he described as its exceptional customer service, with the restaurant and bar brought forward and nearer to the lobby to make it feel more accessible on entry.
“The service there, due to its size, we can really connect with our guests and really take care of them and make it a personal experience,” he said. “That’ll keep going. But then we’ll have this fantastic product that will flow better, it’ll work fantastically for whether you’re coming for the restaurant, staying at the hotel, doing both or coming for a meeting or event. It’ll elevate that aspect to match what the service level is.”
The hotel’s new interior will be designed by David Hill, who also redesigned the Hotel Monaco earlier this year. Hurlburt said he has taken his inspiration from the Potomac River and local traditions like the wearing of plaid to celebrate the city’s Scottish heritage. Part of his inspiration came from the bright colors inside the Carlyle House, while also staying true to the literary themes found in the Morrison House, which houses a library for use by guests.
All the guest rooms will be re-fit during the hotel’s renovation and the corridors will be updated. But the restaurant and lobby areas will see the biggest changes, as Hurlburt said the relocation and rebranding of The Grille will give the hotel a new vigor. Details were not forthcoming about the nature of the new restaurant, but Hurlburt said it will be good to update the eatery’s concept.
“I think restaurants, you need to make sure you keep them fresh and you keep them up to date,” he said. “I think there’s also a lot of new options for people in Old Town and in this area, and I think that this is a great opportunity for us to use what Kimpton was really known for in our industry, which is partnering really great restaurants that are attractive to the local community as much as they are to the hotel guests with a great hotel. That really is what we’re looking to do.”
The biggest addition will be a new ballroom with 985 square feet of space available for corporate and social events, with space for up to 80 guests. With the Morrison House already a popular venue for wedding celebrations and other events in two smaller adjoining rooms, Hurlburt said the new space will capitalize on that and make it available for wider uses. The space will have natural light from windows on two sides, and be a key driver in the redesigned and reconfigured lobby area on the main floor of the hotel.
“Having the advantage of being a hotel for so many years there and an expansion and working with clients, we saw the need to have a little bit bigger space,” he said. “It’s a popular venue for weddings, and it’s a popular venue for meetings. Before, we didn’t have this one large room, so we maybe would sometimes share two different rooms for one event. This will create a better space for everyone to be together and either meet together or enjoy a great social event like a wedding together.”
Most crucial of all for Kimpton has been to ensure that the Morrison House retains its character, albeit as a building designed in the 20th century to look several centuries older. Ensuring it continues to fit in with the neighborhood around it has been a driver for Hurlburt and his colleagues.
“That’s been a key to the design,” he said. “We [made sure to] keep the feel of the Morrison House. The building itself when you walk up to it is a Federalist mansion style building, and it wouldn’t work if you walked in and there was some kind of updated strange design that didn’t match that. We need to make sure we stay true to it.”