U.S. Virgin Hotel No. 2 has Canadian designer

VANCOUVER — Doris Hager and Zandro Tumaliuan of Hager Design International, Vancouver, shared their thoughts on the design of the second North American Virgin Hotel, which opened recently in San Francisco, including what's the same as the first one in Chicago and what's different.

Virgin Hotels' San Francisco property opened late last month. The 12-storey, 78,000-square-foot mid-rise is located in SoMa (South of Market) and situated next to the Yerba Buena Gardens and Moscone Center.

Hager Design International was called in to take over after the owner, Paradigm Hotels Group, couldn’t resolve the differences with the initial design firm, HBA Studio. For the next two-and-a-half years, the Canadian firm worked as designer of record on the project.

Doris Hager.

Doris Hager.

“We used the core of their initial concept, but the materials and furniture all changed,” Hager told CLN. “We inherited the drawings and specs, and worked with the Virgin Brand to make the changes. The Virgin Brand is very hands on, and the project was important because it is their first franchised hotel.”

The hotel has 192 rooms, two penthouse suites, a rooftop restaurant, bar, and lounge, and a ground-level coffee shop. 

“The core principles from Virgin's first hotel in Chicago were implemented into this one. The bed is their standard bed, the same as the Chicago Hotel.”

The San Francisco hotel features some innovative food and beverage options. 

“The rooftop bar is fantastic,” said Hager. Gensler San Francisco created the 12th storey Everdene bar and lounge, with great views of the city, and Hager Design International helped implement it once the shop drawings were done. “It's a completely covered outdoor bar, funky and lively with sports on screens, and lots of interactive meeting space.” One of the instagrammable moments was when a musician proposed on the rooftop.

The Commons Club restaurant, located in the hotel's main entrance, features a grand staircase wall—”a stunning installation of deconstructed Victorian-era architectural elements, as well as a 30-foot-high velvet swag curtain for theatrical effect,” according to Architectural Digest. It is an airy space with floor-to-ceiling windows, curtains dividing up the dining room, a showpiece bar and breathtaking chandeliers. Virgin Hotels hopes to turn this spot into a central gathering place for both guests and for locals passing through or working in the area.

“They very much encourage people to hang out and liven up the space. The bar is really popular, and very busy… and Richard Branson does go there,” Hager said.

The space is home to three food and beverage offerings. The Kitchen by Adrian Garcia serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The Bar features nightly music from a roster of DJs, and includes a jukebox, plus a swing near the bar — great Instagrammable moments. And then there's the Shag Room.

“Everywhere you look, there are lots of details, in the lobby, the library, the coffee shop,” said Hager. “The Shag Room — as in shag carpet — is off the lobby, a place where people can relax, have  drink or read a book.” It's a more intimate lounge that features exclusive wines and beers served from a European-style bar. 

There's also a highly visible street-level coffee shop, Funny Library, which has a separate entrance along the Fourth Street corridor.

The bathrooms have individual toilet rooms, but a common sink for all sexes.

Zandro Tumaliuan.

Zandro Tumaliuan.

“When you walk into the hotel, the staff are wearing blue jeans — you mainly see them blending with the guests; they don't stand out,” said Zandro Tumaliuan of Hager Design International, who was design director for the project. “It doesn't have to be pretentious to be high end.”

“It's a very trendy, hip hotel,” Hager said. Mind you, the Virgin Hotel San Francisco is not strictly for millennials, though it does tend to attract younger, mid-level executives, and draw from the technology sector. Older travellers are also attracted by the music and excitement; it's a higher end hotel and people want to be associated with that. It has a boutique feeling to it.

“It's a lifestyle hotel.  The public can come in, but it's not an environment for families. It's in the middle of San Francisco, and it's famous for whoever's going to the conference centre; it taps into that kind of clientele,” said Tumaliuan.

“It attracts musicians and their followers; it's very entertainment-driven,” he added.

The challenges included taking over someone else's work, and trying to work with the brand to help create their vision, Hager said. 

There was some fine tuning of the Chicago original for this version. For example, the owners knew they wanted a shag room, but 'modern' can mean 50 different things to 50 different people. A lot of things were made in China, which came with its own set of challenges in the current trade environment.  The hotel is located next door to the new Yerba Buena/Moscone Muni subway station, and the owners wanted to time the hotel opening to coincide with the subway opening.

The guestrooms

All of the rooms, which range in size from 245 to 634 square feet, are unique. They all consist of two distinct spaces separated by barn-style sliding doors. Hager Design International incorporated wood tones and soft textures. They have black accents, and of course, the signature “Virgin Red”. 

The guest rooms have vanities in the hallways, and separate shower and toilet rooms. They're not huge, because this is San Francisco after all, but they are light and airy, said Hager. The fridges are fancy old fashioned ones. There's a footrest on the bed so a guest can sit down and do work as well.

When Virgin Hotels opened their first hotel in Chicago in 2017, Condé Nast voted it the best hotel in America. The company has a number of other hotels planned in the next few years: Dallas and Nashville coming later this year; New York City and Las Vegas in 2020; Silicon Valley, New Orleans, DC Union Market and Edinburgh in 2021; and Palm Springs, planned for 2024.