TRAVEL DIARY: THE GRITTI PALACE IN VENICE
“Live the full life of the mind, exhilarated by new ideas, intoxicated by the romance of the unusual.” – Ernest Hemingway
I am not sure where Ernest Hemingway wrote this, but I would like to think it was on his terrace overlooking the Grand Canal while staying at the legendary Gritti Palace in Venice. We were fortunate enough to stay in this beautiful palace on our recent trip to Venice with the Rubelli Group who had supplied many of the fabrics for the restoration overseen by Donghia’s creative director Chuck Chewning in 2013. My pictures and words did not do this masterpiece justice so I found these wonderful articles from Architectural Digest detailing the process. My own candids follow at the end.
THE GLAMOROUS HISTORY OF THE GRITTI PALACE/ Text By Mitchell Owens
Travelers go to Paris’s Le Meurice hotel to be immersed in glamour and to Brown’s in London for its clublike embrace, but Venice’s Gritti Palace, a Venetian Gothic wonderland reflected in the shimmering waters of the Grand Canal, is all about romance. As British writer W. Somerset Maugham observed in 1960, “There are few things in life more pleasant than to sit on the terrace of the Gritti when the sun about to set bathes in lovely colour the Salute [basilica], which almost faces you.”
The author wasn’t the only notable to proudly scrawl his name in the hotel’s guest book. Over the years, a number of crowned heads, art collectors, writers, and film stars have taken rooms at the Gritti, which has been through quite a few transformations since its creation in the 15th century as a nobleman’s home. The building served as the residence of the 16th-century Venetian doge Andrea Gritti, for whom it is christened, and, in the 19th century, became a private house that took paying guests. By 1902, it had been annexed by a neighboring hotel and, in the ’40s, launched as an independent operation. The palazzo—now a Starwood Luxury Collection property—underwent a recent update, a nearly $60 million, 15-month restoration by designer Chuck Chewning of Donghia Associates that has buffed the grande dame of the Grand Canal to an even more elegant gleam.
Art collector and Venice resident Peggy Guggenheim arrives by gondola to the Gritti Palace, where she celebrated her 80th birthday, in 1978. Seated next to her are her daughter-in-law, Peggy Angela Vail, and a longtime friend, art dealer John Hohnsbeen.
Ernest Hemingway and his fourth wife, Mary, arrive at the Gritti Palace in the 1950s, following an African safari. According to Hemingway biographer Anthony Burgess, the manager of the hotel was stunned by the writer’s prodigious consumption of alcohol, observing that “three bottles of Valpolicella [red wine] first thing in the day were nothing to him.” Hemingway once staged a midnight baseball game in the hotel’s lobby—and instead of being reprimanded, the great American scribe had 10 percent taken off his bill, since nobody had ever played the sport on the premises before.
CHUCK CHEWNING RENOVATES THE HISTORIC GRITTI PALACE /Text by Adam Gopnik / Photography by Bjorn Wallander
Occupying a 15th-century palazzo on the Grand Canal, the legendary Gritti Palace hotel has long been the preferred Venetian perch for international cultural royalty. Following an exquisite restoration by designer Chuck Chewning, the Gritti is rejuvenated—and more luxurious than ever. Following structural upgrades by architect Gretchen Alexander Harnischfeger, designer and Donghia creative director Chuck Chewning masterminded a top-to-bottom interior renovation.
Nineteenth-century blackamoor lamps flank the entrance. A Baroque church altar rail still serves as the front desk, while the lobby floors were relaid with new marble.A 19th-century copy of Titian’s portrait of the Venetian doge Andrea Gritti graces the Explorer’s Library, which is filled with old navigational instruments and books on discovery. Chewning clad the library’s walls in a Rubelli damask and mingled Donghia furnishings—the sofas and cocktail table—with the hotel’s antiques. The Bar Longhi—named after the 18th-century genre painter Pietro Longhi, three of whose works hang there—has new custom-designed Donghia furniture, including lounge chairs covered in a Rubelli brocatelle as well as tables. Stools in a Rubelli faux leather are pulled up to the bar, which is made of a Baroque marble altar rail. The magnificent hand-painted ceiling beams in the dining room are antique, but the terrazzo floor is new, modeled after the Apollo Room in the nearby Palazzo Pisani Moretta; the brocade on the walls and the brocatelle on the antique chairs are both by Rubelli, and the antique sconces are Venetian. The hotel’s premier suites are named for either famous guests or local landmarks and traditions. In the Hemingway Suite, many of the furnishings predate the renovation, including the Murano chandelier, the vintage mirror, the 18th-century walnut secretary, and the antique Venetian gilded chairs, which were reupholstered in a Rubelli brocade; the curtain fabrics are also by Rubelli, while the cocktail table and carpet are Donghia designs, the latter made by Luke Irwin. The room’s bed features an antique headboard and is dressed in Frette linens with a throw and pillows of Rubelli fabrics; the chairs and ottoman are antique, and the paintings are Venetian scenes. Arrayed on the walls of the Peggy Guggenheim Suite are artworks intended to evoke the collector’s taste; the sofa is a copy of one that was in her Palazzo Venier dei Leoni (now the Peggy Guggenheim Collection museum). A Joan Miró etching (top center) overlooks the sitting area. A Donghia light is suspended above the tub, which is equipped with Dornbracht fittings.The bath is sheathed in Cremo Tirreno marble.The sculptural antiqued-mirror valances in the suite were designed by Donghia; a framed 1960s Hermès scarf hangs above the bed, and vintage Fornasetti plates are displayed between the windows. The Donghia Suite, an homage to decorator Angelo Donghia, the firm’s founder, features a silver-leafed ceiling, Venetian-stucco walls, and a bleached-and-lacquered herringbone floor. The chandelier and seating are all by Donghia; the two large paintings, of the Chrysler Building, are by Bobo Ivancich. A view from the Pisani Suite’s bedroom across to its lounge, where an antique Sicilian majolica bust is displayed atop an antique bureau; throughout the suite, exquisite foliate moldings form cartouches that are painted in contrasting colors and inset with artworks and decorative objects. The John Ruskin Suite’s vivid floral wall covering is offset by its striped curtains; all fabrics, including the velvet on the Napoléon III chaise longue, are by Rubelli. A 19th-century beamed ceiling distinguishes the Punta della Dogana Suite, whose sitting area is furnished with a Donghia-designed table and chairs; the curtains are of a Rubelli damask. In the bedroom—lined in a Rubelli stripe—hand-colored Venetian etchings overlook the antique bed and bench; the Murano lamps (with Fortuny-fabric shades) are new.
The Redentore Terrazza Suite’s spacious roof terrace—a rarity on the Grand Canal—offers incomparable views of the magnificent Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute and the rest of Venice; the furnishings include armchairs by Dedon.
CANDIDS AROUND THE PALACE
Boat Launch on the Grand Canal
ArrivalIl Doge, The Gritti’s Beloved RevaMy RoomSomerset Maugham Suite
View from the SuiteErnest HemingwayErnest Hemingway Suite
Hemingway’s Writing Chair
Sitting Area Under the Doge’s PortraitView from the Reva Bar under MoonlightCelebrating our Final Night at the Reva BarOur Southern Belle Star Spotting…Vanna White in Venice!