Hotel Case Study: Back In Fashion

The Watergate Hotel is open for business once again, with more than a cursory nod to its storied past.

By Anne Cosgrove
From the August 2017 Issue

Shuttered since 2007, The Watergate Hotel in Washington, DC reopened last summer on June 14, 2016 after an extensive renovation to restore the property. Owned by international New York-based real estate developer, Euro Capital Properties, the iconic hotel situated on the banks of the Potomac River was central to the Watergate Scandal that overshadowed U.S. politics in the early 1970s.

The Watergate Hotel case study
Kingbird at The Watergate Hotel is a dual-concept restaurant offering a contemporary dining room with a bar, along with riverfront outdoor seating. (Photo: Ron Blunt)

Today, the Watergate Hotel offers a luxurious urban resort experience for discerning leisure and business travelers. Originally designed by Italian architect Luigi Moretti in 1961 to look like a sail on the Potomac, the hotel made waves with its groundbreaking contemporary style and came to epitomize the fabulous lifestyle and sophistication of its time when it opened in March 1967.

Upon embarking on the $200 million hotel renovation, Euro Capital Properties hired world-renowned designer Ron Arad and Italian designer Moroso to complement the existing avant-garde architecture with bold curves and mid-century modern design while restoring some of hotel’s original structures such as a grand staircase and an indoor pool. Architectural and interior design firm BBGM was the architect for the project.

“In its heyday, The Watergate Hotel was a playground for powerful people,” says Rakel Cohen, senior vice president of design and development at Euro Capital Properties. “My vision was to recreate that by celebrating Italian architect Luigi Moretti’s original design in the 1960s and updating it with modern, luxurious details that guests and locals will value. We commissioned Ron Arad Architects to design the lobby, the whisky bar, the restaurant, and custom sculptural furnishings to complement the hotel’s classic elegance and bold mid-century modern design. With remarkable talent like Ron Arad we have blended aesthetics from both past and present eras within one extraordinary landmark.”

She adds, “Our goal was to reintroduce this historic property as a modern hotel, meeting today’s standards of luxury while simultaneously maintaining the integrity of the original structure.”

Today, The Watergate features 336 guestrooms designed for comfort and sophistication, half of which include balconies. Six Diplomat Suites, 24 Premier Suites, and two Presidential Suites provide further luxury accommodations. Each guestroom features natural light, floor-to-ceiling marble bathrooms with solid granite vanities, 24-hour in-room dining, cutting edge technology, and diffusers featuring the hotel’s signature Red Flower Oakwood scent.

The renovated property features a new contemporary restaurant, lobby whisky bar, 85 new guestrooms, 27,000 square feet of meeting and function space, a full-service spa, and a rooftop bar—Top Of The Gate that affords visitors panoramic views of the Potomac River.

Guests and locals alike now enjoy a glimpse into the hotel’s past through its design, which includes original structural elements like the marble spiral staircase located in the hotel lobby and its indoor pools. Meanwhile, the staff wears retro-inspired uniforms conceptualized by Janie Bryant, the costume designer for the television series Mad Men.

The renovation didn’t shy away from the hotel’s connection to the Watergate Scandal. Room key cards read “No Need To Break In.” And those who are on hold on the telephone may hear some of President Richard Nixon’s most well-known speeches.

A Chat With Rakel Cohen

The Watergate Hotel case study
Rakel Cohen, Senior Vice President of Design and Development, Euro Capital Projects

You were intimately involved with the renovation of The Watergate Hotel. How would you characterize the process?

The Watergate is undoubtedly one of the most glamorous and illustrious hotels in the world. We paid meticulous attention to every detail in its renovation. Its intrigue is driven by evocative design, from the deep-rooted retro feel to the mystique that lies behind every curve of the hotel’s architecture.

What’s prompted the recent decision to create the signature guestroom, The Watergate Scandal Room 214?

We pay homage to the past with details throughout the property, but everyone kept asking about room 214. We needed to do something bold. The decision to team up with Lyn Paolo, known for her work on the television series Scandal, was an easy choice.

In June 2017, timed to coincide with the 45th anniversary of the notorious Watergate break-in, The Watergate announced a new signature guestroom—The Watergate Scandal Room 214. On June 17, 1972, E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy, who helmed The Watergate break-in team, were located in that room while the burglary at the Democratic National Committee in the adjacent Watergate Complex took place.

“Redesigning an iconic hotel that complemented its original elegance and bold mid-century modern design proved to be a test and triumph in the design process,” says Cohen. “Working within such a significant period piece, the designers sought to inhabit Moretti’s original curves using their own, to create something complementary, yet new.”

The Watergate Hotel renovationA Hospitable Experience

Behind the scenes, the desire for operational efficiency was not forgotten in the renovation. “As a luxury lifestyle hotel, we were very conscious to bring the latest in technology and amenities to each and every guest space in the hotel,” explains Cohen. “It’s a contemporary redesign of an historic property. We want guests to feel transported to another time without losing the convenience and necessity of the latest in technological travel comforts.”

The Watergate Hotel renovationShe continues, “I’m happy to say we have all the bells and whistles when comes to the infrastructure for being sustainable. We have two building automation systems that were installed for optimization of energy efficiency. An automated system controls all mechanical equipment in the public and back of the house spaces. And in guestrooms, we installed an automated system that controls lighting, HVAC, drapes etc. And all areas throughout the hotel are controlled by lighting occupancy and have smart switches for day, evening, and night settings.”

Patrons of The Watergate have an array of options for dining, all overseen by executive chef Michael Santoro.

The Watergate Hotel renovation
Originally opened in 1967, The Watergate Hotel (top) in Washington, DC was designed to mimic a sail on the Potomac River. The 336 guestrooms in the renovated hotel feature automated shades to quickly let in natural light (middle). The Next Whiskey Bar (bottom) features a striking curved wall of custom bottles. (Photos: Ron Blunt)

Kingbird is a dual-concept restaurant offering a contemporary dining room with a bar, along with riverfront outdoor seating. The menu features ingredient-driven American cuisine with a French twist, paired with a global wine list.

The Next Whisky Bar, carved into the hotel lobby, stands vertical with an undulating wall of custom whisky bottles featuring labels sculpted and stamped out of metal. An expansive spirit list highlights whisky, bourbon and rye from small batch producers and large distillers, and a variety of cigars to enjoy on the terrace or rooftop.

Meanwhile, the rooftop Top of the Gate opened this summer. The space was designed as an additional amenity for guests to relax and enjoy panoramic views of the Potomac River, the Pentagon, and the Washington Monument in an open-air setting.

Argentta Spa also debuted in summer 2017. The 12,000 square foot facility features eight treatment suites, a unisex steam room and nail salon, changing rooms, sauna and steam rooms, and a relaxation area to unwind pre-and post-treatment. The space also contains a 15 yard indoor, saltwater pool, whirlpool, an aqua aerobic space, barre studio, and state-of-the-art gym.

The hotel’s 27,000 square feet of meeting and function space is comprised of 11 flexible indoor/outdoor spaces. The 7,000 square foot Moretti Grand Ballroom—a new addition to the property—features state-of-the-art technology, LED light panels, and a statement wall built from Gucci marble along with an additional 10,000 square feet of outdoor space overlooking the Potomac River.

When asked to name her favorite part of The Watergate today, Cohen replies, “The overall design of the hotel, from the biggest space to the smallest details, from the grand Moretti Ballroom and the stunning rooftop bar to the patterns of the marble in each room, was such a pleasure to develop that I could never choose a favorite part. I’m so happy to be able to share our vision with the world now that the redesign is complete.”

Project Information

Name of Facility: The Watergate Hotel. Budget: $200 million. Construction Timetable: Closed for renovation in 2007; re-opened in June 2016. Facility Owner: Euro Capital Properties. In-House Managing Director: Jeff David. Architect: BBGM.Construction Manager: Grunley Construction. Electrical/Mechanical Engineer: Vanderweil Engineering. Structural Engineer: Tadjer Cohen Edelson. Other Notable Firms: Ron Arad Architects (lobby design, The Next Whiskey Bar, Kingbird, select custom furnishings)..

Interior Information

Furnishings: Moroso. Flooring: Kaswell, Baumstark, Realize, Stark. Building Automation System: Johnson Controls. Guest Room Automation: Evolve Controls. Fire System Components: Honeywell. Lighting Products: Preciosa, Illuminations, Realize.

hospitalThis article is based on project literature and an interview with Cohen. To learn more about The Watergate Hotel, visit

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