From Classic to Trendy: Greenbrier Shoots Craps
LH: When you found out about the renovation and were brought in to consult on it and had a sense of what they were planning, why get involved?
CV: Because I have a lifetime love for the hotel and I do not think they wanted to lose me because I had been an anchor to so many guests over the years who remembered the Greenbrier the way it's always been.
LH: It seems what they are doing at the Greenbrier is not a Draper/Varney upgrade, but a renovation altering the design character that's been a part of the resort for over 60 years, that they hope appeals to a wider demographic: the businessperson and the 20-, 30-something single looking for a good time.
CV: The Greenbrier is an institution, an American icon. It breathes its own. You have to consider the appropriateness of the décor; the history of the place. You just can't ipso facto change something and hope it becomes accepted. You can upgrade and change and still be appropriate, but to redesign so that it loses its historical significance? That's wrong. The Greenbrier is not a W.
LH: Agree or disagree: The Greenbrier is imploding, nobody needs the Greenbrier anymore, nobody cares about it.
CV: I will always love the Greenbrier and will go back with the hope I can infuse my interest in its historic preservation into the heads of those who make design decisions. I don't want the Greenbrier to be just another clone of what people assume a luxury hotel ought to be, a la Ritz-Carlton and Four Seasons. The Greenbrier ought to be unto itself; now it could become just another resort.
LH: Isn't there a danger in doing that, in compromising the history and stature of the Greenbrier with a renovation by committee that makes it, as you say, “just another resort”?
CV: You are absolutely right. One cannot design by committee. When you ask Ernest Hemingway to write a story, Ernest Hemingway can only write it. You cannot ask a committee to write an Ernest Hemingway story.
LH: What goes through your mind when you think about a design, a renovation?
CV: I have to find that little bee in the brain and soul of the property: where is it located, who does it appeal to, what is its age (is it new, is it old?), what are its amenities; what does it tell me, how does it speak to me? After a long sleep together, we have a love affair and I find out how the body of the hotel responds. Then — and only then — do I go ahead and do my thing and create its spirit and its soul. This may sound strange; even spiritual. People may say, “What? Is he crazy?” Well, maybe I am. But I've been crazy at the Greenbrier for 42 years and I'm still crazy about it.
LH: Do you still have a strong design influence at the Greenbrier?
CV: Are you kidding? Of course I know I do. Do we ever! You see, the owners — namely, the stockholders — collectively would probably not want to change a thing: to continue for other generations the dignity and the purpose and the grand scheme of what the Greenbrier represents. But, along comes this current affluent society, called Generation Something-or-other, that feels they are tastemakers par excellence because they have made a lot of money corporately running their businesses and think they know what glamour and taste are all about, but are totally unaware of what the world of yesterday used to be, what the world of classics is, what the Greenbrier is.
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