Sleeping in a work of art
Walk into the Gladstone Hotel and you’ll likely feel a palpable mixture of rich history and new artistic voices. In the last 126 years, Toronto’s oldest hotel has transitioned from respectable social club to flophouse to hipster hub. While the grand brick arches, plaster mouldings and city’s last hand-operated elevator remain, the Gladstone is now a cultural hotspot for burgeoning artists and adventurous travellers.
Neighbouring West Queen West’s hip strip of bars, art galleries and restaurants, the hotel is often credited for spearheading the gentrification of the area while still supporting community organizations and projects. In 2003, visual artist Christina Zeidler and her father, Eberhard (the architect behind the Eaton Centre and Ontario Place) completely revamped the building to create boutique accommodations in the heart of one of Toronto’s most lively neighbourhoods.
During the renovation, president and developer Zeidler was inspired by a quote from Jane Jacobs’ book The Death and Life of Great American Cities that states, “New ideas must use old buildings.”
With that in mind, she commissioned artists to design 37 rooms in the hotel. With up to 100 events per month ranging from live music in the Melody Bar to Thursday night gallery exhibitions, the hotel has since become a mecca for the creative class.
“The artist-designed room project came out of my experience as an artist and knowing how talented the community is,” says Zeidler. “I could have designed all the rooms myself but that would have been really boring. 37 rooms in a beautiful old Victorian sounded like a project begging for interesting, different voices.”
From the modern and module Skygazer Room to the Canadiana Room outfitted with an antler-inspired chandelier, the Gladstone draws guests from Montréal, New York, Los Angeles and abroad.
“Our guests are pioneers. They’re the people who try things out and are interested in the alchemy of an experience,” she says.
Those with an adventurous palate may find the Surreal Gourmet room serves up the bold experience they’re looking for. Designed by Food Network Canada Host Bob Blumer, the space features a kitchen and kitschy food-related touches like the custom portraits of Mr. Peanut and Trix Rabbit.
“Our definition of artist has a very wide spectrum. It’s not just paint on the wall, its really about people who are pursuing an area of interest with passion and an open mind,” she says.
Along with the interior designers, architects, industrial designers and ceramic artists that have lent their voices, Zeidler collaborated with her mother, who she describes as having amazing style despite never claiming the artist title. Together, the two created the tower suite, a beautiful two-story space with a balcony that’s designed to feel like the coolest apartment in Toronto.
Zeidler also claimed the smallest room in the hotel to create a sanctuary called Snapshot. Using photographs of nature taken in High Park, she wanted to give the space a sense of serenity. Interestingly, the room’s window faces the tree lined and graffiti filled back alley of Queen Street, creating an experience that mixes the hard and soft elements of urban and natural settings.
It’s these glimpses of the community that inspire support for Toronto’s arts scene. For the staff at the Gladstone, it’s all about creating opportunities such as the hotel’s iconic Come Up To My Room exhibition. Now in its 13th year, the installation-based show on the second floor is a hybrid of art and interior design that attracts visitors from far and wide.
“Each year we keep having new artists come into it and really blow people out of the water but we need more support for things like that,” says Zeidler. “Art doesn’t come out of a vacuum, it comes out of a whole community working together to create opportunities."
Words by Julia Eskins
Photos by Aleyah Solomon