A Room With a View, and a Price
For $35,000 a Night, a Butler, a Waterfall and Free Room Service (Caviar May Be Extra)
By SARAH NASSAUER
Joshua Lutz/Institute for The Wall Street Journal The living room
For guests used to staying in the best rooms at luxury hotels, the top suite at the Four Seasons Hotel New York may offer the ultimate in bragging rights: To sleep in it, you have to stomach its $35,000 a night price tag.
Joshua Lutz/Institute for The Wall Street Journal The Zen Room
The Ty Warner Penthouse, named for the Beanie Baby mogul and the hotel's owner, is the most expensive hotel room in the country outside of Las Vegas, an important distinction in the industry since rooms in the gambling capital are often comped for high rollers. The suite has sweeping views of Manhattan in every direction, bathroom sinks made of solid blocks of rock crystal and a personal butler on-call 24 hours a day. Guests have the use of a Maybach or Rolls-Royce—with driver, of course. Room service from the hotel's restaurants, including one run by celebrity chef JoŽl Robuchon, is included in the price and nearly unlimited (though one guest was charged for a $1,000 order of caviar).
The suite, which opened in 2007, cost $50 million to build and took seven years to design, the hotel says.
Mr. Warner says the room is important because it gives the entire hotel an air of luxury and exclusivity. "By having a suite in there that kind of sets the standard and gets talked about ... gives a halo effect to the rest of the hotel," he says.
The Living Room
1. The carpet is made of white silk and specialists are called in to do major cleaning;
2. The chandelier cost $120,000 and is made of more than 100 fiber optic bulbs.
3. Guests have a personal butler who sleeps overnight in the hotel to be on call 24 hours a day.
The Zen Room
1. The room's waterfall flows over semi-precious granite from South Africa.
2. There are views of the Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty.
3. The waterfall is refilled daily when the room is occupied. Employees scrub down the stone to make sure the water falls evenly over the rock.
Source: The Four Seasons Hotel New York
High-end hotels suites have been increasingly popular since the 1980s, usually used as a free or discounted perk for VIPs or to attract lucrative corporate meeting business, says Bjorn Hanson, a New York University professor specializing in the hospitality industry.
While occupancy and rates overall at the hotel have fallen during the recession, the priciest suites have held steady. "That specific customer tends not to be affected by the economic situation," says Christoph Schmidinger, general manager for the hotel.
The Ty Warner suite is only occupied about 25% of the year. And the 368-room hotel says it never gives a discount on the suite. Instead, the nightly rate jumped by $1,000 in 2009. The hotel also has two suites listed at $18,000 a night and one for $14,000. Penthouse guests are usually billionaire businessmen traveling with their significant others, Mr. Schmidinger says. The I.M. Pei-designed hotel's least expensive room is listed at $855.
For the most expensive hotel suites, the high price tags are often part of the allure for guests. Johnna Magliano from Baltimore stayed in the country's most expensive suite, the $40,000 a night Hugh Hefner Sky Villa at the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas, for her May 2 wedding. She and her husband said their vows next to the room's pool, featuring a Playboy Bunny symbol. They hosted their 110-person reception in the suite—which also includes a rotating bed and 12-person whirlpool—and then stayed the night. (The $40,000 only covered the room. The party cost extra.) "It being the Hef Sky Villa, it being one of the most expensive rooms in the world, the way they decorated it—just the whole experience," made it worth the expense, says Ms. Magliano, a 32-year-old owner of a hair salon and spa in Baltimore.
The Hugh Hefner suite, however, is only paid for about half the nights it is occupied. The rest of the time it is given free to high rollers: A gambler's credit line has to hit half a million dollars to get the Hefner room free, says Jon Gray, the hotel's vice president of brand and revenue development.
Joshua Lutz A $120,000 chandelier
At the Ty Warner suite in the Four Seasons, big parties such as weddings and corporate events are not allowed. The hotel limits the number of people in the room to about 10 at one time to reduce wear and tear.
The hotel staff boasts that it goes to almost preposterous lengths to maintain the room at a mega-deluxe level.
"Everything is different in that room" compared to other rooms in the hotel, so it requires extra attention, says Joe Graziosi, director of engineering at the hotel. Only the most skilled and tidy members of his 24-person engineering team are allowed in the suite. Most of the furnishings in the four-room 4,300 square-foot penthouse are custom made and difficult to care for, from the hand-lacquered walls with mother of pearl inlay to the fabric surrounding the canopy bed with its Thai silk with lines of 22-carat gold threads to the handmade Venetian silk bedspread. The abundant wood paneling is prone to warping.
"When somebody is in the room it changes the dynamic of everything we do," says Mr. Graziosi. The room's high ceilings and numerous floor-to-ceiling windows make regulating its temperature a challenge. To get it right, Mr. Graziosi's staff raises or lowers the entire building's temperature.
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Joshua Lutz A private workout room.
The suite has about 850 light bulbs: Mr. Graziosi keeps about 30 different types on hand for quick replacements. The dark mahogany lacquer bookshelves in the library alone feature about 400 bulbs illuminating a history, art, and biography collection. The $120,000 chandelier over the dinning room table is made of more than 100 tiny fiber optic bulbs.
Only four of the 42-person housekeeping staff are allowed to clean the room. They receive two extra weeks of training, says Margie Garay, director of housekeeping at the hotel, learning how use special chemicals that won't erode the room's delicate surfaces. "We don't use Pledge," she says.
Linda Aslanian, an architect with an MBA, who is Mr. Warner's representative at the hotel, maintains a stock of the room's handcrafted textiles, exotic stones, and artwork in case anything needs replacing.
The World's Priciest Suites
Hotels around the globe are offering suites with five-figure price tags. Among the most expensive:
Palms Casino Resort
Room/Hotel: Hugh Hefner Sky Villa/Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas
Price per night: $40,000
Features: Rotating bed in the master bedroom, 12-person whirlpool.
Atlantis, Paradise Island
Room/Hotel: Bridge Suite/Atlantis, Paradise Island in the Bahamas
Price per night: $25,000
Features: Butler service, baby-grand piano, iron and 22-karat gold chandelier.
Room/Hotel: Royal Auite/Burj Al Arab in Dubai
Price per night: 70,000 dirhams (about $19,000)
Features: Private cinema, marble and gold staircase.
The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company Ritz- Carlton Moscow, Moskau, Suite, Presidenten Suite, Roter Platz
Room/Hotel: The Ritz-Carlton Suite/Ritz-Carlton, Moscow
Price per night: 430,000 rubles (about $13,900)
Features: Views of the Kremlin and Red Square, grand piano, private sauna.
Four Seasons runs the hotel, but Mr. Warner is the property owner, an arrangement that is typical in the hotel industry. In the wake of plummeting occupancy at luxury hotels in 2009, Mr. Warner almost defaulted on the hotel's mortgage earlier this year because the hotel and three other hotels pledged as collateral for the loan weren't generating enough revenue to automatically qualify for an extension of the due date. He avoided default this spring by paying off some of the loan's principal and putting up another property that he owns, the Montecito Country Club, as collateral.
Staff say they try to anticipate penthouse guests' preferences. The hotel keeps files on all return guests detailing their habits and favorite food, drink and even toilet paper. After reviewing one incoming guest's file, staff discovered they needed to track down a particular "tissue," says Ms. Garay. It wasn't easy. Two employees went out separately searching to find the needed "ultraplush" paper product, she says.
Once the penthouse is booked, it's "all hands to the fire," says Anthony Zamora, executive chef at the hotel. The kitchen staff wants to know "do they like tea sandwiches automatically throughout the day or just on request? Should we pre-order caviar from our supplier just in case they request it?" says Mr. Zamora. If a guest is from the Middle East, he may preorder Hildon water, a brand bottled in southern England and popular among guests from the region, he says. Louis Roederer Cristal, the champagne that retails for around $200, is pre-stocked in the room unless the guest prefers something else.
Joshua Lutz Joshua Lutz/Institute for The Wall Street Journal
If the guest is coming to the hotel for the first time, intelligence gathering is harder. The three person "special services department" or the general manager's assistant will speak to the guest or his or her assistant about the reason for the visit and the guest's preferences. Employees also scour the Internet for clues and check in with other Four Seasons properties where the guest has stayed. While some guests enjoy the personal service, "others are a little taken aback—'why do you need all these details?'" says Mr. Schmidinger, the general manager.
During a penthouse guest's stay, their personal butler, often Johannes Walz, a soft-spoken 45-year-old from Germany, acts as intermediary between the guest and all hotel staff.
The placement of every object in the room is detailed in a book of more than 50 pages. Then housekeeping staff knows "how many hangers are in the closet, where flowers are placed on tables, how far is a table placed from the piano. How far is the Montblanc blotter from the lamp on the desk," says Ms. Garay. The room is dusted daily and cleaned weekly even when there are no guests in residence.
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Joshua Lutz/Institute for The Wall Street Journal A bedspread made of handmade Venetian silk.
Changing any aspect of the set up goes through Ms. Aslanian and is ultimately Mr. Warner's decision. It's "like amending the constitution," says Leslie Lefkowitz, director of public relations for the hotel.
There are only small glimmers of practicality in the room. Though the room features real 18th century Chinese lamps, when the room's well known architect, Peter Marino, suggested using a real antique French bureau plat as the room's desk, Mr. Warner said the piece would suffer too much wear and tear, says Mr. Marino. Mr. Warner said, "in the end, it's a hotel room and we have to be careful."
Staying In One of the Country's Most Expensive Hotel Rooms - WSJ.com