Crystal Room, Willard Hotel

photo by: Greg Dohler Photography

Preservation Magazine, Fall 2023

Take a Peek at the Spruced-Up Ballroom in a Classic Washington Hotel

Washington, D.C., designer Maggie O’Neill wasn’t quite sure what to expect when she and her team began repairing the century-old plaster ceilings in the Willard InterContinental Washington, D.C.’s Crystal Room. “You don’t know until you get up on scaffolding whether it’s held together with a wing and a prayer,” she says. “It’s a bit of a surprise party.”

The ceiling work served as a key piece of a $4 million-plus overhaul of many of the venerable D.C. hotel’s public spaces. COVID-19 and its attendant supply-chain issues caused multiple delays, but the project team—led by O’Neill’s company, Swatchroom, and hotel co-owner Oliver T. Carr Jr.—completed the renovation in July. The Crystal Room, one of the Willard’s signature ballrooms, contains woodwork, marbleized pillars, and ornamental plaster dating to the Beaux-Arts building’s construction in the early 1900s. Each surface was cleaned and conserved, and many were repainted or gilded. The original chandelier fixtures and sconces got LED bulbs, and the team added new cove lighting to the room “so you can appreciate the details,” says O’Neill.

A separate project by Parker-Torres Design entailed renovating the guest rooms. Next year the hotel hopes to refresh the main lobby, where Martin Luther King Jr. is said to have polished his "I Have A Dream" speech in 1963. The National Register–listed Willard is a member of Historic Hotels of America, a program of the National Trust.
Headshot Meghan Drueding

Meghan Drueding is the executive editor of Preservation magazine. She has a weakness for Midcentury Modernism, walkable cities, and coffee-table books about architecture and design.

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