A Canadian Creation of Comfort

JAMES A. COWAN May 15 1929

A Canadian Creation of Comfort

JAMES A. COWAN May 15 1929

A Canadian Creation of Comfort


BEFORE the actual furnishing of the Royal York came the interesting but involved task of searching the earth for designs and ideas. Perhaps, scouring the earth describes the process better. It was an exhaustive investigation.

Not that articles were bought and brought in from here and there and all over, for, if this newest link in a worldfamous chain of hostelries is the Dominion’s greatest, its completion is also a triumph for the Canadian workman and the Canadian manufacturer.

Canadians created practically everything. They modeled in walnut and polished oak, mahogany and satinwood. But the artistry of many nations was examined for inspiration and there were hundreds of separate drawings on which the work was based. The carpets were woven on Canadian looms. But the ultimate appearance of each square foot was exactly plotted before the mills began to hum. The tapestries and draperies of today and for past centuries were studied. Even bath mats, towels, serviettes and tablecloths have their special patterns. There are blue prints showing front and side elevations of an elevator starter, head waiter and page boy, so that uniforms may be correct to the smallest detail.

There is now an immense library of design dealing with this phase of the undertaking alone. Yet the most minor sketch came under the scrutiny of a Canadian Pacific official before it passed to the artisan, and every item of furniture was supervised.

A small army of people has been at work on this tremendous task for many months, and it has all centred in the office of President E. W. Beatty, of the Canadian Pacific. His personal interest in this phase of his company’s newest and finest hotel is no less keen than it was in the original bold stroke of policy that gave Toronto the largest and finest hotel in the Empire and one that is outstanding in all the world. He knows decoration and a glance through the Royal York brings conviction that he knows it well. Next to Mr. Beatty in this matter, and sharing a heavy load of the responsibility, is Miss Kate Treleaven whose personality expressed in terms of interior decoration and furnishing is known to the vast number of Canadians and world travelers who have visited Canadian Pacific hotels. The Chateau Frontenac, the Saskatchewan at Regina, the new dress of the Vancouver, and the Empress at Victoria all reflect her taste and skill, and latest and loveliest, the Banff Springs Hotel is a proud example of her judgment. Perhaps the Royal York outdoes them all. If so, that has largely been due to Miss Treleaven. Not a shade in its miles of carpets has missed her critical eye. From the placing of a table lamp, so important in color and form, in an inconspicuous corner of a public room, up to the entire furnishing of a period suite and the choosing of car-lots of furniture and hangings for innumerable bedrooms, all has come under her direction and has received her approval, and the result is good.

It is superlatively easy to make errors in furnishing, above all things, a great or little hotel. The hotel must serve a constantly changing mass of individuals, possessing a multitude of temperaments. It must serve them, too, for a wide variety of purposes. To prepare a room in which to pass a dreamless night’s rest is one thing. But to devise methods by which it will also be an office in which to do pressing work, a suitable spot for business conferences and a pleasant place to entertain acquaintances as well as to eat an occasional meal, is another matter almost altogether.

Probably those who had charge spent advance weeks compiling a volume of possible errors and then went about avoiding them one by one. On the results, it is logical to suppose that this was the case.

For the casual visitor, hurrying through, the Royal York has the atmosphere of the unique and unusual. Naturally, it impresses the staying guest in the same way but it is also homelike and comfortable. A combination of these two almost paradoxical characteristics was the "feat achieved by those executives in charge of finishing touches.

The ornate and the garish were banned utterly. That also holds true of the sombre and the heavy. Color schemes, brilliant at first glance buít depressing in the long run; armchairs which were artistic but uncomfortable; fixtures which were excellent but ugly; all received no consideration.

In the foyers, convention and banquet halls, on the mezzanines, in the grills and dining rooms, ballroom and roof garden, the net effect is one of subdued magnificence which seems to be nearly as difficult a thing for humans to achieve as dignity in a shower bath. These rooms offer a special lesson in using gold leaf extensively but without ostentation.

There are on the bedroom floors sixteen period suites in addition to the fifteenroom Viceregal Suite, and the wide range of decoration in these and the public spaces makes of the house an international pageant of styles. To march through them all, one after the other—finding replicas of century-old craftsmanship coupled with ultra-modern plumbing or the quiet atmosphere of older England utilized as a background for superefficient restaurant service; in short, discovering rare beauty made extremely liveable—is to experience the curious sensation of feeling at home in a museum or art gallery, which is a thrill not to be missed.

The convention floor is high-ceilinged and airy, with walls in creamy-white or soft shades of yellow. These are beautiful blonde rooms and, therefore, the sort which gentlemen prefer. The convention hall proper has long drapes of printed silk velours in golds and blues, with a stage at one end and a balcony at the other.

It is here that the great organ, surpassing anything else in Canada, is located. Equipped with five manuals and weighing over fifty tons, it is made up of six different units—great organ, swell organ, choir organ, orchestral, bombarde and pedal. More than 300 miles of copper wire were used in constructing its mechanism and a twenty horsepower motor operates the electric blower. It, too, was built in Canada, which was not surprising, seeing that even European music-lovers now cross the Atlantic and seek the organ-builders of St. Hyacinthe.

The banquet hall is a trifle more masculine with its warm Persian colors, dark but nevertheless vivacious. In the ballroom, amethyst is the dominant shade and walnut the prevailing wood. These rooms, equipped with the most advanced types of loud speakers, are also wired so that, with the radio outlet in each guest room, speeches and music may be broadcast to all sections of the hotel.

In the lounge, the lobbies and the main dining room, the tendency is northern Italian; the colors, warm blues, mulberries and tans. The grill is an old English chop house with paneled walls, time-honored oak and deep leather chairs, curtains of deep browns and blues.

Vividly contrasted with this is the picturesque Venetian Café with its carved stone effect, painted furniture; the chairs, tall and narrow, upholstered in dull green leather and studded with brass nails. Then there is the library, restful and calm, done in old English oak and drapes of quiet greens and browns.

There are five private dining rooms with period furniture and color schemes to match. Carpets and curtains of subdued orange and black are used against the oak of the Tudor Suite. The Empire Room, with its French walnut topped by black marble and its brass decorations has drapes of wine satin. The Duncan Phyfe Suite is plum and dull green; the Adams, blue and silver. The Chippendale is set off by blue silk velours and dull rose.

In the Viceregal Suite, one section is early English oak with curtains and carpets, blues and tans. The other section uses Colonial mahogany with wines and dull greens.

TT IS only necessary to catalogue the period suites and list their color schemes with a briefness verging on the abrupt, to show that the variety they offer is little short of startling.

The Louis XVI Suite is French walnut and satinwood with soft mauves and greens. The Chinese has lacquered woods, black and red, with curtains of gold satin. Tile flooring, furniture of dark, almost black oak, and curtains of brown and henna red, mark the Dutch Suite. The Russian has dark furniture, painted and inlaid with brass against reds, blues and greens. The Venetian is dark oak, Gothic type and the coloring, characteristic Venetian. The Spanish also has oak, and carries, to some extent, the Venetian feeling. There are monastery seats and drapes of striped orange or dull greens. Italian decorations, dark woods and striped henna, or dull blue fabrics distinguish the two Italian Suites. The Queen Anne and William and Mary Suites have walnut in typical style with the color schemes, dull blues and dull greens. The Georgian is done in mahogany, Chippendale type, with soft purples; the Colonial, also mahogany though of different design, uses soft greens. The Jacobean and Tudor Suites, both typical of the periods they represent, have oak with browns and blues in one case and browns and henna in the other. Finally, there is the Art Moderne Suite with its furnishings specially evolved and fabricated. Rare veneers have been used there to give unusual effects.

There were, as has been noted, sketches and blueprints made of all these individualistic pieces. The progress of manufacture was supervised. Now, there comes the job of getting each article, promptly and swiftly, into its own proper niche in a towering edifice which looks down on Toronto like a young mountain.

Thousands of items have to be taken to thousands of different places and without loss of time. Everything, therefore, is indexed, tagged, catalogued and numbered. If a small crate happened to tumble off a truck on its way to the . otel, to be picked up by a passer-by and brought to the door, what it was and where it should go would be known in a minute or two. If some seemingly insignificant thing should be undelivered or overlooked, this would be immediately revealed. No. 331, for example, is a small chair which belongs to the lounge. No. 226 is a mahogany sideboard for the Chippendale Dining Room. The identification system is complete.

But, after all, the task of conveying each stick of furniture to its allotted space is hardly to be compared with that of deciding what to get and how much. Months ago, when the Royal York existed only in architects’ drawings, and wreckers were busily and noisily engaged in clearing the space where it was to stand, these last had to be known accurately.

The hotel department of the Canadian Pacific Railway operates with an efficiency that edges on the incredible. Furnishings involve much more than furniture. When the steel skeleton of the building was just commencing to reach skyward, officials knew, almost to the last knife and fork, what they wanted in the way of silver, linen, china and glassware. They had listed, in black and white, everything from duck presses and hot milk pitchers to fireproof welsh rarebit dishes, from mushroom bells to cheese scoops and asparagus trays.

More than 100,000 pieces of glassware alone are on the Royal York’s list. The china and crockery total passed the 150.000 mark. Approximately 84,000 pieces of silver were required and nearly 160.000 linen articles.

Corridor carpets and rugs cover roughly a floor space of two miles. All are lined, and this necessitated the purchase of 10.000 yards of felt. There are, as well, 50.000 square yards of other carpets.

Anyone who has watched a skilful housewife purchase a teacup will realize that china and crockery alone entailed no mean effort. The entire undertaking of design, purchase, manufacture and installation of furnishings holds plenty to dazzle the imagination. But usually, in affairs of this immense scope, you can discover some weird little bit of work of very minor importance and certain to pass unnoticed by the average person, which occupies a great deal of time and gives an equal amount of trouble. Then, think of the task, in the Royal York, of carrying hundreds of plate glass tops for furniture—since they average about three to a room—and placing them where they belong, without any scratches, cracks or breaks and without marring the surfaces.