Elysian of Chicago Wins Gold Key Award for Lobby Design

Anthony Brass

Not all hotel lobbies can draw a visitor’s attention away from the concierge the way the Elysian does. Their art collection and enduring design in the lobby and throughout the hotel has captured much attention—now with an award-winning verve.

Lobby Painting of Brandl close up

The Simeone Deary Design Group recently hoisted a Gold Key Award for their design of the Elysian of Chicago. The group took home the prestigious award at a ceremony in New York, for excellence in hospitality design for their work on the lobby.

Simeone Deary worked with the art advisory firm Patti Gilford Fine Arts for the selection and subsequent procurement to complete their sublime interior design.

“We’re so grateful to have won,” says Lisa Simeone, co-founder and principal of Simeone Deary. “The Elysian is a really unique project and the fact that it’s such a pure black and white, and a very layered design—very textual and not a lot of pattern (on the hotel’s walls)—has seemed to garner us a lot of attention,” she says.

Simeone attributes the success of the art and design in Elysian to their art program’s works, which stand out against that “palette” of blank, white walls.

Lobby Painting of Brandl within context of Lobby

“We get calls all the time where people say they’ve never seen anything like this, or haven’t in a while.”

The design team had to work with the blank canvas of a hotel that was new, and did not as of yet have a conceptual template, or standard for which genre or style to assimilate with their walls and spaces.

“This is the kind of project that doesn’t come along very often for a design firm,” Simeone says. “That is a client that did not really have a brand or any brand standards. (Elysian) was an entrepreneur in this arena of boutique hotels.”

Elysian sought Simeone Deary, and told them they wanted to do a hotel and didn’t know precisely what they wanted the hotel to look like. But they had “classic” and “timeless” in their mind—without any pretentious glamour.

The hotel already had an architect who had completed a Parisian exterior. Elysian first spoke with a couple other design firms, but found they weren’t “storytellers.”

“Gina Deary and I got on the project, and we really wrote a lot of a ‘back story,’ and pulled together a strong concept for them,” says Simeone.


Simeone Deary chose for the eventual critically acclaimed lobby, a commissioned, large-scale oil painting by Austrian painter Herbert Brandl.

Brandl’s “Ohne Titel” on canvas is the most prominent piece at Elysian; it is one of 30 international contemporary works through their program at the hotel. Gilford’s firm had many national and international connections for bringing in the right art. Simeone says they had numerous meetings pouring over images for their future art selections.

“It was always in our minds that we were going to do an art program that is not your typical program,” Simeone says. “We always felt that it should feel like it was someone’s collection that was hung in the hotel.”

Simeone and Gilford’s group combined forces to conceptualize the artwork to mirror what Elysian represents (the word means the resting place of the gods). Their art program went to find artists, like Brandl, whose art reveals a “dreamlike” milieu.

But the more the two groups worked on the project, the less conceptual they became.

Fish Bone, wall installation

“We were discovering these amazing artists just for their specific works and not for their connection to each other or to a concept. We started to really break away from the idea of the program as a concept into itself, and really making it more provocative as ‘gallery pieces,’” Simeone says of the metamorphosis in philosophy.

“All we really were doing was putting together this collection of artists who were doing things in different mediums—in photography, graphite, tapestry and oils.”

The colors of their chosen pieces spoke to Simeone and the group. She says they felt touched by the works and would become more intuitive with choices.

“The colors were so deep, we thought, ‘This (Brandl) would be a great piece for behind the front desk. You feel like you could just walk right into this color,’” Simeone recollects.

The “Untitled” shell-painting in the space near the restaurant in Elysian, called Ria, is another example of staying to their program’s direction.

“We came up with the name for the restaurant—Ria—the place where land and sea meet and create little tidal pools. We kept referencing the color of these nautilus shells that we had on our desks, when we were looking at the palate. This beautiful orange color kept coming up. We decided to take that piece, and give it to Simes Studios.”

Simes Studios was already doing paintings on the backside of glass, producing a shell-like presence under water. “That’s where that piece came from,” Simeone says.

Guestroom/Suite Entrance

The building concept of Elysian is Parisian, and also has a nod to a Greco-Roman motif, through the polyresin, salt and brown sugar sculpture, “Cabeza de Mujer Series,” by Javier Marin.

“We happened to be at an art show here in Chicago, and Javier Marin was displaying one of his faces. It was sitting on the floor and literally as big as I am. Being face-to-face with this face was chilling.” Simeone contacted Marin, and now the wax-like busts of the heads in the lobby make those who enter feel like Caesar. “It’s so irreverent,” she adds.

The group will continue their work attuned to the needs of other locales.

“We’ve got four or five other hotel projects at various stages of completion. Gina and I work very hard to integrate our art into the architecture, and not make it feel like it’s just an afterthought.”