The historic Clift hotel reinvents itself by fusing the hotel’s original craftsmanship with modern-day San Francisco sophistication, making it a destination that reveals the past and embraces the accelerating pace of the future.

The Clift Hotel has been a hamlet for decades, providing a welcome respite for both its guests and community to refresh and engage. Built on the San Francisco horizon in 1915, this storied hotel was brought to life to serve tourists venturing into the Bay Area for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition. The site was a grand celebration of human spirit and ingenuity, an essence that still resides within the hotel’s walls decades later.

Since its inception, the Clift Hotel was at the forefront of technology, designed to be the first building in San Francisco that was both fire and earthquake proof. Fast forward to present day, this classic destination was in need of a transformational look to reclaim its standing as an iconic property for visitors and natives, alike.

Polished and refined, the new lobby is brighter and reoriented to improve access and circulation. The modern furniture complements the warm neutrals of light driftwood, rich charcoal greys, and metallic bronze accents. Sitting adjacent to the lobby, a new Living Room provides a dynamic space with multiple seating options for guests to socialize or find a quiet place to work.

Gensler was tasked to re-establish the hotel’s standing at the forefront of technology & breathe life into what was once a San Francisco icon. The renovation draws inspiration from original architectural elements and drawings to revitalize the property, this time as The Clift Royal Sonesta Hotel. Enveloped by the beauty of a landscape that lures the world to its shores, the refreshed interiors celebrate the past with an eye toward the future.

The world-famous Redwood Room, known for its unique panelling made from a single redwood tree, is restored to its former glory, adding a touch of 21st century sophistication. The new design incorporates modern Art Deco elements with sleek lines and neutral tones. New seating and carpet provide the bar with a modern refresh, which includes additional recessed lighting to bring more visibility to the original wood marquetery above the bar. Original Gustav Klimt art pieces were pulled from archives, restored, and now re-adorn the walls. These renowned artworks were originally displayed in the Redwood Room upon its opening in 1933, following the end of Prohibition, for the San Francisco World’s Fair celebration.

Moved back to its original location, Fredericks Café seamlessly integrates its classic aesthetic with a San Franciscan contemporary style. Black and white flooring inspired by the café’s original flooring drives the remainder of the design, with neutral walls and original exposed brick complimenting the tones and texture. High seating and smaller tables help establish the quick serve area while booths and banquette seating define a more leisurely dining experience.

The hotel’s rich history and original architectural elements found in the original drawings provided a framework for a design concept inspired by the evolution of an icon. The restoration blends modern classical with elements of art deco and celebrates the building’s original craftsmanship. The parallelism between past and present is reinforced by highlighting local artisanal craft and elements from artwork carpet weaving to tilework. With a new guest experience of ‘Modern Classical meets San Francisco Contemporary’ in mind, Gensler breathes life back into this historic establishment with an ambiance that engages traditional touches while enveloping all the beauty of modern day San Francisco.

Project: The Clift Royal Sonesta Hotel
Location: San Francisco, USA
Design Studio: Gensler
Photo Credits: Gensler / Paul Dyer

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