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The Harmony Between Charm and Utility
The very term boutique hotel conjures up the idea of something special, a unique experience. The 67-room Charmant Hotel is nestled in the small city of La Crosse, Wisconsin, and it captures that essence of unique. The Charmant’s structure of red brick and soaring windows was originally constructed in 1898 as a candy manufacturing house, and the sweet smell of sugar still permeates some of the older elements. As the only boutique hotel in the city, the Charmant effortlessly fuses the history and grace of the original candy company with a modern, urban style.
Blending those elements of old and new is critical for its design success.
La Crosse is in a wide plain at the intersection of the La Crosse and Mississippi Rivers, surrounded by high bluffs and deep ravines. Like most of WIsconsin, it has mild summers and bitter cold winters, and a moderate amount of precipitation (about 33 inches per year).
The Charmont has a lovely ground-floor restaurant (along with a rooftop terrace) with sidewalk dining areas studded with flower boxes. The Charmont had been trying to use large umbrellas to protect the outdoor seating areas from sun and wind, but the size and awkward positioning of the umbrellas meant that they couldn’t be well positioned to provide coverage.
Their architect and design team decided to use retractable, lateral-arm awnings which could provide the full coverage that they needed for sun and light rain protection, without interfering with the dining space and which could be retracted in the brutal snowy winters.
The installation of the lateral arm awnings was critical to maintain the visual balance of the building. The awnings were all measured individually, to account for slight variances in the vintage building; they all had a projection of 10’2”, but had different widths accounting for the building features, from 15’6” to as large as 16’6”. They had to be installed perfectly in line with each other. The middle awning was installed first, for a baseline, and the left and right awnings were installed on line with it. Because the patio area had a solid concrete area for the installation site, there were special drill bits and anchors used.
To preserve the building, a special hood and end caps were installed to prevent any precipitation from seeping between the wall and the awning and to prevent moisture and debris from building on the awning. The hood was powder-coated black to blend in with the awning and the metal work around the building.
There were small design elements that were used to increase the beauty and the usefulness of the awnings:
Manual cranks in case of power loss.
Six inch, straight-edged valances which matched the sleek design elements of the exterior.
Fire-retardant, solution-dyed acrylic fabric.
As expected, the Charmont was able to fit more seating into the patio area and maintain a more comfortable space -- but they saw other benefits as well. The improved shading reduced their air conditioning usage, and the ability to completely retract the awnings to allow in sunlight helped with ambient heat in winter.