The United Polaris Lounge is an exclusive service offered by United Airlines for its first class and business class travelers, which is currently only available at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, IL; George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, TX; San Francisco International Airport in San Francisco, CA; and Newark Liberty International Airport in Newark, NJ.

In December 2016, United rebranded its United BusinessFirst and United Global First services to United Polaris, a reinvention of the airline’s international premium cabin travel experience, offering elevated comfort and service from lounge to landing. As part of the program, select United Polaris lounges were created, complete with rest spaces, spa-like showers and high-end pre-flight dining options.

The United Polaris Lounge at Newark Liberty International Airport, the most recent edition to the Polaris Lounge portfolio, officially opened in June 2018. Fortunately, our staff was afforded access to the 30,000-square-foot space a couple of months after its opening, which was designed using 10- x 5-foot gauged porcelain tile panels from Fiandre. The larger-than-life slabs from the Marmi Maximum collection are seen on various walls throughout the lounge, from the entrance to the dining areas. The 6 mm-thick slabs, which emulate the look and feel of Calacatta marble, were a much more cost-effective solution than natural stone, according to Ati Rahimpour, associate at Solomon Cordwell Buenz (SCB) Architecture in Chicago, IL.

“SCB has had a long-standing relationship with United Airlines and has been the design partner for numerous club and lounge projects, including their new luxury passenger lounges, United Polaris,” the lead designer explained. “The overall design goals for the Polaris projects, including the one at Newark, are twofold. First, to create a new luxury passenger experience centered on exclusivity, personalization and comfort; and second to create a sense of continuity between the new on-board cabin experience and the lounge. The hospitality-level amenities support United’s vision for an unprecedented standard of passenger services.”

Nearly 200 slabs from the Marmi Maximum collection were utilized — 180 polished and 17 honed — in the “Calacatta Light” design, which highlights the stone’s distinct gray veining. Some of the panels were also bookmatched to show what porcelain is capable of today, thanks to digital printing technology.

For the buffet countertops, 129- x 61-inch porcelain slabs in a 12 mm thickness from Sapienstone by Fiandre were used, which feature an invisible heating element, making them the ideal choice for countertops. The “Pietra Grey” and “Uni Ice” finishes were selected. “Pietra Grey” is the darkest hue in the collection, with a dark gray color bordering black that is accented by subtle white veining, while the ultra-white hue of “Uni Ice” adds a touch of simplicity and light. A total of 26 slabs were specified for this project — nine slabs of “Pietra Grey” (seven honed and two polished), which were also used on the floors in the table service restaurant, and 17 polished slabs of “Uni Ice.”

"Sapienstone offers the most revolutionary technology of induction cooking right on the countertop surface,” said Tristin Eck, LEED AP, architectural sales for Transceramica, part of the Iris Ceramica group. “This allows for a seamless design and aesthetic, while being resistant to heat, stains and scratches.”

For the unisex bathrooms, which are positioned in an exposed hallway that runs alongside the bar, Fiandre’s Fahrenheit and Core Shade collections were installed in 12- x 24- and 24- x 24-inch formats. On the walls, there are 12- x 24-inch concrete-effect tiles from the Fahrenheit collection in “500F Heat,” a lighter gray shade with a brushed effect. On the floors of each individual stall, larger 24- x 24-inch tiles from the Core Shade collection were used. Core Shade, which also draws inspiration from concrete, was used in a darker gray color, “Sharp Core.” Both designs complement the lounge’s minimalist, contemporary aesthetic. 

When it came time to install, the designer said achieving mitered corners was a bit of a challenge, which was quickly resolved with profiles from Schluter-Systems. “Adding the Schluter edge allowed us to protect the exposed corners in this high-traffic space,” said Rahimpour.

The tile portion of the project took around six months to complete and has received great praise from the United Airlines team and visitors alike. “The lounge is a physical representation of the quality service United Airlines provides the United Polaris long-haul travelers,” said Rahimpour.

“The feedback has been extremely positive and we are pleased that we were able to exceed expectations,” added Eck.

The next United Polaris Lounge is slated to open at the Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles, CA.

The United Polaris Lounge, United Airlines

Architect: Solomon Cordwell Buenz (SCB) Architecture, Chicago, IL

Tile Supplier: GranitiFiandre S.p.A., Castellarano, Reggio Emilia, Italy (Fiandre's Marmi Maximum collection in “Calacatta Light,” Fahrenheit collection in “500F Heat,” Core Shade collection in “Sharp Core,” Sapienstone in “Pietra Grey” and “Uni Ice”)

Installation Products: Schluter-Systems, Plattsburgh, NY