Ace is Wild
And so is the Ace Hotel, a Midtown landmark reinvented by Roman and Williams
Nicholas Tamarin -- Interior Design, 9/1/2009 12:00:00 AM
"Everything I do is a party," Robin Standefer says as she circulates through a raucous event that the denim brand Rag & Bone is hosting in the lobby of the Ace Hotel. With its coffered ceiling, Greek key mosaic-tiled floor, schoolhouse pendant globes, and vintage commercial signage, the dimly lit lobby is grand and mysterious yet relaxed and idiosyncratic, a perfect backdrop for fashionistas. Creating such spaces is a specialty of Standefer and her husband, Stephen Alesch. Their firm, Roman and Williams Buildings and Interiors—named for their maternal grandfathers—has completely transformed this decrepit 1904 SRO, originally the Hotel Breslin.
Located in a rapidly transitioning wholesale district in Midtown, the hotel follows the Ace chain's two funkier outposts in Seattle and Portland, Oregon. "Ian Schrager told me, 'Do hotels in cities you want to be in. You'll be more successful at it,'" Ace cofounder Alex Calderwood recounts of his decision to extend the brand to New York. Without a background in design, Calderwood looks the part of the hip hotelier with his Byronic sprouting curls and tattered Chuck Taylors.
A meeting at the office of Roman and Williams further convinced Calderwood to tackle his first East Coast project. "Walking in, I was like, 'Just do this over,'" he says. "It had a mix between made and found, a kind of toughness." The couple then showed him a magazine photograph of a bedroom they'd done. By pure coincidence, he'd already ripped out that photo for his inspiration board back in Portland.
Roman and Williams got its start designing sets in Hollywood. After tackling homes for Kate Hudson and Gwyneth Paltrow, Alesch and Standefer landed their first hotel project, the public spaces and guest rooms at the meatpacking district's Standard. The lobby and restaurant at Midtown's Royalton soon followed. "We have an ethos, not a style," Standefer says. Alesch offers, "It's not like the old disco-versus-punk battle, where you would pick one side or the other. We never picked a side in the street-versus-glamour debate."
That's fortunate, considering the graffiti-sprayed, litter-strewn parking lot down the street from the Ace and the patchouli-and-prayer-rug vendor opposite. But neighbors also include the Rockwell Group—rehabbed Carlton on Madison Avenue. And the Office for Metropolitan Architecture's long-awaited apartment tower 1 Madison Park is slowly rising nearby.
If Roman and Williams furnishings could talk, they would tell one another how industrial-chic they are. The Ace lobby is almost completely outfitted with either custom pieces or vintage finds from, say, the Brimfield Antique Show in Massachusetts. "It's about solid, American-made and -designed furniture that will last," Standefer asserts. Iron and steel lamps from a manufacturing-supply clearinghouse dot the slate-topped laboratory tables lined up between the lobby's massive white columns. Encircling those columns like halos are light fixtures fashioned from plumbing pipe and milk-glass globes.
A pair of huge sectionals, which each sit 10 comfortably, are upholstered in a Nantucket red that provides one of the rare bursts of color in the moody room—in addition to punk-inspired red plaid-covered club chairs with black X's painted on the back. "We all love noncolor color. Black, gray, white, woods," Calderwood says. Oak paneling, lifted whole from a 10-by-25-foot library in a Park Avenue apartment, lines the lobby bar. Due to the hotel's landmark status, Roman and Williams installed the paneling stage-set style, floating a few inches from the wall on a steel framework. The ceiling, original to the hotel, is stained glass.
The rest of the lobby is dotted with taxidermy, apothecary cases, and school chairs, all currently de rigueur. A weather-beaten painted metal letter A rounds out the decor—suitable places have not yet been found for the C and the E. In an alcove stands an old-school photo booth, albeit one that accepts only credit cards. "It's a combination of a grand European hotel and a big, awesome living room," Standefer says. Then there's the "instant New York heritage," in Calderwood's words, contributed by a stairwell's mural, collaged together from black-and-white scans of graffiti stickers.
Rag & Bone's party is still going strong. Up in one of the 250-key hotel's suites, Alesch is explaining his philosophy on luxury: "Why does lobster have to be this luxurious thing? Why can't it just be lobster?" Standefer bangs her hand on one of the duo's brawny powder-coated steel cocktail tables and interjects, "You could crack a lobster on this." Despite furniture that, she says, "could survive a bomb," guest rooms are well-appointed, with retro refrigerators, Eero Saarinen chairs, herringbone parquet, and a curious collection of clothes pegs and towel hooks fashioned out of plumbing pipe. Vinyl records, turntables, and Gibson guitars lie about with studied randomness, ensuring that such buzz-generating guests as Sonic Youth keep coming back.
If taking in the Ace's many details leaves you feeling tired or hungry, don't worry. A branch of Portland's Stumptown Coffee Roasters was set to open in the lobby by the end of September. Ditto for the Breslin Bar and Dining Room, operated by the team behind the downtown hot spot the Spotted Pig. Lobster will not be served.
Photography by Eric Laignel.
PROJECT TEAMERIC CHEONG; DANA JAASUND; LAURA FLAM; LOREN DAYE; BENJAMIN LUDDY; SHANA SIGMOND; WAYNE SWITZER: ROMAN AND WILLIAMS BUILDINGS AND INTERIORS. STONEHILL & TAYLOR, ARCHITECTS AND PLANNERS: ARCHITECT OF RECORD. JOHNSON LIGHT STUDIO: LIGHTING CONSULTANT. AUDIO, VIDEO AND CONTROLS: AUDIOVISUAL CONSULTANT. DESIMONE CONSULTING ENGINEERS: STRUCTURAL ENGINEER. EDWARDS & ZUCK: MEP. ARGOSY DESIGNS: METALWORK. QUEST BUILDERS GROUP: GENERAL CONTRACTOR.
PENDLETON: BLANKETS (GUEST ROOMS).
HOLLAND & SHERRY: WING CHAIR FABRIC (LOBBY).
MAHARAM: CHAIR FABRIC (STAIRWELL).
THROUGH INDUSTRIAL AGE ANTIQUES: ROUND TABLETOPS (STAIRWELL, LOBBY).
IDC: CUSTOM SOFA BEDS (GUEST ROOM).
LOUIS BALDINGER & SONS: PENDANT FIXTURES (GUEST ROOM, SUITE).
AMERICAN STANDARD: SINK (BATHROOM).
WATERMARK DESIGNS: SINK FITTINGS, TUB FITTINGS.
DESIGN AND DIRECT SOURCE: CUSTOM TILE.
FARMBOY FINE ARTS: CUSTOM MIRROR.
SMEG: REFRIGERATOR (GUEST ROOM).
JIS CONTRACT FURNITURE: CUSTOM SOFA (SUITE).
THROUGHOUT THROUGH MCMASTER-CARR SUPPLY COMPANY: TASK LAMPS. BENJAMIN MOORE & CO.; FINE PAINTS OF EUROPE: PAINT.