The Ace Hotel, New York / Roman and Williams

NY based practice Romand and Williams (ran by partners Robin Standefer and Stephen Alesch) specializes on interior design, working on several well known projects in the city, such as the Royalton Hotel, The Standard Hotel and The Standard Grill.

We now present you one of their latest projects, the Ace Hotel in New York:

Building and History

Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen were neighbors; ‘Diamond Jim’ Brady (the inspiration for Marlon Brando’s Guys & Dolls character) was a regular; visionary painter Harry Smith lived there. It was the Hotel Breslin then, and it is now the new NYC.

Built in 1904 as part of what would become an avenue of hotels – electric signs spelling out Victoria, Hoffman, and Breslin gave this stretch of Broadway between 23rd and 29th Streets the famous moniker “the Great White Way” – the 344-room, 165,000-square-foot Hotel Breslin was one of the city’s best-known residential hotels in the early part of the 20th century, in a neighborhood known for its color.

This was the Times Square of the turn of the century, an area full of clubs and restaurants and ’s first neighborhood to be electrified with lighting and signage. Tin Pan Alley, legendary home to even more legendary songwriters and music publishers like George M. Cohan and Irving Berlin was at the northern edge, and the surrounding blocks became home to factories and shops that made and sold everything from hats to chocolates to clothes by 1930.

Like the building’s history, the Ace Hotel is improvisational, a mix of materials and styles and historical periods and objects that comes together in layers. The hotel’s design takes its cues from the vibrancy of street life, the honesty of materials and the potential of invention. It is about soul, latent in the old architecture and re-introduced through the new design.

Lobby

There is more than enough history and color to go around, and plenty of detail as well. The twelve-story hotel, built from brick and topped with a mansard roof, centers around a fantastically detailed lobby. Original coffered ceilings, plaster moldings, strong moldings, massive columns, airy skylights, and mosaic floors inlaid with a Greek key pattern, some of it obscured by layers of unsympathetic renovations, provide the bass notes.

Roman & Williams spotlights the former and fixes the latter, removing the falseness of an updated history and re-creating the aesthetic and historical stability that comes from the building’s great bones. The architecture itself is so strong, the original ethos so perfectly articulated, that the design decisions introduced by Roman & Williams are like the riffs on a chord progression. The firm is unconstrained by any attention to a particular time period or style; instead, the inspiration comes from a desire to create a space of intimacy and warmth.

The mélange of furnishings, objects, lighting and finishes reflects this sense of unconventionality and freedom. By layering pieces from several different periods, sources and original uses, Roman & Williams has created something that feels entirely new. A variety of vintage seating pieces with their original patinas – some recovered with modest industrial fabrics such as felt and wool and others recovered with more luxurious velvets – mixed with two massive sectional suede sofas (which give off a 70s vibe), custom designed by Roman & Williams, provides ample space for lounging and conversation. An 18-foot laboratory table with a slate top provides space for impromptu meetings, meals, and conversation. Custom-designed lighting fixtures, made of hand-blown glass gloves and industrial pipes, encircle the four massive columns in the lobby without permanently affecting the original columns. The firm used only existing junction boxes in the ceiling, so as not to disturb the original details that it restored. The lights use vintage lenses in a modern application to fit into the scheme. Reclaimed paneling around elevator has glossy black end caps to clearly distinguish them as new.

The “library” is defined by custom blackened steel shelving units (with a selection of books curated by Ace and Roman and Williams), a French bakery table, school chairs and English wing chairs. For the reception desk, Roman & Williams fused together three steel factory tables, covered the tops in leather, and retrofit them to hold all the computer equipment necessary for a contemporary hotel. A large vintage apothecary cabinet behind the desk provides storage.

For the lobby bar, Roman & Williams took an entire room, reclaimed from the library of a Park Avenue apartment, and installed it like a stage set in the lobby. This 25-by-10-foot space operates as a found object, as a celebrated artwork, and as a focal point. It isn’t a trick – the bracing that holds it up and the room’s section-like cut visible – but it represent the designers’ embrace of history, without the need to slavishly recreate it. Above the bar, huge 7-foot-high marquis letters spelling out ACE fill the space between the top of the found room and the 18-foot ceilings. Ace and Roman & Williams are commissioning an artist to paint a mural on top of and around these letters.

Rooms

Where the lobby is layered and historical, playful and referential, the rooms are a little more efficient, but still like a funky small apartment. Custom-designed furnishings, such as a custom leather sofa that turns into a bed, and beds and desks of plywood and black and paint feel like mid-century wood prototypes, pieces created right at the cusp of something new, parts of the invention of a whole new style; an exposed rack made out of bent plumbing pipes and with hanging steel boxes replaces a closet and plays the part of historical reminder, a reference to the neighborhood’s industrial history.

Pipes also appear in the bath accessories and the desk legs showing how stock materials can be re-appropriated to make something elegant but simple, unfussy and ultimately anti-design. For the rooms of the Ace Hotel NYC, Roman and Williams custom designed the open closet, desk, and a line of bath accessories and fashioned them of an unexpected material: powder-coated steel pipes. The use of this highly utilitarian material reflects the sense of honesty and simplicity that underlies the design of the hotel and also speaks to an area of interest and exploration in the oeuvre of Roman and Williams – finding beauty in durable, basic materials and using them in new ways. For each of the pieces, Roman and Williams utilized a wide variety of diameters of pipe to make the creations. The closet uses a combination of materials: various pipes configured almost like an industrial rolling rack, with steel cubbies customized with the same black finish and with peg board behind to give a sense of finish.

Music comes from an LP-playing turntable, and a deep-fryer basket is mounted under the desk to hold the records. A full-size Smeg refrigerator, with its vintage profile, holds the “maxibar.”

Chalkboard paint on the walls and paintings by young artists individualize each room.

Cite: Basulto, David. "The Ace Hotel, New York / Roman and Williams" 07 Mar 2010. ArchDaily. Accessed 20 Aug 2014. <http://www.archdaily.com/?p=52016>

23 comments

  1. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    it reminds of ABC carpet in NYC! This firm ruined the Standard hotel interiors, I was hoping for something amazing due to the location but I was disappointed with the over the top decoration

    • Thumb up Thumb down 0

      What’s so wrong with decoration?
      You make it sound like a bad thing.
      Every culture has decorated and will continue to do so.

      It’s just that we are awash with magazines filled with identical interiors made up of
      a) a phalaenopsis orchid (or dried twigs)
      b) some mid-century modern furniture
      c) a ‘dramatic’ floor/wall/ceiling

      Bring back decoration I say.
      Viva la cushions!!!
      Long live the curtains!

      Having said all that, I’m not convinced by the grab bag of items (very carefully) thrown together in this interior. It seems like someone went to a furniture auction and just bought everything….

      But having said that, there is not a single orchid or Eames chair in sight. Thank God!!

    • Thumb up Thumb down 0

      My first thoughts exactly. Thats the problem when your design fee is based on how many pieces you sell. Undermines the integrity of good design and architecture.

  2. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    Dearest Arch Daily,

    I was thoroughly disappointed with this posting. It seems like it should be published in a cheezo interior design/decoration magazine. I sit here somewhat distraught… why was it posted to your website?

    Please let me know.

    • Thumb up Thumb down 0

      Just wanted to answer your question as I’m sure the Archdaily crew won’t bother.

      They posted this design because it’s very fashionable and every architect wants to be an artist and a poet and an enormous A letter in the middle of the wall is art+poetry combined right?

      Also you have a painting 3 different dogs on the other wall which is OH so random and abstract right? (look, one of them has a blue hat – they so crazy)

      And there is something very very wise written on another wall, you know, like if some random person just scribbled it there and this one sentence could, you know, change your life…or something.

      In short = pop culture is a bitch but the average Joe thinks its art.

      • Thumb up Thumb down +1

        @yeah, sorry?

        @David,

        The Ace Hotel has become a center for the innovation community in NY, and lots of them have really liked the design, as you can see on many blogs. So, why is there such a disconnection between what architects seem to think and what people really likes?

        At ArchDaily we like to present a wide focus of projects, as we serve different types of professionals with different tastes/backgrounds/clients/etc.

  3. Thumb up Thumb down -2

    Isn’t this like 15 years behind? They’ve left the Eames chair out, but the Smeg fridge..? And quotes on the wall from 90′s Radiohead. Are they ahead of their time to be retro or is this the US version of the French shabby chic.. plain tacky. I’ll have the ottoman and the twig, please.

  4. Thumb up Thumb down +4

    The negative comments here seem to miss the point, granted maybe this is better suited to the pages of Wallpaper magazine, but is relevant to architects nonetheless. Personally i HATE staying in hotels, faceless, corporate, soulless, and more often than not, mundane as hell. Obviously the concept was to create a trendy apartment style hotel, a hotel with a humanist touch; and for me they succeeded.

    This might be shocking to some but turning a building into a generic intimidating white shiny box with some expensive furniture the average person won’t look at twice isn’t the only type of architecture out there, and it is not always appropriate.

    (Better set of photos on the ace website by the way)

    • Thumb up Thumb down 0

      No – you don’t get the point. White, shiny box is not the only alternative to this … thing here. But I know it’s easier to argue when you set the opposite point to the extreme right?

      There is a wide middle ground while creating an interesting hotel and neither a white box, nor a zany, fizz, post pop-art interior belong in it.

      • Thumb up Thumb down +6

        Yes, please lets have more designs that cater to a wide middle ground, very inspiring. Opinions aside, while this type of interior has been done far better in places like Berlin (of which this seems to be a watered down version) you will find a lot of non-architects who really love this, and therein lies the point.

  5. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    this is really corny…
    totally pointless and uninspired

    and its not about decorating vs not decorating
    as in architecture its about relevance!

  6. Thumb up Thumb down -3

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

  7. Thumb up Thumb down +3

    I think it looks great, just like everything else Roman & Williams does. They’ve managed to use almost exclusively traditional American furniture and yet it still looks fresh, contemporary and not stuffy.

    Decoration, and especially a boutique hotel’s, can afford to be quirky and whimsical because it’s temporary. (The average life of a hotel room’s decoration is 6 or 7 years) If you don’t like it you can wait it out, or maybe stay at the Holiday Inn instead if that’s more to your liking.

  8. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    Flea market and shabby chic (even mid-century shabby chic) do not good design make.
    There’s ton of good, interesting contemporary design going on out there… from small design/build firms to big mega firms, this just is not it. I have to agree with those who are disappointed to see this post here.

    • Thumb up Thumb down 0

      Things don’t have to be crisp and new to be good design. And things don’t have to be crisp and new to be modern. In fact, if you want to design a beautiful place where people are comfortable I’d suggest layering a mixture of old and new things, exactly like R&W has done here.

  9. Thumb up Thumb down +9

    ACE was not designed for typical Architects.
    Its for “people” and people interested in people, not “architecture”.

  10. Thumb up Thumb down -2

    Arch Daily (David Basulto),

    Thank-you for responding to my query. I have to say that I am now disappointed by your answer. Are you yourself an Architect? To suggest that our profession is disconnected from what people like I find odd. For every great building there is a great owner/client. Now, I would agree that the taste of the masses is not good. If we went by numbers then all the best homes are cookie cutter, all the best neighborhoods are buried deep within suburbia and all office towers would be cheap, unsustainable and poorly designed… just based on numbers of course. I don’t like it when architects are not considered to be “people”… we most definitely are and are trained to see past the generic drab of the everyday. I made a comment this morning because for every photo I saw for this project I just asked “why?”

    When I see a project I also see it in the context of history. It is a way to approach it’s validity. What will happen when this hotel is not trendy in 6 months because a cooler one opened down the block? It becomes nothing… Let’s produce architecture that is timeless shall we.

    I enjoy this website very much because I find many to be timeless and just had to comment on this project… I thought it slipped through the cracks.

    Thanks

    • Thumb up Thumb down 0

      David,

      I don´t say that “our profession is disconnected” in general, just to some of these comments, like yours. And I don´t even say that it’s taste of the masses, as the tech scene I mentioned is just a niche. Does everything have to be timeless? I find that subjective.

  11. Thumb up Thumb down +5

    This is a great thread and it’s fantastic to see so many passionate responses.
    Here’s my take on it;
    Personally I don’t love this design, but it is a hundred times better than most architects could do.
    Architects in my country constantly deride interior designers.
    It is pathetic. Just because you spend 6 years at university reading Deleuze and ‘folding’ space doesn’t mean you can make a room that people actually want to spend any time in.
    Interior designers can. And thank god. Because most architects can’t.
    This is a broad generalisation of course. Yes, there are bad interior designers. And there are architects that know how to light a room. But they are the exception to the rule where I come from.
    Good on Archdaily for publishing this.
    And good on interior designers for doing what they do.
    (I am an architect by the way – and i am constantly shocked at the appalling ‘interiors’ some of my esteemed colleagues pull out of their *sses)

  12. Thumb up Thumb down +5

    great questions asked in the original article, nice to see some open mindedness about the language of built work. There is a quite a lock down in architecture and architectural interiors as far as “clean” “abstract” and “distilled”. My entire life has been oppressed by it. There is quite a large group of Architects and designers (and those things in rendering: called people) growing out there interested in the opposites. “Weighty” “explicit” and “fully flavored”! Finally something different out there and not the same “invent everything all the time” formulas. Which ultimately has caused alot of work to look ultimately the same. Its sort of like Blue Jeans, The pants of rebels! Everyone has worn nothing but for 30 years now. The pressed slacks they replaced have all but disappeared and your now rebelling against nothing. There is no traditional architecture left in america, so you can put down the weapons. It has been dead since probably 1936. If some offices choose to work in a historical language think of it as reanimating your nemesis, so that your clean modernist work has something to compare, contrast and obliterate with powerful philosophies of “authenticity”. Otherwise your just going to be building your work in a sea of more clean and abstracted work and that ultimately might not be that interesting. Ie: everyone in jeans.

  13. Thumb up Thumb down +2

    I like it! It’s retro-rustique with a modern twist. I’m a sucker for letters used in furnishing, so I love the huge A, but what I loved the most was the lamps surrounding the columns.
    One thing I didn’t like was the lightning in one of the rooms (I hope it’s not like that in all of them). It looks cold and uninviting.

  14. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    Once the bottom of the water bottle is cut off, the bottle can be turned upside down to feed the grain through. I will cover more on this and the colon in the next upcoming article, but for now, go ahead and get started. Make sure that the smoothie is thoroughly blended; you do not want to have a lot of fruit chunks in your smoothie.

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