211 Elizabeth Street, Ace Hotel, Alex Calderwood, Architects New York, Boom Boom Room, East Fourth Street, Interior designers New York, New York, Robin Standefer, Roman and Williams, Stephen Alesch, Things We Made
What is it that separates an interior from being a group of items that look good together from an interior that that not only looks good but also tells a story of the inhabitants? We’ve all seen both. Where one is quite beautiful, the other you will remember forever.
A long time ago I was in New York visiting a relative and this particular Uncle had owned his beautiful brownstone close to Central Park since the 40’s. It had been filled with antiques that he had either inherited or had acquired from his neighborhood over the past 50 years. Each piece had a story and was hand picked by himself or his late wife. As he sipped his violet martini he told us tales of each piece. Some he got for a song, others he had to save up for. This made delivery day even more exciting. I remember almost every piece in that house and it was so well put together because it was their collective story and it wasn’t rushed. It was carefully thought out and each piece placed in their home had to add to the story, like a chapter in a book.
I came across a book the other day that reminded me of my Uncle’s story. I was out looking for Christmas presents at the book store and I came across the book Roman and Williams, Buildings and Interiors. the first thing that caught my eye was the binding of the book itself. It had a heavy, black leather binding and raised lettering. It definitely didn’t look like the other design books with their bright front covers featuring a room with a proud designer standing perfectly poised at the side of a chair or sofa. I pulled this rather large, black book down and started to read and I was immediately reminded of how important narrative is in the design of a space.
As I read I discovered that Roman and Williams was founded by Robin Standefer and Stephen Alesch in New York City in 2002. This is how they describe their firm, taken from their website Romanandwilliams.com
“Having worked together for a decade designing sets for Hollywood films prior to establishing their firm, Standefer and Alesch have created projects that consistently find the tension between spontaneity and rigor, refinement and rebellion, and past and future. Without boundaries or borders, Roman and Williams employs a range of ideas, materials, objects, and references – from the unexpected to the pedigreed to the mundane – and, through the lens of their own singular viewpoint, create alchemy. They have an uncanny ability to mix seemingly disparate objects together in ways that “allow them to simmer to see if we can raise the temperature of a space,” as Robin and Stephen explain. “We try to communicate a voltage between time periods, cultures, and styles.” Never limited by what they designed last, the Roman and Williams aesthetic is constantly shifting and evolving, reflecting the diverse interests and profound curiosities of the firm’s principals, a practice that has earned them many devoted followers and accolades, including being honorees of the Architectural Digest Top 100 in 2011 and 2014.”
Their design aesthetic spoke to me and as I glanced through briefly, and then at depth later after I purchased the book, I found myself drawn by how they work through the idea of narrative in all of their projects.
For the Ace Hotel in New York they described it as a “grand, dilapidated country house that the Doors holed up in to make a record or maybe an old money retreat where a kid threw a big party when his parents weren’t around and he and his friends trashed the place.”
For the Boom Boom Room on the eighteen floor of the standard hotel they began with idea of it looking like a honey covered Bentley automobile. The incredible sound and privacy of being inside a luxury automobile combined with a sensual, tactile nature. Smooth, classic timelessness, and pure warm nature.
At 211 Elizabeth Street in New York their story was one of creating a classic American building that was to be like a human being. It was to have lids, lips, and eyes. It was to be a basic form and a singular experience from beginning to end. A true classic like a well made grey flannel suit.
Their own home in New York is filled with the narrative of their own lives. It is filled with items they ardently collect. As they are looking for objects that reflect the stories of their clients lives, they will often find other treasures that speak to them. These objects are boxed up and shipped home from India, California, Morocco, Japan, or wherever their world search takes them.
I think the key to their success is their commitment to beauty, quality, and endurance. It is the well made chair that will be passed on to the next generation or the antique cutlery that is thick, strong, and feels great in the hand. There is a sense of memory and soul in their work and of course… the story that guides their way.
Images courtesy of wmagazine.com, Coolhunting.com, Ananasmiami.com, onekingslane.com, and romanandwilliams.com