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Design Spotlight: Roman and Williams

As designers like Christian Liaigre and Philippe Starck were practically synonymous with the boutique hotels of a decade or two ago, the American designers behind Roman and Williams — individually, Robin Standefer and Stephen Alesch — are driving a style that’s eclectic, handmade, drawing from a wide variety of sources, weaving together threads of hippie-chic, military surplus, industrial grit, and seemingly anything else that catches their fancy. Over the last few years they’ve quietly become some of the hotel world’s most important designers. If you, like us, patiently search for the eccentric and character-driven in hospitality, chances are you scratch the itch with a little R & W.

Ace Hotel New York
New York City
Ace Hotel New York

Here’s a case study in how to rescue a former residential hotel without conceding an inch to glitz. Every surface and fixture nods reverently to a hardier, better-crafted past — parquet flooring, exposed bulbs, artfully peeling paint, throwback paneling. Salvaged and reclaimed elements rule the roost, providing endless conversation fodder in a series of magnetically popular public spaces. As befits the boutique philosophy, the rooms hardly suffer by comparison; inventive murals and just the right balance of utilitarian comfort in the furnishings make sure of that.

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The Standard High Line Hotel
New York City
The Standard High Line

Such an iconic edifice demands an equally unique approach to the interiors. Retro-futurism informs the curves and angles of this Meatpacking mainstay, all Kubrickian poise and spacefaring chic. Rooms compensate for their somewhat modest NYC proportions with only-in-NYC swagger, leveraging glossy tile and slatted-wood wall treatments against thrilling skyline views — both to and from — through floor-to-ceiling windows. It’s a portfolio piece for the duo, a reminder that these former Hollywood production designers have more than one style in their toolbox.

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The High Line Hotel
New York City
The High Line Hotel

A similar name for something completely different. This High Line is an impeccably preserved, ingeniously furnished Gothic Revival masterpiece. Here the lived-in design encourages a hands-on approach, the better to appreciate the period telephones, typewriters, books, and custom embossers waiting for you in every nook and cranny. Where the Standard feels like science fiction, the High Line is an impeccably composed, well-loved period piece.

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Viceroy Hotel New York
New York City
Viceroy New York

Let it never be said that Roman and Williams don’t rise to the occasion; that’s a must when you’re situated on some of the world’s most prized real estate, the billionaire’s row directly south of Central Park. Calculated nouveau-Deco aplomb electrifies from the get-go in the lobby, never letting up for a moment, each subsequent room building on that artful foundation in burnished wood, inventive lighting sequences, and a pervasive sense of masculine sheen. You know it’s something special when the design rips your eyes away from the perfection of a park view.

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Royalton Hotel New York
New York City

Or when it supplants, and very nearly upstages, a Philippe Starck hit in the Royalton; a tough act to follow in any space, let alone that which prophesied the Age of the Boutique. It’s classic Roman and Williams by now, of course: gleaming brass notes, handsome dark wood, and a couple herds’ worth of unctuous leather. Globe lamps and high-backed banquet seating round out the indulgent Twenties atmosphere, discreetly partitioned in the dining rooms by elegant, geometric latticework. Turns out you can be your own grandfather.

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Hotel Emma San Antonio
San Antonio, Texas
Hotel Emma

New York shouldn’t have all the fun, agreed? Presenting Hotel Emma, San Antonio’s R&W debut, technically just the hotel element in a captivating Second Empire complex that once housed 19th-century brewhouse Pearl’s. Evincing professional restraint in spades, the team chose to play to the space’s singular strengths, retaining original elements (lofty pillars, tiles, beams, plenty of exposed brick) wherever possible. Add in a warm assortment of bespoke furnishings and patterned textiles for a true San Antonio landmark.

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Freehand Hotel Chicago
Chicago, Illinois
Freehand Chicago

The Freehand concept ports well to the Windy City’s River North district, scaled up just a bit though still well within reach of self-possessed youths. A vibrant glow drives the public spaces, guiding the eye with primary-hued textiles and wall art; the nose and tongue presumably need little prompting, what with the robust cocktail program and scrumptious Mesoamerican plates. Rooms are the very definition of airy, clean-lined, and roomy, introducing thoughtfully placed, semi-retro accoutrements like your favorite host at a swanky gallery opening.

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Chicago Athletic Association Hotel
Chicago, Illinois
Chicago Athletic Association

Let’s go out with a bang — in Roman and Williams’s hands, this former men’s club’s Venetian Gothic splendor just soars. It’s field-day grandeur, sophistication incarnate, every measured inch a story in millwork, marble, or stained glass. The sheer fastidiousness beggars the gaze. It’s the type of hotel in which one strikes up a partnership — business, romantic, artistic — and toasts its inevitable success. Cheers, you two.

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