Alex Calderwood, co-founder of Ace Hotel, shares their approach to designing spaces.—ARCADE


We’re OK with not getting too precious about covering every imperfection when designing our hotels. In some cases it brings texture or a tactile quality to the space, like the way someone will do their home if they’re on a budget. A soulfulness comes through when you decide to just leave something as it is. At Ace NY there are pipes on a column running up through the restaurant that jog weirdly to connect to the electrical source upstairs on the ceiling. Some people might have covered it with drywall or whatever, but we through it was fine for the pipes to be visible—–they are what they are. At several points in the design process, we will just say, “It is what it is.” It helps us bring a sense of honesty or truth to the space, instead of being overly concerned with trying to hide imperfections. People might not consciously sense it, but they get it unconsciously. In this way, in our in Seattle and Portland hotels, the lighting in the hallways has the conduit exposed with the light attached to it. We like that toughness and honesty. Or the concrete floors in Palm Springs—–Wade, one of the owners, had a house and stripped the wall-to-wall carpeting and cleaned up the concrete. Not only do we like this imperfect look, it’s a good solution. A lot of people spend money on tile or terrazzo. Ours is a natural solution that saves money, and we like the qualitative effect. And it works with the desert heat. To me, you can walk into a room and if it’s overly dry-walled it just feels cold. It’s appropriate for some environments like a gallery or when dealing with pure modernism, but in general, a newly dry-walled space just feels sterile. We had that challenge in some of the rooms in New York, where we did a lot of renovation. We are willing to accept an imperfect wall because it feels a little more human.


In our Portland and New York buildings, wherever we could refinish the existing wood floors we did so, even if it wasn’t a perfect wood floor. Same with the marble tile floor in the New York lobby. Because it had been really damaged and covered up several times over 100 years, when we finally excavated, there were a lot of areas that needed to be filled in. For financial reasons, instead of replacing it perfectly we just filled with concrete, but in the end, we liked what happened. It was one of those happy accidents.


Found objects, I think, give a residential quality and a personal sense to spaces, so they are not just storebought images out of catalogs or design showrooms. A guiding principle is what Coco Chanel said—–how you should have a mirror by the door so when you’re ready to go out at night, you can look in it and take one thing off. That applies to design in general and certainly to decor in a room. It’s a good principle to always keep in mind.


It’s never finished—–we’re always tweaking, adjusting, adding or taking away layers. It’s an evolving process. It’s the same as in your home—–you’re always evolving, adding and taking things away as your taste transforms and your personality changes. A space should never feel perfectly static. We’re still adding and changing things in our Portland and Seattle hotels even though they have been open for years.