The High-Design Hotels of Roman and Williams


While you may not know the Roman and Williams name, you likely know the Roman and Williams aesthetic. In fact, there’s a good chance you’ve been to a hotel that the team has worked on. The New York-based architectural and design firm is the brainchild of Stephen Alesch and his wife, Robin Standefer, who have collaborated on everything from hotels and restaurants to private homes. Projects have included Gwyneth Paltrow’s Tribeca loft, Facebook’s Menlo Park mess hall and New York’s Ace Hotel.

No two projects look the same, as their design cues often stem from the building’s provenance. But if there’s a common thread, it is a sense of whimsy and warmth that comes from the artful combination of vintage and modern styling. Read on to learn more about Roman and Williams-designed hotels, and the inspiration behind each of them.

Ship Captain Chic

The dark wood and nautical theme of Greydon House
The dark wood and nautical theme of Greydon House - Douglas Friedman

Many Nantucket hotels embrace a nautical design theme, but Roman and Williams took it a step further with Greydon House. Their starting point was the structure itself, a 19th-century Greek Revival residence that was originally a ship captain’s home. Roman and Williams’ design inspiration came by imagining the captain’s global travels as well as the people who would have passed through Nantucket when it was the center of the whaling industry. The result? A 20-room inn-like hotel whose interior is crafted to resemble the home of a well-traveled aesthete. Touches from around the world include Eastern ceramics and hand-painted Portuguese tiles, French antiques and splashes of red to reference China. The team also added a few nautical notes in unexpected ways, such as old brass portholes repurposed as lighting fixtures.

Homage to the Sporting Life

A pommel horse as bench at the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel
A pommel horse as bench at the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel - Alan Shortall

When it debuted in 2015, the reimagined Chicago Athletic Association immediately became the hottest hotel in town. Many of the accolades are due to the thoughtful design by Roman and Williams. The hotel is set in an 1893 Venetian Gothic building that was originally an athletic club for men. Although it had been empty since 2007, it was the most intact historical building the duo had ever seen or worked with. They set out to restore as many of the building’s features as they could, such as the intricate woodwork and stained glass windows. But injecting irreverence into the design was also key to keeping it from feeling too staid. Throughout the hotel, the design is inherently playful and fun. For instance, Roman and Williams covered table legs with the leather grip of tennis racket handles; bathrobes resemble boxing robes; and guest room desks are a riff on old-school gym stretching racks. As Andrew Harper has stated, “The atmosphere is trendy rather than tranquil, making [it] most appropriate for the fashionable and young-at-heart.”

High Drama

A marble and brass bath at the Viceroy
A marble and brass bath at the Viceroy - Christian Horan

The Viceroy Central Park, which debuted in 2014, is the first Roman and Williams project the team has designed from the ground up. The high-rise tower is located near Central Park and is a throwback to prewar Manhattan. As Standefer explained, “An inspiration for the design of the building originally came from a noir concept — noir as in ‘film noir,’ the notoriously stylish crime dramas of the 1940s.” The result is glamorous, dark and clubby. The designers wanted the exterior to exude warmth, so they installed muntin-style windows to make the whole building look like a glowing lantern at night. To give the lobby presence, Roman and Williams clad it in Paonazzo marble, a hallmark of Manhattan buildings from the ’20s and ’30s, and offset the stone with honey-colored wood. To create a richly layered look, no walls in the lobby were left unadorned. For the guest rooms, Roman and Williams used a muted color palette of gray, taupe and caramel leather and made the rooms as streamlined as an ocean liner’s cabin. For a sleek look, they installed built-in headboards and side tables, as well as custom brass lighting.

Industrial Inspiration

Sternewirth lobby in Hotel Emma, featuring a flywheel chandelier
Sternewirth lobby in Hotel Emma, featuring a flywheel chandelier - Hotel Emma

The 146-room Hotel Emma is located in San Antonio, Texas, within the former Pearl Brewery complex, which dates to the late 19th century. The brewery’s history, as well as tales of the founder’s wife, Emma Koehler, who kept the company going during Prohibition, were the genesis of the design. Roman and Williams were inspired Emma’s grit and determination as well as the ritual of a shared drink. The result? A distinctive hotel that feels old and new, industrial and modern, exotic and cozy. The designers preserved many of the building’s architectural features, such as wood beam and tin-pressed ceilings, chipped plaster walls, exposed brick and massive arched windows. Mixing high and low, they offset vintage furniture with rich carpets and grand chandeliers and placed a giant flywheel in the lobby. For the guest rooms, Roman and Williams imagined a bedroom fit for a pair of world travelers. Their centerpiece is an enormous black bed frame, dressed simply in white linens. And as you’d expect from a former brewery, cocktails and craft brews are served at the hotel’s Sternewirth bar, where the chandelier was sculpted from materials found in the old bottling room and cast iron fermentation tanks have been repurposed into seating.

A Cozy Retreat in the Sky

A view of the Hudson River at the Standard Highline
A view of the Hudson River at the Standard Highline - The Highline

Resembling an open book balancing on its spine, the stark concrete-and-glass Standard Hotel rises above the High Line on Manhattan’s West Side. Roman and Williams tackled the interiors by embracing the elevated railway’s industrial history, while keeping it in line with the Standard’s design ethos. Their concept for the building was to bring guests on a design journey that progressed with every floor, from the 19th century into the future. The goal was to give visitors a sense of escapism, and “a feeling of coming out of yourself and being anybody you want.” While the exterior of the building has severe lines, the guest rooms use color, texture and light from floor-to-ceiling windows to imbue the spaces with warmth. Bedrooms are clad with tambour-wood ceilings and headboards, while the furnishings are pale and retro-inspired, with sheer curtains and midcentury modern furnishings. The effect? As if you’re floating on air.

By Christina Valhouli Hideaway Report Contributor Christina Valhouli has written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Fodor’s and She is a graduate of the Columbia University School of Journalism and lives in the New York area.

Keep Reading