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Fashion followers put aside salary for a favorite designer’s next collection, film buffs count down days ’til the new Tarantino release and I– along with a collective of design-junkies and hotel- addicts, await Roman and Williams’ latest project with an impatience that borders on obsession. I’ll hunt online for sneak previews or leaked secrets, eager to learn whether a gold tree, copper- coin floor, hippopotamus skull or exposed-frame ceiling will star in the design duo’s latest venture. Of course they won’t; these trendsetters don’t do the same thing twice – and if they did, they’d do it differently.
Roman and Williams – otherwise known as Robin Standefer and Stephen Alesch – aren’t just designers. Their work spans architecture, photography, painting, curation, furniture design, art direction and interior design. What they do is create; design is just one element within that. The pair initially collaborated on the sets of Hollywood films such as Zoolander, before segueing into interiors. Their résumé glitters with a constellation of New York’s most stylish restaurants, bars and hotels – Boom Boom Room (aka Top of the Standard), the Breslin, the Royalton Hotel, John Dory Oyster Bar, the Ace Hotel – to name a few. They also designed the Facebook canteen in California: a stripped-back space with a relaxed, communal vibe.
Roman and Williams’ star continues to rise: the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) recently awarded them the prestigious Lawrence Israel Prize. They’re hotter than ever, so I was honored to catch up with Robin, whose musings on punk, perfection and powerful moments follow below…
WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
Our inspirations include: tug boats, strange vernacular, utility, buffalo hide, Red Cardinals, Alexander McQueen, powerful moments in architecture, tombs, dark spooky moments, Axel van Oort, botanicals, natural dye, Japanese indigo and Louise Bourgeois. What inspires us can differ from 8am to 8pm – it’s ever changing and evolving.
HOW IMPORTANT IS HISTORY IN YOUR WORK?
We have a great interest in classic places and hospitality that stands the test of time, pure experiences – places like Claridge’s. We don’t ever want to have to replace anything: instead, we work with a sense of memory and history. This gives the process meaning. The greatest experiences, like a beautiful film or a mountain trek, all share a sense of discovery that’s ubiquitous with human nature. Our design reflects this. Design for design’s sake is such a drag.
- Ace Hotel New York - Lobby
DO YOU SEEK PERFECTION?
Peter Cook, musing on punk, once said that he recognized a motivation in Sid Vicious’ imperfection – a powerful point of view, creating a movement with powerful human connection. We relate to this.
DISCUSS PRIVATE VS. PUBLIC SPACES:
There’s an intimacy and privacy in designing someone’s residence versus designing hotels or film and theatre sets – which will be seen by as many people as possible. Hotels stand apart – nobody forgets a great hotel.
- Ace Hotel New York - The Breslin
WHAT UNITES YOUR WORK?
The work we have done – the Royalton Hotel, Ace Hotel, the Standard NY and so on ¬– is all very different, but there’s always a key element of collaboration with the owners, architects or developers. We strive to work with people who share cultural similarities and a holistic approach.
WHO HAVE YOU LOVED WORKING WITH?
It was inspiring to work with Alan Faena. He’s Argentinean and has a certain South American confidence and bravery, combined with an interest in global history and Argentina’s rural past. Alan has a deep understanding of humor reinvented, mischief, drama, quality and beauty. He’s from a culture that embraces mystery, creating rich and sumptuous experiences: true timelessness – a magic that defies time and period.
- The Freehand Miami - Lobby
DESCRIBE A DREAM PROJECT:
I’d love to design a botanical garden with a series of magical greenhouses. If Stephen had his way, he’d build a ferry boat or some sort of huge stone structure.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE YOUNG DESIGNERS?
Strive for beauty first; operational needs will come later. Work with a great sense of love and confidence. Imagine somebody’s dream escape, another existence for pleasure or for business: where would that person want to close a deal, have an affair or an anniversary? Bringing all this to the project is critical. Maintain a sense of fantasy.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE HOTEL IN THE WORLD?
Our very favorite hotel is the Hiiragiya Ryokan in Kyoto.’ There’s no other service philosophy comparable and the sense of history is astounding.
- The Standard New York - The Standard Grill