Flashing back to 1999, in Belltown, Seattle, the Ace Hotel empire began its journey in a former Salvation Army halfway house. Founded by friends Alex Calderwood, Wade Weigel and Doug Herrick, the three visionaries wanted to create a hotel that was affordable and appealing to the creative class, and thus, the ’boutique’ hotel concept was born.
The founders favoured unfussy luxury; an intentional design ethos and the essence of the brand that has underpinned this industry-changing business. White, institutional décor, loft ceilings, hardwood floors, pieces of exuberant street art and rooms stocked with fancy popcorn. It might sound like a strange disposition, but every detail was considered and crafted, and the hotel fitted right into the quirky Seattle neighbourhood. One of Calderwood’s greatest talents was adapting the style and furnishing of each hotel property to fit holistically into its surrounding area, with an eye towards re-imagining properties that were arguably “challenged”.
Diversification is the perfect word to describe the company, because as they grew, so did the hospitality offering, creating spaces, events, products and experiences and engineering the Ace ‘culture’ along the way. Calderwood learnt from a young age that if you have a point of view you could team up with other talented people to make your idea happen. He fell in love with the concept of collaboration and it’s something that Ace has perfected under the in-house creative agency of Atelier Ace. Successful collaborations with makers and artists include Tokyobike’s Ace City Bike, Sunpocket’s foldable sunglasses inspired by ski bunnies of the 70s, Vans create Era 59 which represented a celebration of the new Ace Hotel in LA and with Hender Scheme to create custom Ace Hotel slippers. Although Ace Hotel operates 1,045 rooms wide, it may come as a surprise to learn that 50% of its revenue comes from other avenues, including the product collaborations in Ace’s online shop!
In 2012, original founders Weigel and Herrick sold their Ace shares. Since inviting investors into fund the more extravagant projects, it could be said that the original ethos of the company and the ‘passion projects’ had been taken over by the investors’ thirst for money.
Calderwood continued to grow the Ace empire and in 2013, opened the first European hotel in Shoreditch, London. Unknown to everyone this was the last of the Ace Hotel launches he would see. Before the Ace boom, Calderwood had started out in Seattle where he began his ever-changing career that involved fashion design, nightclubs, a barbershop chain, a record label, an advertising and marketing agency, publishing an art book and of course, a world-class hotel chain. His interests spanned from vintage clothes, fancy coffee, a relaxed service culture, reclaimed furniture and retro typography. Sadly, on the 14 November 2013, Alex Calderwood was found dead in London’s Shoreditch hotel. (Pictured Right, Alex Calderwood)
Flashing forward, and Ace Hotel is an eight strong collective of destination hotels, each with its own inspired design, paying homage to the building and its city, with the belief that everyone should be welcome to visit their hotels. Atelier Ace’s approach to the hotel environment is to seek out narratives, makers, artists and materials that speak to the building and to the city. Alongside interior designers Roman and Williams (who helped renovate the New York hotel) spaces are crafted to make a lasting impression. Roman and Williams believe that bringing different objects together that work alongside each other creates a musical space; they believe that the communication of objects creates a dreamy, subconscious force that appeals to people in different ways, resulting in an inviting space where people feel welcome. This is the reason that all Ace Hotel lobbies are welcome to anyone to take refuge, a communal area open to the public to grab a coffee, a welcoming space to relax and read a book, or even for use as workplace or to hold larger presentation meetings.
Most recently, in an attempt to wow their customers even more, Ace Hotel enlisted the help of acclaimed fiction writer Journ Alexander Chee and invited 12 writers from around the world to take part in their ‘Dear Reader’ project. Each month, an author is selected to pen a letter to guests, each one is hand-stamped, numbered and given to guests on a surprise date and momentous annual occasions. The letters can be about anything, so if you haven’t already, why not book a night in one of Ace’s hotels, you never know you might be lucky enough to get one!
You can visit an Ace Hotel in New Orleans, Pittsburgh, Downtown LA, London, Paris, New York, Portland, Seattle and Panama.
The company initially grew out of other businesses that the original founders had put their hands to, including a marketing and advertising company known as Neverstop. Back in 1992, Calderwood and Weigel opened Rudy’s, a barbershop still known today for its hip aesthetic and can be tracked down in New York’s very own Ace Hotel. However, in 2007, the second Ace Hotel was born in Portland, residing in the old Clyde Hotel. The Portland hotel was renovated to conjure up a different feeling to that of it’s counterpart and honed in even further on its surrounding environment. Coffee was offered from local roaster Stumptown, woollen blankets from Pendleton and handmade steel bikes that you could rent. The rooms looked more like bedrooms you would find in a friend’s home rather than a hotel, with quirky touch-points that made them cozy and inviting. The Ace Hotel ‘formula’ was developing.
It was in 2009 that Ace Hotel developed the momentous 5-acre, Palm Springs desert resort, located in a former Howard Johnson Motel. The 176-room hotel is equipped with a swim club and spa and is close to cool stuff like historic desert modern architecture and tons of great vintage shopping.
Diversification continued with a New York opening in 2010 and in 2011 an Ace Hotel in the Old Artists Theatre in Downtown, LA. Calderwood envisioned mixing the glamour of old Hollywood and the punk-rock ethos of the 1980’s for the design of the LA hotel. As a result, there is a 1600-seat theatre space and a rooftop pool that was inspired by Donald Judd’s work in Marfa.
Following Calderwood’s death the American Trade Hotel, Panama opened its doors in late 2013. Located in the heart of Panama city’s historical quarter Casco Viejo, the colonial hotel offers an inspired take on the city’s rich heritage. It is even named after the building it occupies; the four-story building was built in 1917 and was home to the American Trade Developing Company and featured a department store on the ground floor, with modern apartments on the upper floors. The building has been restored to its former glory, with added Ace touches that take inspiration from local culture, as well as design influences from the Vienna secessionist, Mexican modernist and Italian postmodernist.