We’re entering a new era of branded hotels. While hospitality corporations — from the mega (Marriott) to the mini (Ace) — once had a lock on the industry, now companies from outside the industry are getting in on the action. Fashion labels like Bulgari and Armani were among the first to enter the fray, and the past few years have given us properties from Restoration Hardware and beer company Brewdog. This year is expected to bring debut hotels from Equinox gyms and West Elm furniture.
The first such property to make a splash in 2019, however, is the just-opened Shinola Hotel, which landed earlier this month in downtown Detroit, home city of the luxury watch brand behind it. Known for its slightly retro hipster aesthetic — applied today not just to timepieces but also to bags and jewelry and even bicycles — the brand has dipped its toe into hospitality with a smart, sophisticated hotel occupying two historic buildings in the Woodward Avenue shopping district. The former T.B. Rayl & Co. hardware store, built in 1915, and a Singer sewing machine store, dating to 1936, now house 129 rooms, various residential-feeling lounge spaces and an Italian restaurant from Andrew Carmellini, the chef behind New York restaurants Locanda Verde, Lafayette and the Dutch.
For the hotel’s design, Shinola turned to the Manhattan-based firm Gachot Studios, run by husband-and-wife principals John and Christine Gachot, who created the brand’s flagship stores in Brooklyn and Downtown Los Angeles. They had also had earlier success in the hospitality field with New York’s Smyth Hotel and its restaurant, Carmellini’s Little Park. Christine, in particular, has the sector in her professional DNA, having served as a vice president of design development for master boutique hotelier André Balazs.
“I’ve always admired the craftsmanship that Shinola insists on in its products, the elegance of the connections and detailing,” Christine says. “We wanted to make sure that was part of the interiors narrative.” To that end, they incorporated into the decor several Shinola pieces made exclusively for the property — a desk clock, a striped alpaca throw blanket — as well as custom Gachot furnishings.
Here, Christine reveals the full story of the Shinola Hotel’s design.
After building a brand intimately associated with Detroit’s renaissance, Shinola took things a step further by partnering with the real estate firm Bedrock to create a destination that represents and supports the city’s future. We wanted to design an environment that would encourage visitors to come to Detroit and the local community to linger. The public spaces are welcoming and warm. The guest rooms are comfortable and varied, with fifty unique types in one hundred twenty-nine total rooms. It’s not a pass-through. It’s your living room, your pied-à-terre.
From the outset, we were focused on blending the historical aspects of the city and the Shinola aesthetic, which to us means high-quality craftsmanship that is warm and accessible yet special.
We wanted the hotel to have a timeless sense of familiarity. The heritage of the buildings themselves brought that conversation to the forefront. We couldn’t get tricky — we had to celebrate the history. In the events hall, for example, we re-created the facade ornamentation on the ceiling in plaster, and the historic stair in the living room is a focal point. Our cues were often quite literal.
The palette is subtle and warm, with hints of color, allowing the people and artwork to play into the design. We used deep camels and browns coupled with blue hues. The furniture throughout is almost all custom by Gachot. It is thoughtfully considered for proportion and comfort, just as it would be for a private home.
The Art of the Mix
Working in the historic buildings was a wonderful opportunity. The clean lines of our furniture suddenly had an added elegance and warmth. The depth of the existing floor plates, along with the fenestration, allowed for large guest rooms, with proper foyers, generous closets and lovely bathrooms.
The Devilish Detail
There are fireplaces everywhere! You will be delighted — especially this time of year in Detroit — to find them in the living room, the evening bar, the mezzanine, the events hall and in penthouse suites.
It’s so low-tech and user-friendly that it’s genius! We used the Shinola power-supply collection of portable cords and multi-outlets in all the guest rooms and public spaces. Their colors add richness and vibrance.
The Speed Bump
Creating an interesting guest travel path from the historic building to an annex across an alley was a challenge. I referenced the industrial sky bridges of Tribeca, and like everything with Bedrock Development, if you dream it, they will find a way. Sky bridge accomplished!
The Custom Commission
The Detroit gallery Library Street Collective brought it home with the art installations it curated throughout the property. It’s rare to find such an important mix and inspiring collection in a hotel. I loved the blue, white and black painting that the gallery commissioned from Paul Kremer so much that I purchased one of his pieces for my loft.
The Vintage Find
Ages ago, John bought me a pair of vintage Jens Risom slipper chairs for our first apartment, and they have traveled with us ever since. They even made it on the ferry all the way to our place on Shelter Island. Cate, from our team, came across a pair from Metro Retro Furniture on 1stdibs while shopping for Shinola, and they fit perfectly. It’s always nice when something comes full circle.
The Pièce de Résistance
The circular multimedia wall piece by Nick Cave in the living room is striking. You kind of fall over yourself when you walk into the room.
The Room to Book
Stay in one with a fireplace. But also be sure to book an event in Bixby Hall and move your after-party to the conservatory. Then order late-late-night delicious room service courtesy of chef Andrew Carmellini. Oh, and invite me!
The Splendid Surprise
Head up the historical stair in the living room to the mezzanine. That’s where the fun happens: House beer on tap and a historic hand-painted wayfinding sign left behind from the old hardware building. During construction, we kept passing by it when we were on site, and it became an iconic in-the-know photo op. As time went on and walls went up, the sign just stayed in place. We added some protection around it, but it still hangs proudly.
The Comforts of Home
The scale of the guest rooms is very generous, so they really feel like a home away from home. The layouts are thoughtful. We made sure that you have a place for everything you bring on your travels and, hopefully, room for shopping bags too. There are many intimate moments of charm: The custom wall coverings throughout, the residential quality of the fabrics, the curation of accessories all help make the experience accessible and welcoming.
When we did the model-room tours, people thought it was a residential project. We hope it becomes your home. Move in!
Bring It Home
Channel the Shinola Hotel’s look with items hand-picked by designer Christine Gachot.