While in high school, Aaron Richter convinced his shop teacher to incorporate drafting into the curriculum. “I argued that we should build a stick-frame model house instead of just regular carpentry stuff,” says Richter. “I guess I was always leaning that way.” Perhaps it was because the now senior vice president of design at Equinox Brands was reared in a family of artists in Massachusetts, or that he spent his childhood building forts made of sheets and chairs, but Richter always knew he wanted to become an architect.
After studying architecture at Roger Williams University in Rhode Island, his career began at Nike in Portland, Oregon as an environmental designer. What started as an internship eventually led to working on stores in Hawaii and Guam. While there, Richter says he was surrounded by talented colleagues who created “incredible renderings and insane, beautiful presentations. Just being around them pushed me to be a better designer.” That type of streamlined expertise, along with his lack of exposure in the hospitality world at the time, was the recipe that appealed to hotelier Barry Sternlicht, who had recently launched W Hotels (now part of Marriott). He joined the company in 2002, and within a year, found himself running the burgeoning lifestyle brand—working on properties in the Maldives, South Beach, and Hong Kong, to name a few—where he pushed the envelope, taking a few risks with designers not known for their hotel work, like Tokyo-based Glamorous Co. From Sternlicht (whom he still calls a mentor and inspiration), Richter learned to follow his gut. “He taught me to not shy away from what you think is right and to not let traditional reactions or questions govern you.”
That would become very true for the next chapter of his career. After leaving W Hotels for Ian Schrager’s EDITION Hotels in 2007, Richter was tapped by Equinox and joined the luxury fitness brand a year later as its vice president of design. It was a world he didn’t know much about, but he was propelled to take the leap “into an industry that designers had forgotten about and were dismissive of,” in hopes that he could disrupt it.
His wish came true. In the last decade, wellness has become a lifestyle, and more mainstream and coveted than ever, and Equinox has been one of the key players. “We have tapped into something bigger than ourselves, bigger than fitness. We are making communities,” he says of the brand.
Equinox clubs are designed to bring likeminded people together in aspirational surroundings. “Fitness can be a struggle,” he says. “You want the space to respect and celebrate that effort.” Consider the E by Equinox St. James in London. Designed by Woods Bagot and Joyce Wang Studio, it stars a marble-clad interior and is the brand’s version of personal training-meets-club—a holistic, elevated, and bespoke hospitality approach with access to some of the best in the business.
Now, Richter has come full circle to what he does best with Equinox Hotels, which will debut this month in New York’s Hudson Yards, with plans to open additional locations in Los Angeles, Chicago, Seattle, Houston, and Santa Clara, California. As the ultimate extension of the brand and a reflection of how far fitness and hospitality have come, the inaugural property, with interiors by local firm Rockwell Group and a spa by Wang, will highlight the pillars of movement, nutrition, and regeneration—emphasizing the value of sleep, meditation, and recovery—with public spaces that meld F&B and coworking.
It’s a new definition of luxury, for which Richter is the brand ambassador. “It’s the removal of hassle; whatever it is that gets in the way of your ability to connect with yourself on the road is our first tenet,” he says. “After that, it’s about spending time with yourself—to take an hour yoga class, have a stretch session, or meditate. In this day and age, we feel it’s one of the most luxurious things you could do.”
Photography and renderings courtesy of Equinox