There were many directions Commune cofounder Roman Alonso could have taken for the design of the Ace Chicago. This being his fourth collaboration with the brand, the Los Angeles-based designer is as familiar with Ace’s subtle nuances as anyone, but he was also faced with a new obstacle: This was the lifestyle hotel company’s first ground-up property, and Alsonso soon realized new builds present just as many complications as an adaptive reuse.
For one, an original building normally acts as a design partner in helping dictate the interiors. “We didn’t have any historic architecture to go by because it was all new and modern,” he notes. But Chicago is a city with a rich design heritage, so Alonso channeled Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s iconic work at the Illinois Institute of Technology for a look that marries strong Midwestern craftsmanship with utilitarian design. For Ace Hotel Group president Brad Wilson, that’s part of Ace’s charm. “We look for rare opportunities where we know we can experiment and challenge ourselves,” says Wilson, who grew up in the Windy City. With Ace Chicago, “we took measures to restore the historic brick façade on part of the building,” which was once home to a cheesemaking factory.
Plywood, a nod to van der Rohe’s affinity for wood paneling, is used throughout and often paired with linoleum “to evoke a modernist period,” Alonso says. Take the lobby—a defining space for Ace—where the simple material forms the ceiling with a white brick-clad wall recalling the exterior. Black terrazzo floors finish the look, while indigo-dyed canvas panels that evoke the city’s history of jazz from artist Chad Kouri are flexible dividers that encourage both intimacy and conviviality. The reception, lobby bar, City Mouse restaurant, and gallery “are connected with wide, sweeping entrances, allowing each space to operate in dialogue with one another,” adds Wilson. “And we made sure our public spaces overflowed with natural light—a big plus in Chicago.”
Alonso also collaborated with local art space Volume Gallery to populate the hotel with original artwork: a bronze sculpture from artist Steven Haulenbeek greets guests at reception, Anni Albers-inspired tapestries by Christy Matson fill the lobby, and multiple Bauhaus-infused textiles from Tanya Aguiñiga are found throughout. One of the latter’s most prominent pieces reflects Chicago’s topography and hangs behind the host stand of the midcentury-inflected City Mouse from local restaurateurs Jason Vincent, Josh Perlman, and Ben Lustbader. The art continues upstairs as well: For the opening, the hotel’s gallery exhibited nearly 200 original pieces on Ace Chicago stationary by students from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, which are now showcased in the 159 rooms.
Plywood pops up again in the guestrooms and suites through a desk that spans the length of the window, a novel choice meant to provide unfiltered light while guests work. Chrome tubing in wall hooks hints to Bauhaus, while mountain chairs in denim “have a democratic, urban feel that Ace owns,” Alonso says. An exposed concrete ceiling juxtaposes the headboard made of inlaid blue linoleum and a throw blanket in blue, gray, and green stripes—a play on the hotel’s palette. “We wanted airy, well-lit spaces to contrast the dark blues and greens,” he notes. Suites take a bolder turn, however, with mustard yellow sofas and earthy but vibrant rugs inspired by midcentury icon George Nakashima’s textile work.
Meanwhile, the seventh floor is home to Waydown rooftop bar, which offers panoramic views of the city and is dressed in blue, including a DJ booth sculpted from sand, to make guests feel like “they’re up in the clouds,” Alonso says. And still to come: artist Jonathan Nesci’s highly anticipated dome for the fifth-floor garden terrace event space Prairie. The communal sized hammock will welcome a handful of people who want to take in a show or poetry reading while relaxing under Chicago’s skyline.