With a sister in law in the CIA, a father in law who practically wrote the Biden plan, and a cousin in charge of the ground war in Iraq, Mike Suomi was feeling a little left out in the political arena. "I felt like, what can I do?" remembers Suomi, principal, Stonehill & Taylor. His first thought was to do a product line about the "frailties and failings of the Bush administration" with irreverent names like "line in the sand, or mission accomplished." But thankfully for Bush, fate stepped in when Suomi was approached by frequent collaborator Hampshire Hotels to re-image Best Western’s U.S. flagship property: the President. "It was the perfect opportunity to exercise passion to do something political."
"I wanted to do something somewhat subversive, and also bipartisan. I wanted to be more healing than divisive," says Suomi. Step one: the color palette, which is based on "centrist purple," a mix of Republican red and Democrat blue. "I wanted to get back to origins of presidents that we all know and revered." Step two: Use two iconic presidents, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln, as presidential touchstones throughout. Reclaimed wood lining corridor walls references Lincoln’s log cabin upbringing; and in the lobby, the Gettysburg Address is scrolled across a wall in oversized script; Jeffersonian powdered wigs and an exact replica of Lincoln’s top hat are displayed in vitrines; and two empty seats are prominently displayed to make their presence more tangible.
The President fittingly had 44 suites, making it an easy decision to theme each room after a president. Lacquered casegoods and white button-tufted sofas sit atop a multi-colored striped carpet, while custom-made purple and white pop takes on presidential portraits hang in guestrooms depicting each room’s muse. And with 12 presidents who the designers considered the favorite presidents of all time, they added some special touches: a phonograph playing Kennedy’s voice; basketballs in Obama’s room; and in one of the few touches of irreverence found in the hotel, a vitrine full of audiocassette tapes in Nixon’s room. "We’re very excited about this renovation," says Laura Plasberg, senior interior designer for Stonehill & Taylor. "It’s always gratifying to use design to comment—in both profound and lighthearted ways—on real-world issues."
Other presidential design details are found throughout: elephant and donkey graphics on the backs of barstools in Primary lounge; a wooden slatted wall, representing the stripes of a deconstructed American flag; cocktail tables spelling the word "Liberty"; antiques and presidential artifacts in the presidential suite; and for cocktail waitress uniforms, "we asked ourselves, which president would you most want to have a drink with?" The answer, a resounding "Kennedy!" led fashion designer Craig Robinson to create uniforms inspired by the Secret Service from that era.