Do you like reclaimed wood, casement windows, tile work, the design style reflected in the lobby of the Ace Hotel? Do you like "hipster brands"? Do you like the "aesthetic of a rugged Americana lifted from a make-believe past [that] has gained dominion over swaths of New York, especially downtown Manhattan and Brooklyn"? You are a fan of Stephen Alesch and Robin Standefer, the husband-and-wife design team who appear in a New York Times Thursday Styles section piece today by Joshua David Stein. It's titled "They Get Around," because they do, and so does the look they propagate.
Alesch and Standefer, former set designers, are Roman & Williams, an architectural and interior design company founded in 2002 that may be the single-most purveyor of the nouveau-hipster aesthetic we've come to know and love — or love to hate — in gastro pubs and retro-in-appearance "artisanal-style" bars and shops and homes: "Black-pipe flanges, filament bulbs, vintage turntables, taxidermy and other old-timey curios — these industrial-chic tropes have come to signify good taste today," writes Stein."Call it the Benjamin Button school of design, with Roman & Williams as its headmasters."
They've designed places like The Breslin, The Standard, and the Dutch as well Stumptown Coffee and celebrity homes, using their eye for the current cool to make that cool appear nearly everywhere cool people exist. But now in their mid-40s, they're also going corporate, or at least, designing corporate: "In the last year and a half, the pair have designed the studios of HuffPost Live, the live-streaming channel run by The Huffington Post, in New York, and the 16,000-square-foot cafeteria at the Facebook campus in Menlo Park, Calif." Also, luxury condos in Mumbai, a Berlin mall, an array hotels, and collections for merchandising entities. (Gwyneth Paltrow, whose TriBeCa loft—“an old New York City apartment by way of India"—they designed, loves them.) As heritage style goes big, it also becomes decidedly less heritage, and instead just another identifiable trend, but Alesch and Standefer don't mind if you call them "inauthentic":
“Authenticity is over-fetishized,” Mr. Alesch said. “Everything is a set. The first fire inside a cave was a set with buffalo furs all around it.”
How do you create a Roman & Williams design? To make Paltrow's apartment, "Walls were stripped and covered with embroidered fabric, pressed-tin ceiling was mounted, and a swing, fashioned from an antique Indian door, was hung with a custom silver chain." As Paltrow told Stein, "If it wasn’t such an annoying hipster term, I’d describe it as ‘rough luxe.'"
That hating-hipster while being-hipster thing, of course, is the concluding twist in Stein's piece about the former set-designer design team making much of New York look like a Gangs of New York set: When a mustachioed, suspender-clad man walks past them who could be an extra from that film, they groan. “'We hate heritage,' [Ms. Standefer] said, putting the word in air quotes. 'Now it’s on everything, even on Clorox bottles.'” A danger of the job, perhaps. But when everything is heritage, does heritage cease to exist?
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.