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Best Chicago Hotels News Yet: Roman and Williams Is Designing the New CAA

Where: 12 S. Michigan Avenue [map], Chicago, IL, United States, 60603
July 2, 2013 at 4:38 PM | by | ()

This once-secret bar with crazy mid-century modern design is bound to be a swank bar again

With stylin’ new Chicago hotels of all shapes and styles popping up and filing into the queue, you would think it not possible for the city’s hotel scene to get any better. And yet it does with the latest news that Roman and Williams Buildings and Interiors will be designing the interiors of the Chicago Athletic Association, transforming the landmark building into a 250-room hotel by its target open date of fall 2014.

Design fanatics need no introduction to Roman and Williams, the white-hot New York design firm that has garnered much deserved attention for its remarkably thoughtful work, which has ranged from Hollywood movie sets and celebrity home design for Gyneth Paltrow and Kate Hudson to ground-up buildings like 211 Elizabeth Street. Hotel fanatics will recognize the name behind the game-changing, gritty-pop Ace Hotel in New York, The Standard NYC’s Boom Boom Room and the forthcoming Viceroy set to open across from Central Park this fall. Pop culture fiends will know the name from recent news in The New York Times, GQ, Bazaar, WSJ, etc.

Founded in 2002 by husband and wife team Stephen Alesch and Robin Standefer, the couple has an extraordinary gift for merging past with future and creating tension between unexpected objects and time periods. All that is to say, they are really really good at restoring and reinventing historic places.

This may be the drawing room that becomes a new living room space for hotel guests

We can’t fathom a better design team for the CAA. And that may be because we are among a rare few who have seen the inside of this monolith 225,000-square-foot building, oozing with outstanding bones and a craftsmanship you don’t often see anymore. Originally built in 1893 by Henry Cobb, the CAA is considered one of the best examples of Venetian gothic architecture in the United States. It housed one of the most exclusive men's clubs in the country up until 2007, when it closed its doors. Standefer and Alesch are as excited as we are, saying the building "exudes an air of a faded glamour, but has architectural bones that are beyond reproach. We don't hesitate to describe it as one of the most beautiful and highly detailed buildings we've ever been in."

As if the bare bones (see photos) were not enough to get our hearts pumping, we can’t imagine what the place will look like when Roman and Williams are done with it. Still, we do have a few details on their plans. The firm will be converting the existing gym and running track into a large ballroom, designing a large greenhouse structure on the roof, converting the second-floor drawing room into a "living room for a new generation," and creating a sports room/pool hall/bar that pays homage to the building's heritage as a men's club. There will also be plenty of food and beverage options.

Even by flashlight tour, the potential of this architectural gem is obvious

“Our reverence for this monumental building cannot be overstated,” said the pair, “but we want to breathe a new life into it, to care for it without treating it like a relic." Right on.

Best known for their work in New York, the CAA project marks Roman and Williams first foray in Chicago; we expect it will not be their last. Given Chicago’s momentum these days as a major booming hotel destination—with the tourism numbers to match—it all feels like a turning point and perhaps the start of trend. Will Chicago hotels continue to up the ante and bring even better design than ever before? We are almost betting on it. Does it mean Chicago is tracking in the direction of New York hotels? Could be.

[Photos: Nina K. Hahn for HotelChatter]

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