The Nifty 50 | Robin Standefer and Stephen Alesch, Designers and Architects
By Monica Khemsurov
This month, T celebrates the Nifty 50: America’s up-and-coming talent.
If they were considered slightly eccentric before — obsessing over industrial materials, old things and cabinet-of-curiosities-style tableaus while most of their peers were stuck on modernism — 2009 was the year the rest of the world caught up with Roman and Williams. The interiors firm started by the ex-Hollywood set designers Robin Standefer and Stephen Alesch banked two of the splashiest New York hotel openings in recent memory, the Standard and the Ace, then unveiled a new 19th-century-style condo building on Elizabeth Street that seemed like a revelation to those who noticed: real brick, laid by bricklayers, making Roman and Williams the Mast Brothers Chocolate of architecture. “It’s almost a ’round two’ for us,” says Standefer, who founded the firm with her husband 10 years ago. “People are getting to see the work now, to see a purer expression of who we are.”
Until now, the pair had done mostly private interiors, including multiple homes for Gwyneth Paltrow and Ben Stiller. But at the Ace Hotel — plus the attached Breslin restaurant and Stumptown coffee shop — they had free rein to geek out on dark wood and salvaged vintage furnishings, playing up the building’s 100-year heritage in a way that seems very now.
Of course, as with anyone who finds themselves suddenly recast as trendsetters, Standefer and Alesch are struggling to hang on to their identity in a way that will transcend what may be just a phase for others, especially as they begin a commission for a 30-story business hotel on 57th Street. “People get opportunities like this and then others say, ‘They were great then, but they grew, and now they’re not so great,’” Standefer says. “We’re meditating on what this means for us. It’s a bellwether of how much things are changing culturally, but as it happens I think we’re going to need to change it up a bit — start making Constructivist spaces that look like Ziggy Stardust.”