For the recently completed renovation of Dallas’s storied Adolphus Hotel, a massive reimagining that began two years ago, the owners took a risk. They knew they wanted major changes, from giving the grand dame hotel more of a residential feel, in a European-estate sort of way, to making it relevant to a new generation of Texas bon vivants, all without sacrificing its dignified soul.
Instead of hiring a big-name design company with a long track record in hospitality, the owners turned to Swoon the Studio, a local boutique design and branding firm run by Samantha Reitmayer Sano and Joslyn Taylor. The duo had made their name as the creative force behind the branding of developer Tim Headington’s many design-rich ventures revitalizing the Main Street District, including the Joule Hotel and the Forty Five Ten designer boutique.
Ohio-based Rockbridge Capital, which bought the 440-room Adolphus in 2012, surprised many by tapping Swoon for the interiors and branding of all the hotel’s public spaces: three lobbies, the ballroom, a bistro, two bars, a retail store, coffee shop, barbershop, and yes, even the French Room, the formal institution beloved for expense-account business lunches and celebratory dinners with well-heeled relatives.
For two years, Sano and Taylor prescribed the most sweeping changes since Adolphus Busch, co-founder of the beer empire, erected the beaux arts hotel in 1912 (it was the tallest building in the state for a time). The last round of renovations took place in the eighties, and the excess ornamentation of that era had to go. The Adolphus was to be historic, not dated.
“We had to emphasize the authentic soul of what the Adolphus was, and is, and should be,” says Taylor, Swoon’s principal of interiors. “If we didn’t get that right, Dallas wouldn’t forgive us.” For inspiration, the team looked at traditional yet youthful hotels like the Marlton, in New York, and the Chicago Athletic Association, as well as myriad beaux arts buildings in New York.
During the Adolphus renovation, Swoon restored the ceiling of the storied French Room to its original white, a move that pained fans of the rococo cherub frescoes, a relic of eighties excess.
They also hoped the Adolphus would once again become a downtown hot spot. “In terms of the communal activity we wanted to create, it’s places like the Ace Hotel [New York] and Hotel Emma [San Antonio], where you’ve got people hanging out in the lobbies, working, meeting,” says Sano, who founded Swoon in 2009 and serves as principal creative director.
They installed steel-frame factory windows to define the zones of the lobby as rooms with distinct purpose and personality, without diminishing visibility or scale. Antique stone fireplaces imported from France added warmth and community. For the residential vibe the owners wanted, Swoon curated art, furnishings, and books to give the impression that a savvy young couple is inhabiting the family estate and adding their own tasteful acquisitions to the ancestral mix. Among the significant art additions are the two stark black prints by artist Richard Serra that hang above the fireplaces. The modernity of the Serras set against the old-world fireplaces creates the “ultimate push-pull,” Taylor says.
Swoon the Studio is already at work on another major hotel, collaborating with Austin’s Joel Mozersky Design on the $108 million Virgin Hotel, slated to open in the Dallas Design District in 2019.
Sano and Taylor just moved their sixteen-person office downtown, a short walk from the Adolphus and many other clients. Now the team can enjoy the amenities and the neighborhood it has had a big hand in creating. “This work means more to us than just beautiful design or helping a client build their brand,” says Taylor. “It’s about helping to establish something that is going to change the culture of the city. Our city.”