These days, it isn’t uncommon for the designers of hotel interiors to integrate original art into their schemes. But three entire art galleries, an immersive installation room and a black-box theatre with flexible seating and curtain rigging? These are less typical – and also what the hospitality-focused architecture and interior design firm Stonehill Taylor was mandated to incorporate at the Saint Kate, a new Milwaukee hotel designed to showcase not only the visual arts, but also music, theatre, dance and literature.
Named after Saint Catherine, patron saint of the arts, the 219-room hotel sits near several of the Wisconsin city’s premier cultural facilities, including the Marcus Performing Arts Center, the Pabst Theater and the Milwaukee Public Museum.
Its location is strategic, reflecting a desire “to blend Milwaukee’s renowned arts institutions and cultural heritage into a creatively bold hotel.”
A team of artists, curators and experts, including a former director of the Milwaukee Art Museum, oversaw the development of the Saint Kate’s permanent art collection and special exhibits. The nearby performing arts venues will be supplying the artists and musicians for pop-up performances in easily adaptable spaces such as the hotel’s main bar.
New York-based Stonehill Taylor, which collaborated on the project with owners Marcus Hotels & Resorts and Chicago experiential-design studio One Design Company, signals the hotel’s artistic focus as soon as guests enter the lobby. There, across from the undulating custom reception desk, visitors are greeted by Big Piney, a life-size cast-bronze horse sculpture by Deborah Butterfield. The surrounding lobby features concrete floors, white wallcovering and painted millwork to mimic a gallery space, while wood tambour highlights add warmth. A large lithograph by renowned figurative painter Alex Katz overlooks the space.
In the bar to the left of the lobby, Stonehill Taylor took care to design a quickly transformable gathering area for all comers (“guests, artists and performers alike”) as well as one that attracts passersby outside through strategically placed seating around floor-to-ceiling windows. Reminiscent of mid-century record cabinets, vertical tambour wood in the marble-topped bar die echo pillars along the walls, while a large geometric area rug softens the space and separates the bar from the lounge seating.
Idiosyncratic touches both large and small make the barroom truly unique. On a minute scale, hand-shaped curtain tiebacks throughout the space reference the hand of the artist, while a life-sized, hyper-realistic sculpture of two human figures – a Charity White work called The Dinner Table – sits in conversation with patrons.
In the guestrooms, it is “the artist’s mind at work” that is referenced. The carpeting, for instance, looks as if it’s covered in sheets of paper (think “scraps and drafts thrown to the side”), while wallcovering used throughout the rooms is a tonal moiré pattern. In an exclusive collaboration with Wisconsin-based plumbing company Kohler, meanwhile, Stonehill Taylor worked with local artist Daniel Chung to inlay floral and other designs into each of the bathroom sinks.
Five of the Saint Kate’s guestrooms, known as the Canvas Rooms, are fully immersive spaces that allow visitors “to sleep surrounded by art.” Proceeds from every stay in these rooms (the inaugural quintet features the work of local artists John Grant, Lon Michels, Rosemary Ollison, Reed Skocz and Cory Zimmermann) benefit five local arts organizations. In the future, the Canvas Rooms will rotate the work of other artists and support additional non-profit art initiatives.
Dining-wise, the Saint Kate’s second-floor restaurant, the Aria Café & Bar, features low bookshelves and a muted palette of browns and blues to create what the design team deems “a comfortable yet luxe space reminiscent of one’s own living room.” An adjacent champagne bar boasts rich blue velvet lounge chairs and wood-and-brass coffee tables.
Back on the ground floor, the hotel’s three exhibition spaces – the Gallery, the Space and the MOWA|DTN gallery – can be accessed from the lobby, the bar or a public atrium. The hotel’s black-box theatre, known as the Arc Theatre, will host curated art exhibitions as well as performing art shows.
The immersive installation room, known as The Closet, is located on the hotel’s second floor. The inaugural exhibition is The John Riepenhoff Experience Presents Yoohee Chang.
Designed by New York-based Stonehill Taylor, the 219-room “arts destination” features three galleries, immersive guestrooms and a 95-seat theatre