To the uninitiated eye, Freeman’s Alley in New York City’s Bowery neighborhood looks like the type of place your mom would warn you against walking down at night: dark and narrow with graffiti-clad walls and trash bags lining the path. But to locals, it’s home to Freeman’s, one of Manhattan’s greatest hidden restaurants (and many a wedding photo shoot). Now the famed dining destination has a buzzy new neighbor: Sister City.
The hotel has all the hallmarks of a transformative and restorative space. Freeman’s Alley was refurbished with an urban garden pathway to deliver guests from the hustle of the city into a calm space, and the interiors are designed to help guests wind down. Imagined by the creative team behind Ace Hotels, this new property is a far cry from the bustling lobby of the Ace in the NoMad neighborhood, a few subway stops away.
When the Ace Hotel opened in New York City in 2009, it redefined affordable hospitality by providing a place for travelers and locals alike to interact in one place. Sister City focuses instead on offering its guests a quiet respite on the Lower East Side, one of the city’s buzziest neighborhoods. “It acts as a sanctuary in the city, meticulously designed to provide autonomy, respite, and balance for a contemporary traveler,” says Kelly Sawdon, the chief brand officer of Atelier Ace and the head behind the project.
In signature Ace style, the 200 rooms are petite inside—ranging from 130 to 260 square feet in size. The hotel’s philosophy is “less, but better,” an ethos that transpires from the pared-back but thoughtfully designed guest rooms inspired by Finnish saunas to the self-check kiosk in the lobby that minimizes repetitive interactions and favors efficiency. The design elements are no less thoughtfully crafted: The guest rooms are outfitted with Italian cherry wood furniture, terrazzo vanities, and Noguchi lanterns. A partnership with Headspace offers guided meditations for every guest.
The bookcases in the lobby are filled with plants and books to nourish the soul and mind. The custom stained-glass ceiling in the guest check-in area features nontraditional muted colors and filters the light in a beautifully soft, subtle way. A first-of-its-kind generative lobby score by Julianna Barwick plays in a loop and is inspired by images captured by a sky camera on the roof: passing pigeons, the change in light, cloud formations, a faraway airplane.
Even the hotel’s restaurant, Floret, offers a fresh, seasonal menu that promotes healthy eating habits in a tranquil environment. The rooftop bar, Last Light, focuses on natural wines and inspiring views. In short, every inch of this urban retreat serves to give its guests a restful peace of mind—something that’s much needed after exploring New York City. To help you achieve a similar tranquil feel in your own home, we asked Sawdon to share her top three tips for designing small spaces thoughtfully.
Use Fewer, Better Things
“It’s disturbingly easy to quickly fill a small space,” Sawdon told Domino. “We tried to prioritize what we felt was necessary and strip everything else away. When you do that, you also need to prioritize quality—we focused on materials, simple design, and a few standout pieces like the Noguchi lamps and terrazzo vanities to bring the room together.”
Prioritize Form & Function
“Storage can be hard in small spaces, so we designed a bed frame where you can tuck away luggage, laundry or other things you don’t necessarily need every day,” explains the mastermind behind Sister City. “Our TVs are framed in Italian cherry wood and have covers that fold down to desks. The built-in valets hold all necessities as guests see fit. Having multi-use furnishings help streamline aesthetics while being useful in myriad ways.”
Highlight What’s Already There
“In the end, rooms exist to be lived in and to both inspire and comfort us,” adds Sawdon. “Even a small space is flexible and elastic with possibility: the potential to really play with proportion, vertical or modular storage solutions, lighting that warms, shapes that delight. Maybe you have great natural light or high ceilings or built-ins—take what’s there, highlight the best features, and consider what you personally need from your space.”
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