Cool Hunting 2009: New York City

Design is woven into the daily fabric of New York, whose layout is largely based on a navigable grid. Alex Calderwood, a music impresario and partner in the Ace Hotel Group, reveals the best new design discoveries.

A quintessential SoHo building
A quintessential SoHo building (Courtesy Joshua Paul)
A quintessential SoHo building
(Courtesy Joshua Paul)
A quintessential SoHo building
A quintessential SoHo building (Courtesy Joshua Paul)

Design is woven into the daily fabric of New York. Its layout is largely based on an easy-to-understand grid; perhaps no other city in the world has a topography so user-friendly, navigable, and distinct. The city's relationship with design is intrinsic and fully about embracing both the high and the low. At SoHo design shop Moss, Alessi teapots are elevated to the level of a museum exhibition. Meanwhile, all around town, cast-off Eames chairs and funky 1970s lamps are reincarnated at the Housing Works and City Opera thrift stores—some of the most reliable troves. The key thing to understand is this: You don't need a Manhattan address to take advantage of this bounty—you just need to know where to look.

Designer spotlight
Alex Calderwood, music impresario and partner in the Ace Hotel Group
In 1999, using the skills he honed as the head of record label Sweet Mother, Calderwood and friends launched the Ace Hotel Group, combining two BT-friendly goals: stylishness and affordability. The first site was a renovated Seattle flophouse, and today their vision is a proven success, with Ace Hotel locations in four cities, including a new outpost in Manhattan's Flatiron neighborhood. Each property reflects a sense of place—green woolen blankets in Seattle; cowskin rugs in Palm Springs, Calif.; garment racks used as closets in New York—while a cool practicality threads them together. Top projects The Ace Seattle flagship made a hot commodity of $99 rooms that don't skimp on visual appeal; branches in Portland, Ore., and Palm Springs expanded on that formula. Last February, Ace New York transformed the turn-of-the-century Hotel Breslin into a contemporary refuge, with ebonized wood, shiny subway tiles, and retro-looking Smeg fridges. This fall, the Breslin, a restaurant run by the owners of the downtown gastropub Spotted Pig will open off the lobby.

His NYC favorites

Project No. 8
In the newly booming area where Chinatown meets the Lower East Side, this 2-year-old boutique stocks clothing, accessories, drawing tools, and a random assortment of items from around the world. "It's one of those unique places that you have to go and discover to understand," says Calderwood, who recently reached out to Project No. 8's owners to open a second store—called No. 8a—on the ground floor of Ace New York later this year.

The Smile
A "young, independent spirit" attracted Calderwood to the wood-paneled café, which opened this past spring in the garden level of a 19th-century NoHo town house. Co-owner Carlos Quirarte, formerly of Earnest Sewn jeans, has covered the honey-colored shelves with the kind of gear he loves—everything from soaps to knitting needles to teas.

At this tiny second-story, gallery-like shop downtown, owner Alisa Grifo displays each utilitarian piece—like rubber stamps of President Obama's smiling face or simple birch-and-pine baskets from Finland—with a witty description. "It's all so cleverly curated," Calderwood says.

150 Greene St., 212/204-7100,

Housing Works Thrift Shops for locations

City Opera Thrift Shop
222 E. 23rd St., 212/684-5344,

Ace Hotel New York
20 W. 29th St., 212/679-2222,, from $169

The Breslin Bar & Dining Room
16 W. 29th St., 212/679-2222,, entrées from $20

Project No. 8
138 Division St., 212/925-5599,

The Smile
26 Bond St.,

95 Spring St., 212/226-8601,

Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.

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