Alex Calderwood: Hotelier and self-styled ‘cultural engineer’ who gave his Ace chain a distinctively unconventional and offbeat style


Alex Calderwood was the co-founder of the Ace Hotel chain, which had just opened its latest venture only six weeks ago in Shoreditch, London. His body was found in one of the rooms of that hotel; the exact cause of his death is still to be determined.

He called himself a “cultural engineer”, and Calderwood’s hotels were known for their quirky style and breaking of the usual hospitality business rules, combining a mixture of budget rooms with luxury suites. Guest rooms featured offbeat additions such as a record deck with a box of LPs. The walls were adorned with images by street artists, including Shepard Fairey, now best known for his Barack Obama “Hope” poster. Calderwood’s rationale in choosing the name Ace was, he said, that “In a deck of cards the ace is both high and low. We chose it because we wanted the brand to appeal to every sort of traveller.”

Calderwood was born in Denver, Colorado in 1966 and grew up in Seattle, one of four children. His father, Thomas, worked in the construction industry while his mother, Kathleen, was a journalist. “I was a good kid but I think more from a little bit of fear, he recalled. “I just wanted to do things right... I got invited to parties, but I was quiet.”

That wish to “do things right” had initially led him towards wanting to be a lawyer but life soon took him in other directions. He met his boyfriend, Wade Weigel, at a club in Seattle, and the pair decided to go into business together, with Weigel as the ideas man and Calderwood who would see through the ideas to completion. “Alex and I were more like brothers than business partners,” said Weigel. “He finished my creative thought on all the projects we worked on together. He was a creative genius who made more than a dent in the universe.”

In a 2011 interview Calderwood explained his collaborative ethos. “When I was younger I had a job working for a couple of designers who worked on every creative medium. So they designed graphics, clothing, interiors, and blurred the lines as to what was possible. It was the first time that I started to realise that if you have a point of view and a perspective you could team up with others to create something.”

Their first major venture, together with their friend and business partner Doug Herrick, was Rudy’s, a retro-style barbershop launched in 1992 in his home city of Seattle. Rudy’s has since grown to a network of 17 outlets, of which nine are in other cities across the US, hosted within the Standard Hotels owned by André Balazs. “When we opened Rudy’s, it was just an idea we liked. We never envisioned opening more”, Calderwood said. “I remember a lot of people whose opinion I trusted telling me it would never work. It took off immediately.”

The success of Rudy’s drove them to think bigger, towards the idea of creating a hotel with the same unconventional character that had inspired their barber shop chain. “We saw an opportunity to do something different in the middle tier.” Calderwood recalled. “We weren’t looking to roll out a product that would appeal to everyone. We didn’t do market research or conduct focus groups. We just wanted to create a hotel that we’d like to stay in – one that appealed to us personally.”

In 1999 he opened his first Ace in Seattle, taking over a former hostel used by dockers and working with the designer Eric Hentz to turn it into a 28-room boutique hotel. A review by Harriet Walker for this newspaper said, “The Ace is supremely hip, from its bearded, lithe doormen to the rock music-theme cocktails (Pablo Honey, Lust for Life, London Calling). The main lounge is an everyday sanctum for Apple Mac users to chill out in; hotel guests and local itinerant freelancers alike combine to make the ground floor feel like a real hub.” Walker noted that “’s not often that a hotel becomes such a focus for so varied a scene, and people-spotting here can be rewarding.”

It was eight years before the launch of a second hotel, opened in 2007 in Portland, Oregon, but further conversions in Palm Springs and Manhattan soon followed. Future openings in Panama City and Los Angeles were planned at the time of Calderwood’s death.

Calderwood had spoken of his past problems with alcoholism, saying recently, “I am very proud of my sobriety,” and noting, “You get to a certain age, and you get to a certain point, where you realise this is just, like, dragging me down. It’s not fun any more. I’m not enjoying it.” In recent years he had lived a peripatetic lifestyle, staying mainly at his own hotel properties while planning the future development of others. His company had acquired the Crowne Plaza on Shoreditch High Street, which he had previously used as his base during visits to London, and made it one of his own. The new 265-room Ace Hotel, where he was found, had opened in September.

Ryan Bukstein, head of public relations for Ace Hotels, said in tribute “His humility, spirit of collaboration and tireless work ethic has influenced our family at Atelier Ace and creatives across the globe. We all plan to continue moving forward with the ideals Alex championed so naturally.”

Alexander Calderwood, hotelier: born Denver, Colorado 28 January 1966; partner to Wade Weigel; died Shoreditch, London 14 November 2013.

peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Arts and Entertainment
Highs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
New Articles
i100... with this review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Cover Supervisor

£75 - £90 per day + negotiable: Randstad Education Group: Are you a cover supe...

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam