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 “...it’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.

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballStriker in talks over £17m move from Manchester United
Sport
Louis van Gaal, Radamel Falcao, Arturo Vidal, Mats Hummels and Javier Hernandez
footballFalcao, Hernandez, Welbeck and every deal live as it happens
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
News
The five geckos were launched into space to find out about the effects of weightlessness on the creatures’ sex lives
i100
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
News
i100
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
boksUnlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Implementation Consultant (VB,C#, SQL, Java, Eclipse, integ

£40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: SQL Impl...

SQL Technical Implementation Consultant (Java, BA, Oracle, VBA)

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: SQL Technical ...

Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, Fidessa, Equities)

£85000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, ...

Lead C# Developer (.Net, nHibernate, MVC, SQL) Surrey

£55000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Lead C# Develo...

Day In a Page

Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor