In a city where the most buzzed about restaurants and clubs fade from our memories as hastily as a Snapchat story, Robin Standefer and Stephen Alesch have devoted their lives to creating New York City legacies.
Once gainfully employed as set designers on some of Hollywood’s biggest films, Standefer and Alesch—now married—went on to start their own firm, Roman and Williams Buildings and Interiors, in 2002. With an exceptional focus on craftsmanship and creating meaningful experiences for the people who inhabit their spaces, Roman and Williams soon became a recognizable force across New York’s design landscape. Commercial projects like the renovation of the Royalton Hotel lobby, The Standard’s Boom Boom Room, and the Ace Hotel New York have helped to establish the firm’s signature aesthetic.
On the inspiration behind the Ace Hotel, Alesch says: “We constructed the narrative from the idea of a grand, dilapidated country house taken over by a kid throwing a big party, trashing the place while his parents weren’t around.” Most recently, the duo completed the Fitzroy, a Chelsea condominium featuring a green terracotta façade and copper windows—a stark juxtaposition to the onslaught of futuristic mega-towers bursting through the city’s skyline. “We’re architects, designers, builders, and makers,” Alesch explains. “Every project we take on defies what’s been coined as ‘modern design’—or design with no reference or meaning that disrupts the natural evolution of a community—and we’ve been fortunate enough to pioneer this resistance.”
Alesch and Standefer are expanding their international portfolio by working with artisan partners across the globe to find and create an eclectic collection of modern furniture, rooted in a reverence for traditional craftsmanship and woodwork. “We source materials and goods worldwide that have authenticity, are made of tangible earthy materials, and last a lifetime,” Standefer explains.
Quality and endurance, despite changing times as a product of today’s digital era, are essential to the Roman and Williams project portfolio. “If social media and clickbait-y press continue to direct design, not just in architecture but in other industries where design is critical, we’ll see a very high turnover in trends and a depletion in true luxury goods,” says Alesch, who defines luxury as things made to last—a brand ethos the pair hopes will become a catalyst for change in the industry.
At the same time, the firm is contributing to New York’s evolution through a redesign of the British Galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Partnering with the museum’s curators provided enlightened historical perspective on the circular nature of architectural trends, motivating Standefer and Alesch to explore what this current time period will represent in another era.
By “incorporating the past as it relates to the present, while envisioning the future,” as Standefer says, Roman and Williams’ projects are emblematic of both time and place. “I think all of our work is essentially a response to the New York environment. Wherever we’ve worked, we are speaking—or yelling out—from that vantage point,” Alesch explains. “New York is still nuts, and we love it.”
And judging by the success of their monumental design contributions to this city, the feeling is mutual.