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Interview: Jacu Strauss on The Riggs DC

29 May 2020


The properties you work on each have a very distinct personality, what did you keep in mind when designing them?
Each project so far for me has been very unique and needed a fresh start each time. Not just the building itself but the neighborhoods, cities, communities and stories we wanted to tell were very specific to Riggs in DC, Sea Containers and the Pulitzer in Amsterdam. This fresh perspective makes our job much harder, but worth it as the results are very rewarding.

Since this is a historic property, what elements were important to keep intact in the design process?
The building was built to be a very imposing example of Richardsonian Romanesque architecture during the golden age of banking. The building then went through a couple of transformations from a bank, to a school, and then a more mainstream hotel. A lot of the original interior details were lost, especially with what would have been the office floors. However, the façade and many interior features on the main ground floor remained.

We restored what needed to be restored, but not to a degree that we eliminated some of the wear and tear that we think adds to the heritage and age of the building. The final interior celebrates the grandeur and history but mixes in new and playful elements.

How does flooring play an important role in design?
Flooring has been a way for us to bring some heritage back into the buildings. This can sometime be limiting because flooring in a hospitality environment needs to very durable, yet still add warmth and character.

You chose a combination of different Havwoods’ flooring. What made you pick these products for each space?
Within the project we have several different unique spaces, and each deserved a new approach. This allows us to choose what is right for each of these “mini” projects to add range and diversity throughout.

What style would you call the Riggs DC?
I would say it is a style that plays with history as it’s bank - but with playful, and colorful accents. This creates an environment that is not serious, yet the spaces feel elegant, and cosy within all the grandeur. Whatever work we do, we take it very seriously, but we never take ourselves too seriously.

What do you want guests to feel when experiencing the different spaces: lobby, the bar, their rooms, etc.?
The most rewarding moment is when visitors feel elevated as they enter into a space, whether it is for the first time or regularly. We deliberately plan several ‘moments’ along any guest or visitor’s journey through the hotel. But at the same time, we have more discreet moments where they may find something special that means something to them.

What’s your favorite way to incorporate color?
Color is really hard. It is important to be balanced and have subtle moments where appropriate, and have more “wow” moments where needed. Some things do not need to shout, while certain places need a little boost - we achieve this through color. BUT for me the important thing is to be brave with color when you feel like it. Color is confidence.

How do you stay inspired?
I am an observer and I am always very aware of my surroundings. I am inspired but the most unusual things sometimes. I do not believe in trends and I believe everything has a place somewhere, you just need to know (and feel) when it is right and when it is wrong.

“We wanted to highlight all the historic features we fell in love with, the imposing granite façade, the barrel-vaulted coffered entrance ceiling, the Corinthian columns holding up a 22-foot-high classic coffered ceiling. Some elements from the hotel’s days as a bank were recovered, and in some places, newly discovered.”