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Taylor-made hotels put architect among industry’s elite

By Konrad Putzier

On first sight, there is a certain air of inevitability to the NoMad Hotel, which opened in 2012.
Located a few blocks from Penn Station, the Empire State Building and Madison Square Park, it sits at the epicenter of Manhattan’s booming tourism industry.

And with high-end hotel rooms in growing demand across the city, it would be hard to find a more profitable use for the commercially-zoned lot at the corner of Broadway and 28th Street. If it weren’t for the NoMad, surely someone else would have put a swanky boutique hotel there.

But while the hotel itself may have been inevitable, its design is anything but. Its plush style — with its Jacques Garcia-designed interior vaguely reminiscent of Europe’s grand hotels  — is the result of a fortuitous series of events that led architect Paul Taylor into hotel architecture.

Paul Taylor

Paul Taylor

It is a story of determination, unlikely partnerships, and — of Harry Macklowe defaulting on a loan.

Over three decades in the business, Paul Taylor has become one of Manhattan’s most influential hotel architects. His projects range from the swanky Ace and NoMad hotels to more down-to-earth Marriott hotels in Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn, as well as the Refinery Hotel and Novotel Times Square. He has been profiled in the New York Times and heads a firm with dozens of architects and projects across the country.

Stonehill & Taylor is headquartered a few blocks from the Ace Hotel in the NoMad Neighborhood — the latest up-and-coming neighborhood the firm has called home. In the 1980s and 90s, Taylor was based in Soho, starting out with a rent of $14 per s/f.

Growing up in Greenwich Village, his parents paid a mere $100 per month in rent. But although Paul Taylor has been based in Manhattan for most of his life, he set out on his architecture career from Brooklyn.

In 1978, the 22-year-old Taylor graduated from Pratt Institute and immediately got married to his girlfriend Helen (the two are still married today and have two daughters).

Looking to start a family, he was desperate for a job, and found one at an architecture firm. His first gigs were a far cry from hotels: he worked on the interiors of the New York and Toronto Stock Exchanges. After two years, he followed a senior partner to another design firm — Stonehill & Taylor’s predecessor, Stonehill & Lundquist. He was 24. Five years later, the firm split up and John Stonehill, one of its lead architects, offered him the position of partner at his new firm. Stonehill & Taylor was born.

The new firm specialized in homes and corporate interiors, but despite John Stonehill’s many connections it struggled to find work. So Taylor decided to take matters into his own hands, which led to the first fortuitous turning point in his career.

“The only way I could get business was to interview John Stonehill and find some contact he knew but didn’t consider,” he recalled. It turned out that Stonehill’s wife’s sister was dating a well-known restaurant interior designer, and the firm got a gig to design his restaurant on the 18th floor of the Metropolitan Tower in Manhattan. The building’s owner was Harry Macklowe, which soon offered the firm its next lucky break. At the time, the developer was building the Hotel Macklowe on West 44th Street. When the building’s architects needed help with the Hudson Theater (part of the project), Stonehill & Taylor’s new connection to Macklowe ensured that they got the job. But halfway through Taylor’s work, Macklowe suddenly went bankrupt and the architect of record, Perkins & Will, abandoned the project.

“One day, Chemical Bank (which held the defaulted loan on the property) called and asked ‘Are you one of the architects on the hotel? And would you be willing to take over and put your name on the certificate of occupancy?’” So Stonehill & Taylor, a small firm with little experience in hospitality design, suddenly became the architect of record for one of Manhattan’s largest new hotels. It turned out to be the starting point of Paul Taylor’s remarkable career in hotel design.

The Singaporean firm City Developments Limited (CDL) that took over Macklowe’s hotel simply took over Stonehill & Taylor as well, which ended up designing 13 of CDL’s hotels across the U.S. The work led to jobs for Starwood and Hyatt, and before long Stonehill & Taylor was one of Manhattan’s leading hotel design firms. Taylor hired Mike Suomi to lead the interior design division and the firm has grown to about 90 employees, from an initial eight.

Its most distinctive recent projects are undoubtedly the NoMad and Ace Hotels in the NoMad neighborhood, two boutique, high-end hotels. The firm also just completed work on the new downtown Marriott on Broadway as well as The Crosby Street Hotel, to name just a few.

As far as Paul Taylor is concerned, he will happily continue designing hotels. And unlike designing office space or healthcare facilities, which need to be functional first and foremost, hotels thrive with unique design. This, Taylor argues, gives him the creative freedom he craves.

“Hotels are one of the few categories where business interests and architectural interests are aligned,” he said.

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