written by:
April 21, 2009

I recently had the pleasure of spending a weekend in Palm Springs during what may be the perfect time of year there—as comfortable at noon as at midnight. One of the highlights was a stay at the new Ace Hotel, a small, boutique hospitality chain that was born in Seattle with the goal of filling a niche for low-budget, high-design accommodations that would appeal to the creative, urban set. The hotel's Pacific Northwest roots are evident in the new Southern California location, but the Ace Hotel & Swim Club in Palm Springs is also unmistakably regional in its design.

Ace Hotel in Palm Springs, California
Set against the backdrop of the dry desert hills, the Ace's white buildings are an unpretentious makeover of an existing, rundown roadside motel. L.A.-based firm Commune and the Ace's own design team, Atelier Ace, approached the project as a curatorial endeavor, commissioning a number of artists and artisans from southern California and the Southwest to piece together the design elements. See more of the Ace Palm Springs here.
1 / 9
Ace hotel in palm springs

Inhabiting an old Howard Johnson hotel, the Ace Hotel & Swim Club in Palm Springs fills a niche for low-budget, high-design accommodations while also appealing to the creative, urban set.

6 / 9
Ace Hotel in Palm Springs, California
Set against the backdrop of the dry desert hills, the Ace's white buildings are an unpretentious makeover of an existing, rundown roadside motel. L.A.-based firm Commune and the Ace's own design team, Atelier Ace, approached the project as a curatorial endeavor, commissioning a number of artists and artisans from southern California and the Southwest to piece together the design elements. See more of the Ace Palm Springs here.

Set against the backdrop of the dry desert hills, the Ace's white buildings are an unpretentious makeover of an existing, rundown roadside motel. The rooms sit around a central common space with two pools and an event hall, and in a former Denny's on the corner of the property are King's Highway and The Amigo Room, the hotel's restaurant and bar. The rooms, which range in price from $109 for a Simple King to $999 for the Ace Suite, could be characterized as Bedouin tent meets skater chic, curated by the world's best flea market scavenger.

The Ace Palm Springs was designed through a collaboration between LA-based company called Commune and the Ace's own design team, Atelier Ace. They approached the project as a curatorial endeavor, commissioning a number of artists and artisans from southern California and the Southwest to piece together the design elements. The long list includes custom screenprinted duvet covers from Freecity, art prints by Evan Hecox, handcrafted wood furniture by Alma Allen, and instructional signs by The Date Farmers (including the map below). I asked Commune co-founder Roman Alonso a few questions about the process of creating the Ace Hotel & Swim Club Palm Springs.

ace palm springs03

Give me a little background on your work and on Commune. Who is involved, where are you based, and what's the premise/mission of your company?

We are an LA-based design company founded about 5 years ago. There are 4 founding partners: Pam Shamshiri, Ramin Shamshiri, Steven Johanknecht, and myself. We handle graphics, architecture, interiors, images. We work on a wide range of projects: retail, hospitality, residential, branding. Our approach is holistic; even when we are handling one aspect, whether it's just a retail concept or an identity package we look at it from all sides—the space, the graphics, the marketing goals, the PR, and so on. Our backgrounds and our staff are quite varied and unconventional for a design company so our approach and work tends to take place outside the box.

I heard that the Ace used to be an old Howard Johnson hotel. Is that correct? What was it like before you undertook the redesign?

Yes, I believe it was a Howard Johnson and a Westward Ho; the restaurant was a Denny's. The place was a total wreck. To start it was painted the ugliest possible yellow and green, the interiors were sub-standard motel/lodge style (moldy carpet, ugly wallpaper et cetera), and there were squatters living in it.

ace palm springs08

Tell me about the design concept. What were the influences and how did you pull them together?

The Ace's urbanity [as a brand], the American Southwest, camping, communal living, California artisans, 70's desert movies....we threw "M.A.S.H", "Billy Jack" and "Jesus Christ Superstar" into a blender. The glue was Ace—their vibe and style.

The Ace originated in the Pacific Northwest. Having spent several years living there, I definitely got a hint of Portland and Seattle, especially in the Amigo. How do you feel the design was influenced by the Ace's NW roots and how did you bring southern California desert into the mix?

The vibe you are feeling is Native American and those roots are in the Northwest as well as the Southest, and might even keep running down into Mexico. There is a lot in common between a totem from the Northwest and an Aztec one—its more of a vibe and an intent than a style or design. The color palate for the project was definitely born at the Ace in Portland—all that army green—so that was a huge influence everywhere, as well as the idea of bringing in artists and artisans into the project. The art work in Portland has a more urban vibe, at the Ace Palm Springs they are all California or Southwestern artists and their work reflects that.

ace palm springs09

The room design seems to follow this sort of "highbrow-lowbrow" trend, wherein the quality of the experience is not dictated by opulence, but by a curated approach to affordable style. How do you curate low-cost, salvaged, and vintage objects into a cohesive space?

We don't worry about it—if we like it and it feels right then it is. There are no rules really. The concept was for you to feel really 'free' to be yourself and enjoy yourself at the Ace, to feel at home. The only way to achieve that is through freedom, so we didn't follow any conventional rules of interior or hospitality design. The rooms needed to function and feel good without being fussy. If the item met those requirements and somehow had a human hand to it then it worked into the scheme.

Can you tell me a little bit about a few of the artists who were commissioned to collaborate on the design? 

These guys are all friends of Commune and Ace. Most knew of Ace when we approached them and they signed up instantly; they wanted to be part of a design that spoke to their sensibilities, a place where they would all want to stay.

ace palm springs06

I noted a number of items in the room I stayed in that I loved, including a lot of the small details like the coat hooks, the pull-over robes, and the throw rugs. Where did you source this stuff? Is each room unique?

They were all sourced from all kinds of different vendors we've worked with—our office did a ton of research—and some of the vendors were Ace's too. We pulled together our resources. The rooms generally have the same details but for example all the rugs are different and there are found and vintage pieces in every room. We purchased over 1000 pieces of vintage and found furniture for the hotel and we really made an effort to find it all in the area.

Palm Springs definitely carries an association with retirement communities and golf courses, but places like the Ace and some of the new cafes outside of the town center have a very different feel. Do you think Palm Springs may start draw the 20- and 30-something urban hipster set?

Palm Springs has always been a great escape from Los Angeles. There is great hiking and climbing and nature that is accessible and easy to enjoy. There just hasn't been a place to stay that appeals to a young urban set with a certain aesthetic and budget. Ace fills a huge void that is not only for those staying at Ace but also for the community. There are plenty of cool people and artists living out in the desert, full- or part-time, who are really happy to have a place to hang out that looks and feels like Ace.

I had a sidedish with my dinner at The Amigo Room that was one of the best things I have ever tasted. "Corn-off-the-cob with cotija" should be famous! Can you tell me a bit about the concept behind the restaurant and bar and their menus?

We didn't have much to do with the food itself, but in terms of the restaurant design, the idea was to respect the heritage of the place but create a diner that was upgraded and made cozier—in a way to celebrate the fact that it was a Denny’s and the comfort that a diner brings in terms of atmosphere and food, but cooler, more grown up.

[See more photos by clicking the Slideshow button in the top right corner of this page.]

Ace hotel in palm springs

Inhabiting an old Howard Johnson hotel, the Ace Hotel & Swim Club in Palm Springs fills a niche for low-budget, high-design accommodations while also appealing to the creative, urban set.

Join the Discussion

Loading comments...

Latest Articles

french evolution paris daniel rozensztroch living area eames la chaise butterfly chair moroccan berber rug
A tastemaker brings his distinct vision to an industrial loft with a centuries-old pedigree.
February 07, 2016
senses touch products
The haptic impact can’t be underplayed. The tactility of a material—its temperature, its texture­—can make the difference between pleasure and discontent.
February 07, 2016
senses smell products
The nose knows: Though fleeting and immaterial, scent is the lifeblood of Proustian memories, both evoking and imprinting visceral associations.
February 06, 2016
design icon josef frank villa beer vienna
Josef Frank: Against Design, which runs through April 2016 at Vienna’s Austrian Museum of Applied Arts/Contemporary Art, is a comprehensive study of the prolific architect, designer, and author.
February 06, 2016
senses sound products
From an alarm to a symphony, audio frequencies hold the power to elicit an emotional call-and-response.
February 06, 2016
Italian Apline home with double-height walls on one facade.
Every week, we highlight one amazing Dwell home that went viral on Pinterest. Follow Dwell's Pinterest account for more daily design inspiration.
February 05, 2016
A built-in sofa with Design Tex upholstery marks the boundary between the two-level addition and the bungalow. Leading up to the master bedroom, a perforated metal staircase, lit from above, casts a Sigmar Polke–like shadow grid on the concrete floor.
From a minimalist Walter Gropius design to a curving sculptural stair, these six stairways run the gamut.
February 05, 2016
distant structure lakeside prefab norway facade stones green roof
Dwell has traveled all over the world, from Tasmania to Indonesia, to report on modern houses.
February 05, 2016
modern lycabettus penthouse apartment master bedroom atrium
Get ready for a weekend of rest with these sleepy, little cocoons.
February 05, 2016
lamp show 99 cent plus gallery 0
At Brooklyn's 99¢ Plus gallery, 30 artists and designers re-imagine the lamp in an illuminating light show.
February 04, 2016
Hidden storage stairwell with raw brass hardware
Having ample space to stow items is a daily struggle—peep these modern homes for some ideas on maximizing your square footage.
February 04, 2016
modern fairhaven beach house blackbutt eucalyptus living room Patricia Urquiola sofa
Whether it's along a coast in Australia or the French Alps, wood provides a natural touch in these interiors.
February 04, 2016
Glass and steel sculpture in Printemps store of Paris.
In the Paris' venerable Printemps department store, two Toronto-based firms were tasked with enlivening a new atrium and creating a unique experience for visitors. YabuPushelberg, partnering with UUfie, designed this stunning steel "sail" embedded with vibrant dichroic glass.
February 04, 2016
Monochromatic Master Bedroom in Copenhagen Townhouse
Whether it's to maximize limited light or create a soothing interior, these five projects go white in a big way.
February 04, 2016
EQ3 Assembly quilt by Kenneth LaVallee
The new Assembly collection from EQ3 celebrates up-and-coming figures in Canadian design. Discover this newly appointed class, which debuted at Toronto's Interior Design Show, here.
February 03, 2016
The Greenhouses of Half Moon Bay
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most viral design and architecture shots of the week.
February 03, 2016
Deck of Australian addition to Edwardian home.
A 1,500-square-foot home in Melbourne welcomes a modern black and white kitchen, dining, and living area.
February 03, 2016
open plan concrete home in japan
Embracing the organic, imperfect material, these raw concrete surfaces are a step up from exposed brick.
February 03, 2016
Renovated DC Row House loft space with Arne Jacobsen Egg Chair.
The classic designer's signature and comfortable forms continue to be popular in homes today.
February 03, 2016
Zinc-roofed cabin France.
An architect builds an energy-efficient home near one of France’s most popular pilgrimage sites.
February 03, 2016
1973 Palm Springs home
Made for casual design enthusiasts and Palm Springs connoisseurs alike, Unseen Midcentury Desert Modern offers a peek into 51 buildings—some not open to the public—in that Southern California mecca of modernism. Begun in 2008 by photographer Dan Chavkin, the book is set for release this February 9th and will be available on Amazon and at multiple venues of Modernism Week in Palm Springs, February 11 - 21. Here we preview some of its images.
February 03, 2016
Millennial concept home with an outdoor living area
A concept home aims to reflect the requests of the Millennial market.
February 03, 2016
The two twelve-by-sixteen-foot bedrooms, directly above a comparable pair on the first floor, feature a glass transom that follows the pitch of the roof. “The stair and railings were very simple,” Depardon observes. “We added a bit of design, with panels
Skylights needn't be simple overhead daylighting; sometimes they can truly define a room.
February 03, 2016
Modern small space Rhode Island cottage with landscaping and cedar cladding
Surrounded by nature, these cottages are tranquil retreats from the city.
February 03, 2016
The couple kept original touches, including the arch.
Historic archways belie these contemporary homes with physical reminders of each structure's storied past.
February 03, 2016
modern guesthouse in norway with angular facade and cutaway patio with spruce cladding and ikea chair
These houses make room for nature, not the other way around.
February 02, 2016
Modern kitchen with yellow sectioned walls and monochrome appliances
Whether it's a splash of color or bold strokes, this collection of interiors brightens up these homes.
February 02, 2016
Rust-washed concrete wall in Moscow apartment renovation.
This 590-square-foot apartment was stripped down to admit sunlight and dramatically reveal forgotten surfaces.
February 02, 2016
Nendo's collection of objects inspired by Star Wars
In a galaxy not so far away, Japanese studio Nendo has released a versatile collection of objects inspired by classic Star Wars characters.
February 02, 2016