Any traveler who’s been drawn to the magical desolation and unique energy of Iceland and its people knows that finding interesting places to stay has been quite a challenge. Last May this all changed thanks to Kex Hostel, a new hostel concept that was an instant hit with locals and tourists alike. There are 16 bunk-bedded dorm rooms—and if you aren’t a 20-something backpacker anymore you can stay in one of sixteen private rooms, two of which have a private bath.
Kex is the Icelandic word for biscuit, and the 132-guest hostel was built in an old biscuit factory on the Reykjavik shore overlooking Mt. Esja in the distance. It's located near the main shopping street, close to many restaurants and bars—nothing in tiny Reykjavik is really very far away, but you could easily never leave the hostel and have a great in-house experience. I had the feeling of being immediately comfortable in the way I did when entering the Kennedy School hotel in Portland Oregon or a well-established neighborhood coffee house. Everything had a familiarity to it and I discovered why shortly after arriving in late August.
I stayed in one of the private rooms with WC and sat down with Halfdan Pederson, one of the project designers and an accomplished Icelandic production designer in the film business, along with his girlfriend Sara Jonsdottir, also a designer, to talk about their first hotel project.
Tell me about the process and timeline of putting this project together. How long did it take start to finish and how did you source all the amazing stuff in this place?
We started by going to Pittsburgh in November/December of last year, where friends told us it was still possible to find great mid-century furniture and fixtures at not-L.A. or New York City prices. We filled three shipping containers in roughly two weeks, working 16 hours a day on average. We also found things in Ohio; the room signs in particular are from an old bingo parlor there. We also tried to source in Berlin, but prices are too expensive there. We ended up getting all the old lockers in Leipzig, and a lot of the lights and other fixtures are from old bombproof bunkers and manufacturing plants from WWII Germany. We tore town the existing interiors in December, construction started in January, we opened mid-May.
Nothing was sourced from Iceland?
[Smiling] I have a storage unit where I have been collecting furniture for the last 15 years, some of which made it to Kex. I have a furniture-making background, so some of the old pieces I have found throughout the years have been rebuilt to be usable again.
Were you heavily influenced by the aesthetic of the Ace Hotels in America?
Actually friends of ours designed the Ace Palm Springs, but I’ve never been to their hotels. I live in L.A. when working on shoots and went to school in Tarzana, so I have a lot of exposure to America and design there.
What is the biggest surprise about how it all came together?
In the design it is as we expected, we did storyboards for the owners to show what we were going to do with the design. After that, they left us completely alone to do exactly as we wished. The biggest surprise is in how quickly the restaurant and living areas became a destination for both locals and tourists to hang out. But by far what shocked me the most was seeing local Reykjavik residents, teenagers as well as people in their 70s and 80s, coming in for dinner. I never expected that.