In Providence, Rhode Island, Ari Heckman and his design firm ASH NYC transform a century-old structure with a storied past into a boutique hotel that pays homage to its roots. With affordable rates, a central location, and warm-modern style that blends hand-picked European antiques with locally crafted wares, the Dean Hotel is our go-to destination for stays in the city.
The 52-room Dean Hotel is located at 122 Fountain Street in Providence, Rhode Island. Rates start at $99 for a room with one full-size bed.
"The original mission of the project was to create a hotel where people could get an excellent experience and serve as a launching pad for exploring Providence on a very tight budget," says Ari Heckman. "We have strived to honor that despite the demand. We know we are not for every traveler, but those that stay with us come away with an experience and hopefully an understanding of Providence and what makes it special."
Before its current incarnation as a design hotel, the structure had a baudy past. Built in 1912 by an Episcopalian church, it formerly housed a strip club and a music venue, among other businesses. Heckman sought to update the interiors, restore some of the original luster, and create a hotel befitting modern-day Providence. "The ambition was more to create something that felt articulated and indigenous and obviously pleasing without being designed or overly intentional," Heckman, a Providence native, says. "The Dean had a very well-known and checkered past and we did not want to gloss over that—we wanted visitors to appreciate the transformation but see through to the roots a tiny bit."
In the lobby, guests are greeted at a reception desk fabricated by NYC company FERRER and illuminated by vintage pendants sourced from Belgium. The ornate tile on the floor is original—a nod to the building's past.
A comfortable seating area is situated a couple of steps into the hotel. The navy-blue sofa is ASH's design and the vintage armchairs with chrome handles are by Jindrich Halabala. Iron Origami fabricated the square coffee table just past the chairs. Artist Oliver Clegg created the neon sign.
Grab a cup of coffee from Bolt, located next to the seating area.
Faust, the hotel's restaurant, hearkens back to 19th-century Bavarian beer hall. The bar, stools, and furniture in the space are by Jessica Carnevale, a RISD-trained designer who's based in Brooklyn. "We sought to create [a hotel] that felt for the place and of the place, so guests could be locals and locals could be guests for an evening," Heckman says. "Nothing is more democratic than a beer hall, so Faust was created with that common spirit in mind."
Illustrations discovered at Paris's Les Puces flea market adorn a bathroom wall. "The vintage pieces at the Dean came from around the globe—many were acquired on shopping trips to Les Puces in Paris and some of our favorite dealers in Belgium and Holland," Heckman says. "Other pieces came from dealers in Rhode Island and at Brimfield."
If a tipple at the beer hall has given you liquid courage, head over to the Boombox to test your pipes at karaoke.
The rooms offer a rough-hewn industrial vibe softened with cozy textiles and more vintage furniture. ASH worked with a rug dealer in Brooklyn to source rugs direct from Turkey. On the beds find blankets from Elder Statesman and Brahms Mount and perfectly crisp sheets from Matouk. Providence's history is firmly rooted in industry and Heckman sought to feature furniture that represents work from present-day companies. Local fabricator Iron Origami produced ASH's design for the bed frames and writing desks found in each room.
"Providence has a very strong history of being an industrial center, so we wanted to support and encourage the rebirth of local manufacturing through our efforts," Heckman says. "That’s part of the reason we prioritized local over imported, and aimed to do so without spending more than the alternative. It was a successful experiment in creating in America affordably."
Vermont manufacturer Conant Lighting produced the wall sconces, which are ASH's desing, next to each bed.
In addition to the uniform beds, sconces, writing desks, and chairs found in each room, find unique antiques like this Tomasso Cimini floor lamp and chair by Jean-Pierre Nicolini.
ASH reused the original flooring in the building and spot-matched new wood to fill in the gaps.
Hostel-style bunks are available in the hotel. "We liked the idea of creating a democratic hotel, where members of a band playing down the street or a student coming to visit RISD would feel as comfortable as the parent of a Brown student accustomed to luxury digs," Heckman says. "The idea of these different characters with different budgets rubbing shoulders in the hallways and lobby is very exciting to us."
The bathrooms are clad in black Daltile and features brass hardware from Watermark in the European-style shower and on the sink. The mirror is custom. ASH worked with American Medicinal Arts on the custom-scented toiletries. "Because we are designers as well as developers, we pay very close attention to physical detail," Heckman says. "For us, part of the fun of doing a hotel was being able to focus on all of the touch points in a way you are not often able to on residential projects. It is tough to describe, but one of the main 'amenities' of The Dean is staying in a property where every detail, no matter how minute, has been thought about."
Though it might be hard to pry yourself away from the hotel, there's much to see in the city. Here are Heckman's go-to suggestions:
"Exploring the Downcity neighborhood and the adjacent historic neighborhoods is a safe bet. Providence is a small, compact city and very walkable. The hotel has bikes for loan too. The architecture changes dramatically block to block and the neighborhood feel can differ dramatically by crossing the street."
"Al Forno is the go-to for their famous grilled pizza. North has creative, casual Asian fare. The Shop is a gorgeous little coffee shop in Fox Point and a favorite of design groupies. Justine’s is a speakeasy in rough and tumble Olneyville. Birch is a serious restaurant with twelve seats and a tasting menu. Downtown has so many new additions that have opened recently and are really stellar—Ken’s Ramen, Bodega Malasana, Rosalina’s, the Eddy, etc. And of course our own bars (The Boombox and The Magdalenae Room) and Bolt Coffee."