Michael Suomi, principal at Stonehill & Taylor, begins every interior design project with a fact-finding mission. Like a reporter trying to iron out the right angle for a story, he looks for a unique concept around which he can build a narrative.
Suomi’s team didn’t have to dig deep for a solution at the 90-year-old Portland Press Herald building in Maine’s Old Port District, which will reopen as a 110-room boutique hotel in May 2015. The property had been sitting vacant since the Press Herald relocated to One City Center in 2010. Developer Jim Brady, a frequent traveler who lives in Maine, scooped up the property with hopes of transforming it into a hotel that locals and visitors alike would embrace. (Trust Hospitality will manage the hotel.)
“We went and toured the building and felt like we needed to do something about the history of the Press—what were the headlines of the paper, what did the reporters do, what were the devices and tools they used throughout the history of this building?” Suomi says. “We used this as our story point for creating a narrative about what this hotel is, and how it’s going to differentiate itself from the rest of the hotels in the city.”
Executives, editors, and reporters worked on the upper floors, and a radio station crowned the building, Suomi says. Two basements housed printing presses and there were railroad tracks to deliver all those massive newsprint rolls. Suomi wanted to channel the 1920s era when the property was first built. “We wanted to channel a little bit of that aesthetic from that day, and combine it with high tech and high touch,” he says.
Stonehill & Taylor collaborated with the VIA Agency on the branding aspects for the hotel, such as the logo, name, iconography, and a story that would resonate through collateral and marketing efforts. They aptly named the property the Press Hotel. The logo consists of a P inside parentheses to suggest that visitors should read between the lines and add their own experiences.
The Press Hotel will launch as part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection. “Having the opportunity to design a brand new Marriott from scratch in an adaptive reuse project is very exciting because the doors are wide open,” Suomi says. “Marriott wants it to be extremely distinctive, idiosyncratic, and very different from any other Autograph Collection hotel. They don’t want any similarities, they want it to really resonate from an original brand story unique to that location.”
The design is a modern interpretation of Portland’s history of news and information, the long history of Maine’s appeal to artists, and the building’s printing history. The guestroom corridor walls feature headlines from the Press Herald over the years. At child’s level, one special line will instruct young visitors to go to the receptionist desk and get a junior reporter’s kit, which they can use to create their own stories when exploring the city. For the reception desk, they commissioned a local sculptor to carve giant typesetting blocks as a back wall.
In the lobby and bar area, cocktail tables have built-in lenses so visitors can read the front page of old Press Herald newspapers, which will be rotated daily. The design team is also working with VIA on an art piece for the lobby that guests will have the opportunity to add to.
“It’s that added layer of the unexpected, the unusual, that we’re excited about,” Suomi says. “It goes beyond operations, beyond physical look and feel, and comfort level; it’s the plusses we can build into the design.”