DURHAM, N.C.—21c Museum Hotels has announced the opening of its fourth property in downtown Durham. 21c Durham is an adaptive reuse of the Hill Building, originally built in 1937. The property mixes contemporary design with historic Art Deco details and offers 10,500-square-feet of contemporary art exhibition space open free of charge to the public, a 125-room boutique hotel, and Counting House restaurant.
“Downtown Durham is energized with art, culture, education, and a dining scene that has been recognized as one of the best in the South,” said Steve Wilson, CEO and founder of 21c Museum Hotels. “21c Museum Hotels is about contemporary art, warm hospitality, local food, and community. We strive to build not just great places to eat, drink, and spend the night, but cultural centers that help reinvigorate urban areas. The revitalization efforts underway in Durham have produced amazing results and we aim to enhance those efforts as we open today and to offer an additional resource for art, social engagement and civic conversations.”
Contemporary art is at the heart of the 21c Durham. The company was founded by Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson, contemporary art collectors and preservationists. 21c Durham presents rotating solo and group exhibitions, site-specific installations, and a full roster of cultural programming curated by Museum Director Alice Gray Stites.
The property features seven permanent site-specific installations integrated into a variety of spaces around and within the building. Collectively titled Reflecting Transformation, these works reference nature, technology, economics, politics, and entertainment to illuminate the evolution of the past into a future-focused present. Works include Duke Riley’s It Will Warm You Twice, a large-scale mosaic made of cigarettes and mini cigars that references the ubiquitous role that tobacco has played in the development and history of Durham, as well as the decline of its influence. Other artists featured are Andrew Erdos, Astrid Krogh, Ned Kahn, Claire Shegog, FUTURERETRIEVAL (Katie Parker and Guy Michael Davis) and Leslie Lyons, and JB Wilson.
The property’s inaugural exhibition Pop Stars! on view through August is a multi-media exploration of popular culture a decade and a half into the 21st Century featuring more than 100 works by an international group of artists. Appropriating images and practices from celebrity, commerce, science, politics, religion, sports, and technology, these artists illuminate recent shifts in how culture is being created and consumed. Featured artists include Sanford Biggers, Wang Du, Nick Cave, Ebony Patterson, Mickalene Thomas, Deitrich Wegner, Robert Wilson, Adriana Duque, and José Maria Cano.
The property’s museum space doubles as meeting and event space, and can accommodate a wide variety of events from board retreats and intimate cocktail parties to a reception-style wedding for 350. The Main Gallery, located in the old banking hall, offers a dramatic background with original wood paneling, terrazzo flooring, velvet drapery, and LED globe chandeliers. The Vault, located in the historic bank vault on the lower level, offers a unique and immersive experience featuring lounge seating, a site specific art commission, and historic vault door and safety deposit boxes.
21c Durham offers a variety of guestroom types featuring original terrazzo flooring and natural light. Art Deco windows and steel accents are married with a materials palette in grey tones and copper details. The 21c Suite, a one bedroom suite occupying the entire 15th floor, features custom designed furniture, a private terrace with a soaking tub, en suite bathroom with standing shower and double vanity sinks, powder room, and wet bar.
The property is also home to Counting House, a modern restaurant and lounge helmed by Executive Chef Josh Munchel. Counting House presents a global perspective on regional dishes and celebrates North Carolina’s heritage of fresh seafood with menus that feature rotisserie and roasting techniques. The bar and lounge is a place to taste house-made cocktails, sip aperitifs, sample local craft brews, and explore bourbon and wine lists. Counting House occupies a space that was originally the Ellis Stone department store. Designed by Deborah Berke Partners, the space displays its open kitchen into full view, with a chef’s table nearby offering a front-row seat for guests. The interior also features a graduated ceiling starting with 23 feet and gradually lowering toward the heart of the restaurant, enhancing the space’s intimate character. The restaurant also features site-specific contemporary art installations and rotating exhibitions.
21c Durham is housed in the Hill Building located in the Downtown Durham Historic District. The 17-story building was designed in 1937 by Shreve, Lamb and Harmon, architects famous for the Empire State Building. The New York-based architects worked in association with Durham architect George Watts Carr. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Hill Building is one of three Art Deco structures built in Durham’s commercial core in the 1930s. The ground floor originally housed both the Ellis Stone Department Store and the Home Savings Bank and Trust Company, while offices occupied the other sixteen stories. New York-based architects Deborah Berke Partners, design architect and interior design firm for the project, introduced 21st century innovation to the Hill Building’s Art Deco glamor. Throughout the property, historic details such as original green marble walls, silver leaf ceiling, and terrazzo floors in the hotel entrance were preserved and contrast with contemporary design details. The hotel’s double-height Main Gallery, located in the old banking hall, and historic vault lined with safety deposit boxes highlight the building’s past.