As the son of a New Zealand surfing champion, New York City hotelier and restaurateur Sean MacPherson normally spends a fair amount of time catching summer waves in Montauk, where he owns the recently expanded Crow’s Nest Inn and Restaurant, or traveling to his surf homes in Costa Rica and Mexico. But lately he’s been immersed in finishing two big hotel projects—the Parisian-influenced Marlton Hotel on West 8th Street, which opened in September and debuted its restaurant, Margaux, in early January, and The Ludlow, a 187-room property slated to open this summer on the Lower East Side. And after having a second child in December, MacPherson is eager to spend more time with his family.
What’s your overall approach to hotel design?
I like places that feel personal. I like that feeling where if you go to someone’s home, even if you don’t necessarily like the design, you have a sense of who they are. It can be potent when someone really cares about what it is they’re doing as opposed to being a hired hand. I try to infuse that kind of humanity into my places, as opposed to making them design showpieces. Ideally, people feel that personal aspect, but they don’t see it.
So you don’t want the narrative to be obvious.
When things register with you, the subtext tends to be more powerful and memorable rather than just reading what’s on the surface. It’s great if there’s a bit more to the story.
What do you like most about hotels?
There’s some sort of contradictory relative feeling of safety within a hotel and an implied potential naughtiness. People are traveling from another place, so there’s an excitement and an ever so slightly alternate universe. Successful restaurants or bars transport their guests to some slightly different universe for a short period of time, and I think the hotel just feeds that narrative, because people are on a different time with different priorities than they would have in their regular, everyday life. It’s a subtle thing, but it’s something that we feel.
How do you leverage your experiences as a restaurateur in your hotel projects?
It’s all part of the same kind of theater and narrative and putting on a show. I design and build my own hotels whereas most of my colleagues hire designers to do it. I just really enjoy the process of making my own place and telling a story. I definitely draw upon my past experiences, and I like having it all tie together, going back to the early days of doing restaurants when I was 25 years old. It’s all been part of a learning process.
What inspired you to go solo with The Marlton?
It’s a little and sort of contained project that spoke to me, so it seemed appropriate to do it on my own. The way I personally like to work is to design, build, and operate, so it’s quite immersive, but it’s a labor of love. It took everything I had, but in a good way, by choice.
And what can you tell us about The Ludlow?
The Ludlow is in quite a different neighborhood than The Marlton. It’s on the Lower East Side, so it’s a younger, grittier project. It’s sort of based on an ’80s loft on the Lower East Side when people could rent these spaces very reasonably and have some real elbow room. I’m doing it with [developers] Richard Born and Ira Drucker, the same people I did The Marlton with. But I’m the lead person with the design and all that stuff.
Are you concerned about all the development in New York City?
I am mindful of it, but I think like everything in life, hopefully the strongest best products stand out.