Via Shop Keepers – April 10, 2017

Talk about boutique: Set in the downtown of a historic Ohio River city in Kentucky, Hotel Covington doesn’t just tick all the lifestyle buzzwords like hyper local, small scale and über bespoke—it echoes its home’s literal retail heritage.

No, that doesn’t mean a mega shopping component or an over-the-top runway theme. Instead, local interior and lighting design studio Plume created a merch-inspired flow within what was originally home to Coppin’s Department Store. As a result, the layout feels like a natural fit because it is.

“We were blessed with a few historic photographs of the original building,” recalls Plume’s senior interior designer Corey Rineair, who now serves as principal of her eponymous interiors firm. “They did a fantastic job of communicating the story and layout of the space. We took that and ran with it.”

The 114-key hotel’s structure had undergone a series of transformations over the years, most recently serving as Covington’s City Hall. Its floors had been partitioned into a number of departments and offices. Consequently, the photographs were vital to restoring the century-old building’s essence.

Oversized display cases had once wrapped around the octagonal columns on the 90,000-sq.-ft. property’s first floor. So the designers translated that idea into the 12-ft.-long communal dining tables that surround the columns in what is now the restaurant area. Walls were painted white to reflect the space’s original aesthetic. At the front reception desk, an open, retail-inspired display references goods once sold in the former store, such as hats, shoes, gloves, bow ties, scarves and brooches.

The building’s bones offered two major pros: expansive windows, some of which overlook the nearby Cincinnati skyline, and soaring ceilings ranging from 12 to 18 ft. “The window bays in the lobby were integral to our space planning,” says Amanda Bennett, principal and lighting designer at Plume. “They created natural seating groups, each of which we felt deserved its own oversized chandelier.”

Shedding further light on the property’s origin, a linear chandelier illuminated by a series of hanging globe-like pendants highlights the hotel’s bar. Bennett says the bar and restaurant fixtures, crafted in collaboration with a local lighting studio to reflect the sparkling jewelry once offered at Coppin’s retail counters, add drama and regional relevance.

Channeling the property’s past into the public areas also meant embracing its flaws. For starters, the ground floor presented a 2-ft. slope from the front façade to the back of the building. “This was a huge challenge to overcome since we couldn’t fully level the floor due to the weight of the concrete,” explains Rineair. “After weeks of fighting the slope, we decided to embrace it and give bartenders a fun fact to fascinate guests.” One end of the 17-seat bar is 42 in. high. The other? Only 36 in.

While reviving the building’s heritage was key to the creative brief, welcoming the community was paramount to the property’s owner, Guy van Rooyen of The Salyers Group, as well as the hotel’s operator, Aparium Hotel Group. “Our client wanted the first floor to be approachable,” recalls Rineair. “It was important for the space to feel upscale and boutique, but not like it was hands-off to the local community. Some of the design descriptors the client requested included progressive, thoughtful, local and urban.”

Creating an inviting, unpretentious environment for guests and locals alike meant finishes couldn’t be too polished and details couldn’t feel manufactured. “Covington has a beautiful grittiness, and we were careful not to incorporate anything too shiny,” explains Rineair. “You won’t find any chrome or brushed nickel here. While we couldn’t necessarily tell from the black and white photos, we felt Coppin’s would have had brass finishes. So we went with an unlacquered brass to dull the shine and maintain contemporary relevance.”

But Hotel Covington’s translocal vibe is a direct result of the involvement of area craftsmen and creatives. Local artist and teacher David Buetsche, a friend of the client, created more than 150 custom works for the hotel. Similarly, a large wine barrel installation in the lobby features a locally fabricated steel framework, which was welded together and blackened to mimic ironwork throughout the city.

In fact, the entire design and construction team was “home grown.” “We wanted as many local artisans and manufacturers on the job as possible,” notes Bennett and Rineair. “We were lucky that the hotel is located in a community of makers.”

Without the parameters of mega-brand design platforms, Plume’s team had ample leeway when it came to details. From custom guest room finishes that evoke the oil spill stains found throughout the streets of Covington to a couture-inspired gift shop showcasing works from local makers and brewers—every facet is truly tailor fit.