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Turning A Brothel Into A High-Design Hotel

Once an Episcopalian church in the early 1900s, this building has long been turning heads, first as a seedy strip club with rooms upstairs rented by the hour, and later as a dilapidated structure.


But in 2012, this site on Fountain Street in Providence, R.I. –a small, economically depressed city– caught the eye of New York City-based design and real estate development agency ASH –who were turned on by its scandalous past and sturdy bones.

ASH envisioned a boutique-style hotel that would be a meeting place in the city and also help revive the neighborhood.  They convinced investors like Clay Rockefeller –family member of the Rockefellers of the Standard Oil Company and co-founder of the Steel Yard, a non-profit for artists–to purchase the property.

The result is the  The Dean Hotel –a  52-room boutique hotel inspired by New York’s Ace Hotel and the Jane, which offer small, design-forward rooms with scaled back amenities.  At The Dean, there are no phones, dressers or curtains in the rooms, and no gym or pool.

In return, guests get a hip hangout surrounded by local art that encourages them to seek out what’s outside the hotel. Opened last year, the hotel has rooms that start at about $99 a night.

“The sketch of what they were thinking just made so much sense. There was a glaring need for a hotel option that truly reflected the energy, creativity, and design sensibility of our city,” says Rockefeller.

ASH Creative Director Will Cooper, who helped lead the design project with Ari Heckman and Jonathan Minkoff about the building’s $7.6 million transformation. 

Ari Heckman and Jonathan Minkoff:

Having never done a hotel before, it was quite a large undertaking. But it was fun, we learned a lot, and we are working on two more domestic properties as we speak that will be opening in 2016.

We work mostly in historical renovations and focus on the revitalization of once thriving locations. The existing property for this project had several incarnations, beginning as housing for the clergy of the Episcopalian church in 1912, through its last run as a gentleman’s club and “rent-by-the-hour” hotel.

We worked within the existing footprint of the building, and kept most of the layout intact.  We also wanted this hotel to serve as a cultural outpost for downtown Providence, so we focused on programming the ground floor space with as much action as possible, from coffee and pastries in the lobby, to a German-style beer hall and a European influenced cocktail lounge and even an outpost for karaoke.

The hotel scene in Providence before The Dean was heavily corporate, and we wanted to offer a space with a culturally relevant traveler in mind. With Brown University and Rhode Island School of Design just a stones throw away, the idea of catering to the demographic that would visit and attend an Ivy or one of the most notable design schools in the world was top of mind.

We tried to keep as much character as possible when we designed the spaces. In keeping the existing layouts, the rooms and spaces are intimate and cozy. In the design, we went after a light, clean and airy vibe that offered warm, clean crisp white walls and beds.

We really focused on sourcing the majority of the projects and trades within 200 miles of the hotel, from Matouk linens in Fall River, Massachusetts to custom steel beds and desks fabricated at The Steel Yard in Providence.

Our food and beverage outposts are all local tenants that have been around the food scene in Providence and some newer additions, like Bolt Coffee in the lobby, where we offered them their first physical permanent retail space.

The response has been overwhelmingly positive. It has exceeded our expectations and we are working everyday to hone the culture of the hotel to focus on the local flavors.

We are continuing to work on local culture connection with the hotel and local businesses, hosting everything from a girl’s weekend at The Dean to rock bands to wedding parties.

The adaptive reuse of existing buildings can really help make a city’s streetscape interesting especially when it plays off of quality contemporary architecture.  It’s good to maintain a conversation between historic and modern architecture.

The Dean Hotel is located at 122 Fountain Street in Providence, Rhode Island.

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