There was no indication of anything untoward at the newest outpost of the Ace Hotel, in London, today. No casual visitor would have guessed that the group’s maverick founder, Alex Calderwood, was found dead in one of his artfully retrofitted bedrooms on Thursday afternoon. He was 47.
The music was the usual upbeat mix of dubstep reggae, bluegrass and vintage British punk, and a string quartet performed with commendable irony in the overpriced Hoi Polloi restaurant - where a small and unremarkable burger with chips would set a customer back £15 (about $24). The be-whiskered and expensively dressed 30-and-40-somethings who can afford the extravagant prices were clustered around their Apple laptops in the bar and lobby area, the central feature of which is a long, low communal table with library-style light shades running down its middle. The black and white photo booth machine had a steady stream of laughing customers. There was no palpable sense of doom hanging heavy in the wake of the chain’s visionary founder’s death.
But behind the game faces, the staff had, however, clearly been rattled by the events of recent days, which came to a dramatic head when an ambulance, preceded by a paramedic on a bike, arrived at the hotel at 2:30pm on Thursday afternoon, shortly after the body of Calderwood was discovered.
“It’s just very shocking,” said one staff member, “We are all in shock. He was so young, it was totally unexpected. But we don’t really know what happened.”
Other staff The Daily Beast spoke to said they had not been made party to any of the details of Calderwood’s death, and had been asked not to speak to the media. The group itself has only issued a short statement, via its website, describing Calderwood as a ‘mentor, guru’ and ‘dear friend.’
Calderwood was pronounced dead at the scene by paramedics. The police on Sunday told The Daily Beast that they were not treating his death as suspicious, and that there would be no further comment until a post-mortem could be carried out this week.
Calderwood was known to have had issues with drug and alcohol addiction, but there is no official word as yet on the cause of his death.
In a 2011 interview, Calderwood said he had stopped drinking and was five months sober, adding, “I am very proud of my sobriety…You get to a certain age, and you get to a certain point, where you realize this is just, like, dragging me down. It’s not fun anymore. I’m not enjoying it.”
His passing on Thursday was undoubtedly a tragic end to what had been an extraordinary career for a true maverick who called his hotels ‘art projects’ and sourced the vast majority of the quirky materials use to furnish and decorate them himself.
In late September, the Ace opened up by far its most ambitious project to date when it retrofitted a drab Crowne Plaza hotel in London’s now-fashionable Shoreditch High Street, an extraordinary accomplishment for a chain which began life in 1999 when Calderwood and some friends converted a Salvation Army hostel in Seattle, followed by hotels in Portland, Palm Springs and New York.
The hotels are famous for their found items and turntables in the bedrooms and the London hotel was no exception. London’s hipsters have flocked to its artful interpretation of chic in the weeks since the boutique hotel’s opening. Some said it was ersatz, but most were ultimately won over by the hotel’s effortless sense of cool and impressively functional design, as well as its reclamation of a previously drab hotel to the bustling life of London’s East End.
Calderwood had been a regular visitor to London for over a decade, and is believed to have had an interest in a restaurant in nearby Bethnal Green.
Friends and colleagues in the hotel business have mourning his passing on the pages of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
One of his oldest friends in the business, Chip Conley, founder of Joie de Vivre Hotels, who first met Alex after he'd created the Ace in Seattle, paid tribute to the friend he called, ‘a lovely dreamer’.
Conley told The Daily Beast via email, “He had an uncanny knack of creating spaces where people felt a sense of belonging. And, he loved creating these spaces as he got great joy out of designing that kind of habitat. But, Alex was sort of on a different planet as well. He was deep in his heart and head. Amidst all the attention, especially with the growth and acclaim of Ace, he wasn't all that rooted in the temporal of this moment. It was almost like he was yearning for a creative cottage where he could be away from all this momentary attention.”