Modern Instincts

Interview by Elizabeth Tan
Photography by Christian Harder

Arcade Fire & Owen Pallett – Sleepwalker
Her (2013)

The journey of transformation for the little town of Providence, Rhode Island, has been like no other. Once fraught with poverty, the town has long been revolutionised into a plethora of design aficionados, culinary hopefuls, homegrown musicians and artists. Recently, the artsy Downtown area has welcomed its newest member of the creative community. Once a religious refuge turned brothel, the historic building from 1911 now holds 52 hotel rooms curated in a modernist and contemporary taste.

Marrying modern and vintage, The Dean emanates polished refinement in each of its rooms. However, it is the Bolt coffee bar, the Magdalenae cocktail den, Faust’s Hofbrauhaus, as well as the Boombox karaoke bar that set the stay here apart. Situated near prestigious universities such as Rhode Island School of Design and Brown University, The Dean is an apt structure to mirror the collegiate and intellectual vibe of the city. We speak with Ari Heckman, the genius behind the the hotel, to find out more about his ideas, vision, and philosophy.

god saved The Dean providence

Hi Ari, please tell us more about yourself and how it began with The Dean.

Hi! I am originally from Providence so I am very familiar with the place and its history and vibe. Providence is at its core a creative town, with an important history leading back to the Revolution and extremely intact historic architecture. The city is also situated very close to Boston and New York, so many people pass through it, including thousands of students each year. Because I work in real estate development and design in New York, I felt like I had the skills to create the type of hotel that Providence didn’t have—a place where I might want to stay if I was visiting town. So from there, I found a building in a good location that I thought could work for the concept and assembled a team to do it!

Mirroring the rich history of Providence, the building that The Dean currently inhabits used to serve very different functions—from a homeless shelter, to a strip club. Why did you choose this building?

For one thing, there are not very many small buildings in the center city, and very few that were either not already renovated or owned by crazy people who would never sell. Because of the checkered history, the owners needed to sell the building and it was difficult for others to figure out what to do with it because of its past.

I think the eccentric history actually makes the building more interesting, and people enjoy understanding how it has changed.

god saved The Dean providence

Being located near prestigious universities,it seems that The Dean mirrors this similar prestigious air. What was the inspiration behind the philosophy and image portrayed by The Dean?

The notion was not to create too much of a top down vision but a creative and interesting space where people could explore and feel comfortable. We wanted to be a hub for visitors and guests to mingle with locals, and a place that reflected some of the original architecture in Providence. A combination of historic and modern without feeling trendy or of a particular style. Much of the furniture inside the hotel was made for the hotel or was imported from the antique markets in Belgium and France.

Read more in N˚5: Arrival.