For the second Freehand, the first discussions began about how to create an extension of the Freehand Miami, but to fit in with the unique character of Chicago.  Starting with a dilapidated hotel with a windowless ground floor, there was a need to let light into the space.  This led to positioning reception and a café on the storefront increasing the street visibility with natural light.  This allowed for a strong contrast – light in the front spaces & embracing the dark interior offset with warm lighting to create a series of small comfortable spaces.  An irregular height change at the back of the space reduced the ceiling height from the spacious front to a more den like feel at the back.  This was perfect to create a warm nook to position a library around a pair of fireplaces and anchor in the Broken Shaker.


Creativity in starting with good, simple architecture and adding layers of furniture, lighting, & art to make a full experience.


Set across from each other, through a series of thin wood and glass dividers, are two new maroon tile & wood desks that act as a welcome- either to reception or into the café.  Each side has its own artist designed tile murals set into matching back bars.


The large Living Room sits deep in the hotel under the original deep crown moulding.  Instead of removing it – we carefully added layers – new high wood wainscots, large ombre murals, deep prairie-style seating and curated artwork to layer on top of and not hide the past design.


The warm interiors needed a matching storefront.  Instead of a generic metal, we found the right team to build a custom Sapele storefront set into bold painted horizontal slats.  With new large glass expanses, the light flows into the space.



The rooms in the Freehand began with the existing layout of the hotel – small crooked rooms wedged into the floorplate.  No two rooms on the floor are the same.  Each room was individually reworked to uniquely outfit & maximize the floorplan with built-in beds or bunk beds and an accompanying wall-mounted desk and chair. Adding to the small spaces are small luxuries – a Sapele wood bathroom and a full-height tile shower.  The room was finished with pieces of art made by a series of artists to add a bright burst of color to the otherwise plain tones of the rooms.


The graphics and wayfinding were layered next.  The main Elevator Lobby is wheat-pasted with pages of books and the elevators covered with maps of Chicago.  Upstairs, the hallways were a last chance to add a bit of unique fun to the hotel before arriving at each room. As the elevator doors open, a paint roller has been taken around the hallways stopping at the room doors and carrying right over back of house spaces.  A series of boldly painted curving arrows above and below direct to your room.  Room numbers were created with a custom font built by the team.

The exterior signage was the final touch. The existing blade sign to the hotel was carefully painted over to showcase the new name. The oversized marquee was too unique to the character of Chicago to remove.  Instead or replacing, the former logo was carefully masked over to hint of the past and a fabricated deep cut red metal ‘freehand’ was set on top.


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Sydell Group
Interior Design, Graphics, Creative Direction
Roman and Williams
Adrian Gaut

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