Brooklyn-based design firm Studio Tack brings its narrative approach to a Wyoming ski town.
BY SPENCER BAILEY
March 14, 2017
From the late aughts through 2013, Jou-Yie Chou was working as a “cultural engineer” and later as a brand director at the Ace Hotel in New York. While there, he met Erik Warner, who was on the private equity side of the hotel trade. Fast forward to 2015: Chou had become a partner at design firm Studio Tack and Warner had established his own hospitality companies, Eagle Point Hotel Partners and Filament. The two began what has since turned into a three-part collaboration.
Their first project to finish—the 49-room Anvil Hotel in Jackson, Wyoming—just opened. (The others, a 114-room hotel in Portland, Oregon, and a 55-room renovation in Greenport Village, New York, on Long Island, will both be completed later this year.) Located in downtown Jackson, next door to the legendary ski town’s historical society, the Anvil combines three former motel buildings into a subtle distillation of local culture.
Studio Tack has, in just a few years, gained a reputation for creating warm, no-fuss environments that are sensitive to their surroundings, from Barcelona’s Casa Bonay hotel to the new Scribner’s Catskill Lodge in Hunter, New York. The Anvil, no exception to this, captures the spirit of Jackson. Managing to be at once low-key and sophisticated, the effort is anything but forced.
The designers wanted to avoid a rustic feel, or what Ruben Caldwell, one of Studio Tack’s four partners and an avid backcountry skier, calls “Mountain Modern,” referring to architecture, common in places like Vail, Colorado, and Lake Tahoe, California, that excessively uses reclaimed wood and Cor-Ten steel. “We knew we didn’t want to steer anywhere near that,” says Chou, a long-time snowboarder who more recently got into skiing. “It takes a bit of familiarity with ski towns to know what you don’t want to do.”
Before any of the renovation began, the project team spent about a year “collectively living and breathing Jackson,” says Warner, who’s also a skier and in 1996 worked the front desk at what was then the Anvil Motel. (He later bought the property from his previous employers.) That experience informed the hotel’s identity: an understated place to stay that offers the comforts of home, a restaurant with hearty meals and well-crafted cocktails, and an elevated level of service. (As with all of Studio Tack’s projects, it was also to incorporate a sleek, location-appropriate graphic identity.) The vibrancy of Jackson’s local culture impressed the design team—and Caldwell so much so that he moved there full-time last year. “As a design team,” Caldwell says, “we’re hyper-aware of the need for projects to be deeply embedded into the local scene.”
Of the Anvil specifically, Caldwell adds, “The Western idea that I was basing a lot of my thinking on was actually sort of around what we had to work with: a shitty [motel] building. We then asked, ‘How can we bring in touchpoints and things that would’ve been, in the 19th century, imported from the East Coast?’ We were very cognizant of trying to come up with the right vibe on a very subjective level—something that fit the space and the town.”
The research and storytelling process was crucial. The lobby feels a bit like a Gold Rush-era general store, albeit one with Wi-Fi and a soundtrack that includes songs by Andrew Bird and Nick Drake, as well as coffee by Snake River Roasters, pastries from Persephone Bakery, and a Woolrich blanket custom-made for the Anvil. “It’s built as a sort of mercantile outpost,” Chou says. “It’s referencing back to when people crossing the country needed a place to stop and restock on supplies. This is a modern interpretation of that.” The contemporary take on an old-town feel continues into the rooms, which feature beds designed by the firm with Charles P. Rogers, Hedge House side tables and reading chairs, and brass bathroom fixtures from Waterworks.
At the hotel’s 85-seat Glorietta Trattoria restaurant—named after the nearby Mount Glory—executive chef Troy Furuta, formerly the sous chef of Pok Pok in Los Angeles, cooks up a seasonal menu of wood-fired Italian dishes as comfort-inducing as the interior itself. These included, on a recent visit, squash agnolotti, squid ink chittara, and cioppino (bass, fennel, squid, mussels, and prawns in a tomato broth). The cocktail menu, conceived by the team behind New York’s Death & Co., features experimental options that befit the mountain setting, such as the Space Walk (Lillet, grapefruit and lemon juice, Aperol, dry vermouth, seltzer) and the Why-Not (bourbon, fresh lemon juice, maple syrup, Cointreau, sage).
Unlike the majority of the town’s hospitality offerings, the Anvil feels rooted in the place, blending into it but also adding something distinctive. It is most certainly not shiny or flashy or corporate-feeling. “When we design things,” Chou says, “we don’t vary that much in terms of any of our processes. We stick with sturdy, durable, tried-and-true materials—woods, stones. You’ll never see us use Lucite, for example. Hopefully, what we do will feel better in two years than it does now. Hopefully, it’ll continue to live and breathe and develop its own patina—as opposed to aging ungracefully.”