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Not Your Average 'Hotel Art' for 21c's New Durham Outpost

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The latest 21c Museum Hotel—the brand of legally-zoned museum spaces attached to modern-day boutique hotels—opened March 16 in Durham, North Carolina. The Durham outpost of 21c is the fourth since 2006, when married collectors Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson hit on one jackpot of a hospitality idea. That year the couple made a splash with their maiden venture in Louisville, Kentucky: the conversion of a row of 19th-century warehouses downtown into a stylish boutique hotel with a top-notch restaurant and—its great point of difference—an in-house art gallery. The exhibition space is filled with the work of contemporary artists and open to the public 24/7 with no admission fee, a far cry from most private collections and a real departure from the notion of "hotel art." The latest iteration, the hotel's fourth collaboration with New York-based architect Deborah Berke Architects, retains original details like terrazzo floors, green marble walls, and silver leaf ceilings.


The Durham project is an adaptive reuse of the Hill Building, originally built in 1937 and designed by Manhattan architecture firm Shreve, Lamb & Harmon, best known for their work on a little edifice called the Empire State Building. Berke's did the interiors as well as the building's renovation, carefully preserving existing Art Deco details while adding a modern point of view. "21c Durham is about exploring the future through connections of the past and present," says architect Deborah Berke, who spoke to Curbed last year about 21c: "Each [hotel] is unique because of the building, the city, the site, and how the art fits into that place."

Besides offering 125 rooms and a restaurant, 10,500 square feet of exhibition space showcases an art program that has expanded way beyond the owners' own collection. The director, Alice Gray Stites, borrows work from local galleries and museums as well as commissioning site-specific projects. To date, 21c has presented the work of over 8oo artists from all over the world. Next up are hotels in Oklahoma City; Kansas City, Missouri; and Nashville. All are adaptive reuse projects, a similar theme in past 21c projects.

· 21c Museum Hotel Durham [official site]
· Deborah Berke Architects [official site]
· Architect Deborah Berke on Designing Museum Hotels and Buildings 'That Dance Between Foreground and Background' [Curbed National]
· Mapping the 10 Best Hotel Art Collections in the United States [Curbed National]