ISSUE 6  |  The New Romantics

Expert Advice: 9 Hard-Wearing Natural Material Ideas from a Hotelier

February 10, 2017 10:00 AM

BY Margot Guralnick

Hotels are designed to take a beating: Everything that goes into them, from building materials to bedding, has to be not only exceedingly comfortable but also resilient. What looks great day after day—and even gets better over time?

For advice, we turned to hotelier Ray Pirkle, a hospitality pro and aesthete who earned his creds working for Ian Schrager and Amy Sacco, among others. Ray is currently co-owner of Hudson, New York’s Rivertown Lodge, a former movie house that he transformed with Workstead design into lodgings that are as fresh looking as they are cozy—see A Hotel with a Sense of Place. Here are Rays’s tips.

Photography by Matthew Williams, unless noted.

1. Iron Accents


Above: When selecting materials, think about how things will look going forward,” advises Ray. “You want everything to gain a positive patina.” Toward that end, the lobby at Rivertown Lodge has Workstead-designed iron firewood racks flanking a Morso stove. The coffee table legs are also iron.

2. Wool Upholstery


Above:  Ray sourced the sturdy vintage seating from eBay and added wool upholstery that’s “both soft and strong and surprisingly easy to clean.”

3. Matte-Finished Wood Floors


Above: Dark wood floors tend to show more dirt and scratches than light wood floors, according to Ray. In the Rivertown Inn, he spec’ed Scandi-style bleached European oak from LV Wood’s Hakwood collection, and after considering several matte finishing options, settled on the easiest: clear Monocoat, a natural oil. “It was a cinch to apply—we did it ourselves—and it’s durable. We use Monocoat Soap to maintain it, and Monocoat Refresh gets rid of stains.” Adds Ray: “The floor has a lived-in look, but that’s exactly what we wanted. When just about everything in a room is pristine, it’s nice to see signs of life.”

4. Vegetable-Tanned Leather

Rivertown_Tavern at the Rivertown Lodge in Hudson, NY with bronze bar. Workstead-design-Matthew-Williams-photo

Above: “Leather darkens over time and gets scarred, but there’s nothing you can do to it that makes it less attractive,” says Ray, by way of explaining the hotel’s leather touches. These include saddle leather guest room key rings and the Rivertown Tavern’s leather-topped Jack Stools by Tyler Hayes (available from Lostine). The bar counter is oil-rubbed bronze “another outstandingly tough and beautiful material.”

5. Waxed Canvas

Rivertown Lodge in Hudson, NY, tavern banquette of waxed canvas. The wall is satin finish gray Benjamin Moore wall paint

Above: Banquettes in the Tavern are upholstered in an unexpected material: water-resilient waxed canvas sourced from Martexin for $12.80 a yard. (Shown here, Army Duck Plain Weave in olive.) To maintain its finish, the fabric gets touched up with Martexin Refinishing Compound. “Waxed canvas develops a great weathered look and is so durable. I don’t know why everybody doesn’t use it on everything,” says Ray. He and the Workstead team also used waxed canvas as mats, rugs, and hallway runners that extend for 25 feet (with felt pads underneath), all custom made by Black Point Mercantile of Portland, Maine. In guest rooms, benches have waxed canvas cushions (“you can put suitcases on them or sit on them; they’re so easy to clean”).

6. Satin-Finish Paint

Sunny yellow kitchen with schist countertop at Rivertown Lodge Hudson, New York

Above: Paint selections, including this Farrow & Ball India Yellow, are all satin finish (Farrow & Ball’s Modern Emulsion): “It’s wipeable and hard-wearing,” says Ray. “We even used it as a kitchen backsplash and it’s worked well.” The counter is schist, which Ray notes is “incredibly hard and doesn’t stain but is prone to chipping—we knew that going in and don’t mind.”

Of course, Ray also has favorite tabletop items: Duralex glasses (“good-looking, inexpensive, and virtually unbreakable”), enamelware mugs (“light and unbreakable; we use these as water glasses in the rooms”), vintage flatware, especially hotel silverplate (“it’s heavier than standard”), and denim napkins (“they get better in the wash”). He buys the latter in 100-percent American cotton denim from Small Gunns and is in the process of sourcing yardage so the hotel can make its own.

7. Egyptian Cotton Sheets


Above: Long-staple Egyptian organic cotton is the softest and longest lasting,” says Ray—”I’m not overly thread-count conscious, but I’ve found that 200 is the minimum; 200 to 800 is all good.” The hotel uses Frette, “I don’t think there’s anything out there that’s better and the company has a well-priced commercial line.” The Shadow Plaid Blankets are Faribault’s washable wool. The lodge keeps three of each for every bed, so they can be swapped out and cleaned. “It’s admittedly a lot of work, and dryer energy, to keep them clean—we run them on low in the dryer and it takes three cycles—but they hold up well.” For mattresses, Ray swears by the eco-friendly Keetsa and says “I’ve discovered most people like a much firmer mattress than they realize.”

8. Raw Brass Fixtures and Wood Doorknobs

rivertown-lodge bathroom with Waterworks raw brass fixture.

Above: Raw brass is Ray’s go-to material for faucets, showerheads, exposed pipes, and lighting (designs throughout the hotel are by Workstead). He loves the way brass develops a patina and emanates warmth. The bath in the suite, shown here, has a Waterworks gooseneck tub filler paired with a Henley Cast-Iron Pedestal Tub from Signature Hardware. In other rooms, Ray says he saved money by using Chicago chrome sink fixtures and a chrome shower system made for prisons: “We had a local metalworker strip them—they’re raw brass underneath.” As for metal maintenance: “Everything gets cleaned once a week with Brasso, but raw brass just naturally picks up such a great look.”

Note the wood doorknob: Ray tracked it down in the UK and ordered in bulk. Finished with Monocoat wood oil, they too, develop nice signs of wear and feel good to the touch. Photograph by Emma Tuccillo of And North, courtesy of Rivertown Lodge.

9. Wicker

Rivertown-Lodge- Front-Porch-wicker-Emma-Tuccillo-photo

Above: “Wicker is light but strong, and it gets the best color when you leave it out in the sun,” says Ray. The Rivertown porch has a wicker pendant light found on eBay and a wicker-inset table by Japanese cult workshop Truck Furniture. The cot is piled with Utility Canvas’s 34-inch square pillows—”they’re actually dog beds, but they’re perfect.” Ray also swears by Utility Canvas coverlets: “Canvas, like linen and denim, gets softer and better with every wash”).

Photograph by Emma Tuccillo, courtesy of Rivertown Lodge.

We have lots of Expert Advice to share. For a sampling, take a look at:

For more by Workstead, take a look at The Craftsman-Made NYC Apartment.