Our column “The Best Room At” offers a glimpse into some of the world’s most glamorous, luxurious and sought-after properties.
While the most iconic buildings in Washington, D.C. tend to be monuments, museums, or government homes, that doesn’t mean there’s no room for additions. The Riggs Washington DC is located in a former major bank in the city’s Penn Quarter just across from the National Portrait Gallery, and while the property is certainly impressive from the outside, it’s what you’ll find inside – from the lavish guest rooms to everyone Today’s restaurant, underground bar, vibrant rooftop, among other delightful finds – this is really cool. Here, creative director Jaco Strauss, who also designed the Pulitzer Hotel Amsterdam, discusses the hotel’s best accommodations, the history that inspired them, and creative ways to enjoy the capital.
What do you consider the best room in the property and why?
This one is tough! I have a real soft spot for the first lady’s wings. We have four of them, all unique in their style and design. My favorite is the Carolyn Harrison suite. She presented a collection of porcelain to the White House, and considered it an inspiration. The design is based on Wedgwood Jasperware, all pale blue and white; It’s an abstract explanation, but it’s inspired by what I did. Ida McKinley’s all-pink suite, the Louisa Adams suite let us bring in a grand piano and set design revolving around the idea of music, and Angelica Van Buren’s suite – although she wasn’t a First Lady – reflects her love of opulence.
How much does it cost per night?
The starting price is $999 per night.
How would you describe the guests and the ambiance at the hotel?
The hotel attracts leisure and business travelers, so we needed something where everyone would feel comfortable, but we also wanted to create a space that felt elevated. The building is very luxurious, but we wanted to offer something that feels intimate, otherwise it gets a bit daunting. I tried to balance grandeur with familiarity, all without being too serious. The capital can be a serious city, but the hotel should take you away from it all. The hotel used to be a bank so we played a bit with that heritage so that it feels contemporary and finds that lovely spot where there is something for everyone to enjoy.
What do you think first-time visitors to the hotel will find surprising?
It’s amazing to see what people are picking up on – it’s not always what I expect. When you enter the hotel, we have layer after layer of discovery. It’s about how people discover things in public places and rooms. Guests respond to the building’s heritage; People came in and said their grandmother used to work here or work in banks here. I love that.
What do you think gives the hotel this unique identity?
We want to celebrate luxury but add a little fun to it. We take what we do very seriously, but we don’t take ourselves seriously. I found out that some of the relics from the building were a bank, things that have been alive for 120 years. For example, on one of the brass doors we found all these medallions with images of people – one was Jupiter, one was an eagle, and the other was Juno Moneta, the Roman god. We loved the way it looked elegant and sturdy, so we celebrated that by making a huge medallion of that out of plaster in the hallway. Minibars look like cupboards—it was a nod to its past as a bank, but we celebrated Juno by putting it in the front of the minibar. We did not create a museum. It’s an old building and we wanted to restore it, but there were limits. I love all wrinkles. The building is old and some things like cracks in the marble were left intentionally. I love these because they speak to history.
What local attraction do you always recommend to guests?
There are so many things to do in the DC One Museum that I discovered when I was living there, and sent everyone to visit, the Hillwood Estate, the Museum, and the Gardens. It’s the former home of Marjorie Meriwether Post, which is amazing. It has real grandeur yet local at the same time and it was really an inspiration to me. I toured the bunker I built during the Cuban Missile Crisis and the inside was completely pink. I love this kind of subtle weirdness. The Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden are other favorites. The architecture of the building is interesting and unique.
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