Faces of Roger Smith: Our Hotel President’s Unique Project

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3/22/16

Ask our hotel President James Knowles to describe the property, and invariably he will respond by saying, “Roger Smith is an idea.”

A Yale-educated sculptor and visual artist, Knowles took over operations in 1987 and has since pioneered the hotel’s expansive arts and cultural programs. On top of these initiatives, he also turns many of the guest bathrooms into marble works of art. Walk-in showers display portraits of longtime staff members and abstract designs, adding beauty and character to our beloved hotel.

Room 703

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Knowles’s work winds around the large bathroom in a continuous line of black marble that curves over mirrors, and across the shower wall and floor. The piece looks free-form, because it is. Knowles reflects on painting the room, which was under renovation at the time, and says, “I took a bucket of paint, and I just drew on it.”

After Knowles finished painting, the super-talented contractor Ying Ming Saeto carved his work into light and dark pieces of marble. The Italian concept of chiaroscuro—the practice of contrasting light and dark to create depth and composition—inspired the aesthetic.

Room 811

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On the shower walls of Room 811 are portraits of four longtime members of the Roger Smith Hotel team. Marlenny Paredes, for example, is the team lead on Reputation Management, who has worked on property for ten years. Roger Smith Hotel guests come back again and again, often because they’ve had a great experience interacting with the incredibly friendly staff. Knowles honors their important role in this piece. Walking into this bathroom “is like going to Mount Rushmore,” he says.

Room 1506

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Room 1506 is a work in progress. Black paint is spread across the bare walls, and Saeto’s marble saw sits in the middle of the unfinished living area, just waiting to be used. Knowles views the pattern he drew—a molecular continuum of circles and lines uniting the room’s four walls and floor—as a symbol of connectivity. Each circle represents some aspect of the hotel—the staff, the bathrooms he paints—while the lines tying them together represent the hotel itself. “You have the connection on the walls,” he says before glancing at the floor, which has three overlapping circles on it. “And then on the floor, you have it all coming together as a constellation, because everything does come together at some point.”

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Roger Smith is an idea.

Midtown Manhattan