Husband-and-wife design duo Stephen Alesch and Robin Standefer of the AD100 firm Roman and Williams have tackled everything from residential projects for private clients to product design, but their restaurants comprise some of their buzziest work to date. Their dining portfolio, which includes Le Coucou, Upland, and La Mercerie (the restaurant at their own Roman and Williams Guild retail concept) in New York, has just expanded with the already white-hot Veronika restaurant inside Gramercy’s Fotografiska photography museum. “Named for the patron saint of photography, Veronika at Fotografiska is a gestalt of light, form, and composition,” says Alesch of the project. “We laid out a floor plan that echoes the circuitous nature of the museum. You enter on the second floor through a twilight colored hallway, where the narrative of Veronika welcomes you to a journey of the unexpected.”
This year, the firm will tackle its most ambitious project yet: the renovation of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s British decorative arts and sculpture galleries. The spaces have been closed since fall 2016, during which time the National Design Award–winning firm has collaborated with the Met’s Department of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts on repositioning these works in a modern and innovative way.
AD PRO checked in with the masterminds behind Roman and Williams after the opening of their latest megawatt project.
AD PRO: What are your priorities for the year ahead?
Robin Standefer: We’ve been working very hard on the renovation of the British Galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and are thrilled to see them reopen this March. [It will be] 11,000 square feet devoted to British decorative arts, design, and sculpture created between 1500 and 1900. We reimagined and reinstalled 10 galleries, including three historic interiors devoted to British decorative arts and sculpture of the early 16th through 19th century.
AD PRO: How do you balance your interiors practice and your retail operation, Roman and Williams Guild?
Stephen Alesch: They really inform each other and coexist organically for us. With interiors, we’re constantly researching the history and context of the projects we work on, and with retail, we’ve become even more highly attuned with what is now. Together our interiors background and retail experience have become a constant dialogue of how the past informs the present and the present innovates—it’s a very dynamic relationship.
AD PRO: What’s a favorite source of late?
RS: Too many to name! Through our guild, we source from a phenomenal bevy of artisans that create with amazing materials. One, Casey Zablocki, with whom we’ve been working for years now, has created a new collection for us called “The North Collection.” In it he has included an element of adding gold to the pieces, which is an ode to a Japanese tradition called kintsugi—a means of repairing artifacts. Casey’s use of gold is not to repair but to celebrate the concept and to accentuate imperfections.
AD PRO: Are you going on any interesting scouting trips this year?
SA: Rural areas of Oaxaca in Mexico, southern Sweden, and Scotland.
AD PRO: What are some challenges you feel you’re facing as designers today?
RS: Being analog creatures in an increasingly digital world, we’re very interested in how to bridge the gap and keep our work explicitly tactile and experiential in a way that can translate across multiple mediums.