Graham & Co., Phoenicia, NY
Like the woman who books a wedding venue before she’s found a husband, the Graham & Co. was initially just a concept without a product. The four New York City fashion and interior designers who created the brand are now owners of the Phoenicia motel that bears the Graham & Co. name and design, and in the short time it’s been open, that brand has blossomed.
GRAHAM & CO.
80 Route 214
“Their vision was to build a website, create a stir, gain a following, and then ultimately provide services in the design field,” says Gilbert Barattini, the father of one of the founding designers, Bianca Barattini. “But at that point, there was no real substance to their product.” Then Gilbert renovated Bianca’s house in the Catskills and discovered Phoenicia. The town seemed like the perfect getaway: on the banks of the Esopus Creek, with tubing, fishing, hiking, and skiing nearby, and six buses a day from the Port Authority. But the town was missing something. “It was clear to us there was a cool contingent upstate, but there wasn’t a fashionable place to stay,” Bianca says.
A hotel would give them a product to which they could attach their brand. Bianca found the old Catskills motor lodge, and Gilbert purchased and renovated it in January 2012. He hired his daughter’s cadre of design friends, Jeff Madalena, Jason Gnewikow, and Amanda Bupp, all of whom work in fashion or interior design, to handle the rest. The team immediately went to work, designing a hotel that tried to capture the Catskills’ rustic vibe while adding to it a dash of metropolitan minimalism.
There are 13 rooms, four with kitchens, all of which follow the same theme, which is inspired by minimalist conceptual artist Donald Judd: a bed, a nightstand, and a bench made of unfinished wood and black rubber flooring in the bathroom like you might find on a shop-room floor. Bare light bulbs hang from electrical cords on each side of the bed. “Everything is relaxed here—simple, easy atmosphere translates into simple easy interiors,” says Bianca. “We did tons of vintage shopping and made choices that were unpolished but modern.” The toilet paper holder is made of plumbing pipe. Some walls are lined with rough-cut, unfinished, and locally sourced wood or with painted paneling. The rugs, beige or charcoal gray, are industrial chic. There are no televisions in the rooms, only modern retro Tivoli radios.
If private rooms are simple, common spaces are more elaborate; the owners wanted people to really use them. “We kept the rooms basic and elevated the common spaces to promote activity and interaction,” says Bianca. “This kind of togetherness is part of the Catskills’ DNA.” The pool, once shut behind broken concrete and a chain-link fence, is now surrounded by a wooden deck and lounge chairs and encircled by a canopy of juniper trees.
The lobby is decorated with vintage memorabilia and antique cupboards. In winter, there’s a roaring fire in the woodstove, and yearround there’s a large picnic table and a counter with bar stools where residents can drink beer—everyone gets a Bud or a bottle of water upon check-in—or use Wi-Fi. In the summer, there’s a volleyball court and fire pit where guests can convene on Friday nights, making s’mores and drinking wine. On Saturday summer evenings, a sheet is hung over the volleyball net and movies are shown—usually goofy ones, like The Goonies or National Lampoon’s Vacation.
Bianca says they created a hotel that they themselves would want to stay in. In fact, when they finished the pool they wondered whether they should keep it for themselves. “The week before we opened, friends and family were all over the deck,” she says. “And the thought crossed our minds: ‘Should we even open?’”
Not only did they open, but they got plenty of buzz via Travel + Leisure, “The Today Show,” Country Living, and Esquire, among other media outlets. “Last year, we were booked from April through October,” says Jackie Pellicano, who works at the front desk. “We had 33 pages in a notebook of people who wanted to be on the cancellation list.”