Seattle lost of one its most influential and vibrant business men as of last Thursday, Nov. 14, . Alex Calderwood, one of the three original owners who gave birth to Rudy’s Barbershop, as well as the successful chain of Ace hotels, passed away at 47. His death was announced on the Ace hotel blog and he was reportedly in London visiting one of his new properties when the incident occurred. As of now, the manner of his passing has not been released.
In many ways, Calderwood’s professional journey is one that most folks on Capitol Hill would be envious of. Born in Denver in 1966, Calderwood grew up in the Seattle area. After graduating from Bellevue High he actually considered attending Seattle University, but began working a number of jobs around the city that pulled him away from university. He promoted for clubs in Belltown, sold vintage clothing and connected with some of the city’s most interesting creative types.
In 1990, Calderwood and two others—Wade Weigel and David Peterson—took a $16,000 risk and started the first Rudy’s barbershop on Capitol Hill. In what would become a mainstay of Calderwood’s aesthetic for the rest of his career, he designed the shop as the kind of place he and his friends would want to hang out, with band posters on the wall and tattoo-clad hair stylists—a visual experience we’re all very familiar with these days in Seattle, with the added bonus that people could get nice haircuts for relatively cheap prices. At the time, though, Calderwood’s creative decision was precarious prospect, but it paid off.
Since then, Rudy’s has expanded to four cities in total, with 16 different shops throughout.
Calderwood’s career goes even further beyond his work with Rudy’s however. In 1996, Calderwood and his companions took out a lease on a run-down building in Belltown. In yet another risky move, the group refurbished the building as the Ace hotel, a mod new establishment catered for the young and hip. According to an interview in the Seattle Met, much of the design choices sprung from the question: “What if we could make a hotel like someone’s Capitol Hill apartment?”
The hotel was a huge success in its first year. The design, which eschewed the more traditional hotel look for one that put a premium on more individualistic, “hip” art and touches like record players, appealed to young people looking for something new at an affordable price tag. After the initial success, Calderwood would go on to start another hotel in Portland’s West End, utilizing the same kind of counter-culture inspired design.
Since then, the Ace chain has expanded to New York, London, and Palm Springs, with more set to open in Los Angeles and Panama. While each hotel utilized Calderwood’s initial design, each has a unique flavor, blending traditional Northwest vibes with an urban music scene and vintage touches.
While Calderwood’s work was often associated with hipsters, he hated the word and didn’t consider it representative of his design. Despite the fact that many have commented that his hotels give one a sense of being in one of the filtered photos hip twenty-something have come to worship, in the New York Times he described his hotels as “art projects”—perhaps a more accurate portrayal of the new way of thinking about Hotel design that he pioneered.
Calderwood is survived by his parents, brother and two sisters.