During its heyday in the 1940s and ’50s,the corner of Woodward and Grand River Avenues in Detroit was the place to be,whether you were cruising around in your Thunderbird or window-shopping at the many shops along the stretch. Now Shinola—the made-in-Detroit brand that counterintuitively launched in 2011, two years before the city led for Chapter 9 bankruptcy—is reviving this intersection at the heart of the city’s astonishingly resurgent downtown.
By year’s end, Shinola will inaugurate a massive feat of urban reengineering, transforming two vintage buildings into a with an events space, a coffee shop, a restaurant, and a bar by Gachot, the New York design firm behind the brand’s flagship stores in Brooklyn and Los Angeles.
What’s more, the project will incorporate a new pedestrian-friendly alley lined with small shops, including a florist and a vintage clothing boutique—along with, naturally, a Shinola depot stocked with their stylish watches, handmade bicycles, and leather goods. “Ten years ago, a lot of the buildings around here were abandoned,” says Daniel Caudill, Shinola’s creative director. “But today, the city needs world-class hospitality.”
The heart of the hotel is a 1916 terra cotta–faced structure at 1400 Woodward Avenue that originally housed Rayl’s department store. Over the years, the handsome building’s windows had been filled with cinder blocks and the interior stripped of its original detail. When Shinola and its partner on the project, Bedrock Detroit, bought it, Caudill says, “there was a wig store on the main floor, and the rest was boarded up.” Boston Valley Terra Cotta took molds of the 50 types of tiles on the facade and re-created them; the clock on the exterior corner was restored, and the windows were unsealed.
Meanwhile, Gachot scraped samples on-site of the original paint. “We used them to develop custom colors for the hotel, like the one we call Shinola Blue, a light gray–navy,” says Christine Gachot, the firm’s principal.“We also found traces of wallpaper behind the paint and had it refabricated for the guest rooms by Rule of Three.”
The hotel’s interiors are a paean to all-American artisanship, from the Amish-made furniture and millwork to the Michigan-made Serta mattresses to the Heath Ceramics dish ware in the restaurant. “We wanted the sense of craft to come through in an authentic way,” Gachot says. “We’re uncovering history. Detroit these days is a fascinating place. It feels like you can make anything happen.