Roman and Williams Guild: Manhattan crucible of design and dégustation

This Manhattan emporium is both showcase for the modernist pieces of an international design duo and home to one of the city’s hippest restaurants

Roman & Williams Guild founders Stephen Alesch and Robin Standefer
Roman & Williams Guild founders Stephen Alesch and Robin Standefer | Image: Mark C O’Flaherty

For over 15 years the Roman and Williams studio has been creating extraordinary interiors. Its rich, craft-focused and often somewhat dark take on modernism has set it apart from other designers in North America, while its projects – including New York’s Ace Hotel and the British Galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, as well as the forthcoming NoMad hotel in London – make news and set trends. So when founders Stephen Alesch and Robin Standefer decided to create their own emporium in Manhattan, it was always going to make a splash. 

In fact, Roman and Williams Guild, which opened at the end of 2017, has reinvigorated retail on the southern fringe of SoHo. The two-floor space sells the couple’s own RW Guild Original Designs alongside work by some of their favourite designer-makers and craftspeople; it also encompasses a florist and one of the hippest restaurants in the city – the French-accented La Mercerie, helmed by Parisian chef Marie-Aude Rose, which has become the default breakfast-to-supper spot for the downtown art and design crowd.

RW Guild Reader chair, $5,050
RW Guild Reader chair, $5,050 | Image: Mark C O’Flaherty

“We wanted to activate the senses and create a genuine guild where we bring our favourite artisans together with our own collection,” explains Standefer. “We also wanted to recreate the dynamic of the home, where you stop work to focus on sensual activity – which is where the food and flowers come in.” This concept is also reflected in their own-design furniture, which has been showcased in various Roman and Williams projects as well as in their home. Take the statement Slab bed (from $42,000), with its simple organic lines and solid-walnut heft. “We have slept on that bed for 20 years,” says Alesch. The sleek, wooden-framed Montauk sofa (from $13,440) is “based on a midcentury-modern design classic that lives in our home”, and is complemented by the country-meets-industrial Skafeld coffee table (from $6,995) and the very retro brass Lab floor lamp (from $3,800).

It was while looking for artisans to produce their own designs that they came across many of the craft pieces now for sale here. “We are particularly impressed by the ceramics from England and Japan,” says Standefer. Hence their stock includes perfectly plain porcelain dinner plates ($38) and deep bowls ($44) by Wiltshire-based John Julian, while wildly rugged and textural Toasted mugs ($48) and bowls ($225) by Japanese ceramicist Isao Kimura offer a dynamic counterpoint. 

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This is a store that is clearly serious about design: witness the chunky burnished brass screws and bolts that go into the RW Guild Reader chair ($5,050); they make a virtue of the construction and are as visually appealing as the leather and wood elements. But “modernism doesn’t have to be zen,” says Alesch, noting that their space also manifests a sense of humour. “Look at the polka dots on Mariko Ijuin’s ceramics [$220-$585],” offers Standefer. “The designs aren’t too serious, but the technique is amazing and they are usable. That makes for something awesome.”

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