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SOPHY Hyde Park: Art Connection

Guestroom felt mural featuring original art work by artist Joey Korom and executed by Lianne Manné – photo by Paul Clemence

By Paul Clemence

Art in hotels is now as ubiquitous a hospitality design trend as aromatherapy and impossibly high thread count bedding. Not that that there is anything wrong with that, but often times the art feels slightly stale, aiming more to just impress (or “insta-press”) than actually being a meaningful curatorial selection or placement. For the team developing Chicago’s SOPHY Hyde Park hotel, fortunately, it was a case of the latter, the art element approached not just as cool décor but also a means to connect with the local community and both the neighborhood and the city’s history.

Commissioned piece by artist Anna Kunz for front desk area – photo by Paul Clemence

“From the outset we wanted the design of the hotel to reflect the eclecticism of Hyde Park’s history, manifested in a richness and layering of design elements that invited curiosity and intellectual engagement,” said Mike Zimmerman, Vice President of Development for The Olympia Companies, developers of the property.” We wanted the hotel to feel embedded into the fabric of the place.”

The hotel’s Mesler restaurant features artwork by both Hyde Park Academy High School students and local established artists hung alongside each other, salon style. – photo by Paul Clemence

That was the guiding principle from the design phase to even the very start of the hotel’s construction. Seeing the construction site fences as an opportunity to engage with the community, students at the Hyde Park Academy High School were invited to submit artwork to be posted on the fences, turning the usually unwelcoming utilitarian barriers into a creative, opening gesture towards the community. The response they got was so positive that later it was decided to bring those pieces inside and now digital reproductions of those student’s art grace the walls of Mesler, the hotel restaurant, alongside work by professional artists.

Painting by artist Lewis Achenbach, executed through the ‘Jazz Occurrence’ process, capturing the sound vibrations of musicians Douglas R. Ewart and Coco Elysses while they played live alongside the artist painting. – photo by Paul Clemence

As the interior design evolved, the team connected with Chicago Art Sources for assistance with both selection of local artists and production of chosen pieces. The collaboration resulted in an inspired art program that is cool, sophisticated but also an earnest reflection of the melting pot character of the area.

“This couldn’t be just an interior design exercise – it had to be a curation exercise. We needed to curate an art collection with a foundation in Hyde Park and Chicago,” explained Zimmerman.

Art work by multidisciplinary artist Sam Kirk, whose work explores themes of culture and identity politics. – photo by Paul Clemence

That curatorial effort was led by Karen Maki, art consultant at Chicago Art Sources. Speaking of the art selection, process, Maki had this to say: “Our team sought to curate artists’ works that visually celebrated the rich history of the unique neighborhood that is Hyde Park, with a nod to the historical references of important events and people. It was important that the art program embodied the crafts and passions of art, science, literature, and music that are the inspiration of today’s Hyde Park.”

Highlighting the local outreach, Maki mentions the collaborative partnerships with both Hyde Park Art Center and The Museum of Science & Industry in developing a wholly localized art program. “In selecting the artists, our focus was to hone in on the established artist of the community”.

Even at the guest bathrooms art can be found; seen here “Picnic”, piece by artist Pamela Staker, whose work mixes inspiration from by urban symbols, geometry, figurativism and Nature – photo courtesy of SOPHY Hyde Park.

Altogether, around 150 original art pieces hung throughout the property, in a variety of styles and mediums.  From the elevators interiors and hallways to the guestrooms and even the bathrooms, art is literally everywhere, and always placed with a purpose.

SOPHY Hyde Park’s main lobby, with site specific chandelier inspired by jazz theme, designed by Stonehill Taylor team – photo courtesy of SOPHY Hyde Park.

“In the bedrooms, we wanted something to lighten up the scheme while giving it a contemporary air,” said Zimmerman. He went on to explain how one of the themes being put forth was to see “the hand of the maker” whenever possible. When creating original painted murals to for each room became pragmatically unfeasible, they enlisted the Liora Manné workshop to create 8 foot tall felt-based versions of the colorful abstractions by artist Joey Korom. The textured material gives the art a layered, and one could even say, a certain cozy softness.

Art and Design combine to express Hyde Park’s rich cultural history- photo by Paul Clemence

Navigating, or maybe more accurately “floating”, that fine line between art and design, is a dynamic chandelier hovering over the entrance lobby. Designed by the team at Stonehill Taylor, interior designers of the project, and weighing over 1,000 pounds, the piece is inspired by jazz’s improvisational quality, its twisted, entangled metallic structure suggesting musical rhythms and stylish freedom.

“Black men are fragile”, by Jennifer Hodges, part of SOPHY’s  “Artist Feature” initiative -photo by Paul Clemence

More recently, SOPHY started a new initiative called “Artist Feature” where, quarterly, a piece by a local artist is highlighted at the main lobby alongside a sign with info on the artist and QR code link to where the work can be bought directly from the artist.  The initiative further attests to the hotel’s commitment to the local art community and brings the art program full circle from outreach to established quality of the property’s character.


Paul Clemence is an award-winning photographer and writer exploring the cross-section of design, art and architecture. A published author, his volume Mies van der Rohe’s FARNSWORTH HOUSE remains to this day the most complete photo documentation of that iconic modern residential design, and a selection of these photos is part of the Mies van der Rohe Archives housed by MoMa, New York. He is widely published in arts, architecture and lifestyle magazines like Metropolis, ArchDaily, Architizer, Modern, Casa Vogue Brasil and others. Archi-Photo, aka Architecture Photography, his Facebook photo blog quickly became a photography and architecture community, with over 970,000 followers worldwide. An architect by training, Clemence is originally from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and now lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.

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