An arts hotel expresses the curated story of a city’s makers. It weaves together a tapestry of fine art, sculpture and performance into a one-of-a-kind destination for travelers from around the world. When the opportunity came to tell the story of Milwaukee, WI, USA, luxury hotel developer Marcus Hotels & Resorts partnered with talented local artists, renowned interior design firm Stonehill Taylor and the industry-leading minds at Kohler to create Saint Kate—The Arts Hotel. This world-class boutique hotel honors the Milwaukee of today, with a nod to its past and a toast to the future of Wisconsin—all in spectacularly unique fashion.
A cast bronze horse sculpture titled “Big Piney” by Deborah Butterfield greets hotel guests and gallery visitors in the reception area.
Five of the hotel’s guest rooms are designed entirely by local artists, like the Leopard Room by Lon Michaels.
Art is everywhere in Milwaukee. From museums to performance spaces, street installations to independent galleries, it’s nearly impossible to avoid creativity and design inspiration in this cosmopolitan city of 600,000 people.
While there have always been a handful of boutique hotels scattered throughout the city’s Historic Third Ward, East Town and Yankee Hill neighborhoods, a true arts hotel—one that celebrates the cultural impact of creators and makers in Wisconsin’s largest city—has long eluded this spirited community. That changed when Marcus Hotels & Resorts built Saint Kate.
Billed as “an independent hotel and venue focused on celebrating the arts and the creative process,” Saint Kate is Milwaukee’s first authentic arts hotel. The name Saint Kate gives nod to Saint Catherine, the patron saint of artists and the original champion of the creative process. But the boutique hotel spins the concept around and walks firmly in a bold, modern, new direction. This same creative process and direction is what drives the design team at Kohler.
The similarity in core values is just one of the reasons that a wide range of KOHLER® products—including sinks, tile, toilets, faucets and shower bases— were specified for nearly all spaces in the hotel. But to truly understand the impact of KOHLER on the final design of the hotel, it’s important to understand the true purpose of Saint Kate.
Saint Kate stands perfectly in concert with Milwaukee's rich cultural identity and arts community. In order to surround guests with artistic endeavors at every touchpoint—not just in gallery spaces—Marcus Hotels and Stonehill Taylor developed accommodations and guest spaces that tell the story of Milwaukee’s arts district and scene.
The finished space features an ever-changing curated spread of contemporary art scattered throughout the multiple floors and guest rooms designed to reflect the arts. Four permanent galleries house a vast collection of work from local and regional artists.
The design team combined rich materials with elegant finishes in the hotel’s reception lobby to accentuate world-class contemporary artist installations, standing exhibitions and live performances. The lobby includes a life-sized cast bronze Deborah Butterfield horse sculpture titled “Big Piney,” a large lithograph by renowned figurative painter Alex Katz, a custom undulating reception desk, painted millwork to mimic a gallery space and a sinuous, double-backed sofa and comfy accent chairs for guests and gallery-goers to take it all in.
The guestrooms at Saint Kate are a nod to the artist’s mind at work, highlighted by a carpet that looks as though it’s covered in sheets of paper—scraps and drafts thrown to the side. Wallcovering used throughout the room is a tonal moiré pattern while a charcoal wallcovering accent drives the eyes to behind the tufted headboard. Butcher block desks with butcher’s paper in each room reference local art student’s drafting tables, inviting each guest to sketch and create at will. And ukuleles are available in each room for more musically inclined guests.
The arts-focused theme extends into the bathrooms, which feature a full specification of KOHLER® products, including Matte Black faucets, shower heads, hand showers and accessories, as well as the true design star of the bathroom—KOHLER® Artist Editions® sinks.
Sinks from the Artist Editions line are small-batch custom products that feature distinct, custom looks, but they’re all produced at Kohler to the same precise specifications using an existing KOHLER sink shape. Kohler has introduced a new production capability through its Artist Editions team—the ability to mass-produce custom products at small scales. It’s truly unique among kitchen and bath manufacturers and reduces the cost for small-scale projects.
Moreover, partnering with Kohler on custom sinks and distinctive design details like the Matte Black finish offers hospitality developers and designers a means to differentiate their projects, adding a one-of-a-kind distinction and sense of artisan style.
At Saint Kate, two Artist Editions sink designs grace the guest bathrooms. The first features a ribbon flourish design, inspired by Linda Marcus of Marcus Hotels and created by Kohler industrial designer Dana Morales. The second features an intricate floral design created in a one-of-a-kind collaboration between Kohler, Saint Kate, Stonehill Taylor and Milwaukee-based visual artist Daniel Chung.
“From an art and design perspective, the Saint Kate offered something authentic and real— something that I have always tried to capture in my artwork,” says Chung, whose work often explores the interplay between the cultures of America and his native Korea.
Stonehill Taylor worked with the Kohler design team to select a sink with an organic feel. Chung then refined and narrowed down a design theme that focuses on the disconnect between the natural world and the built world/architecture.
“We crave connection to the natural world even though we divide ourselves from it,” explains Chung. “In a hospitality setting built for rest and relaxation—an area where you shut yourself off from the world—it’s important to bring nature into the experience.”
To bridge the gap between nature and architecture, he created an organic design that complemented the curvature of the sink and played off of the oval shape. As water cascades out of the KOHLER faucet, it flows down the front of the bowl and into the drain, following the overlay and creating a sense of balance and calmness.
“The design throws you off at first, because it is unexpected,” said Chung. “But once you realize the design is purposeful, including how the florals gracefully wrap around the lip of the bowl, the bridge has been crossed between the natural and built worlds.”
The interior design team and developers loved Chung’s design so much that it was eventually incorporated into key branding elements—including disposable coffee cups and access cards.
The Bar at Saint Kate (above, left) uses handmade tile from the ANN SACKS Crackle Collection by KOHLER WasteLAB, an innovative recycled product that transforms industrial waste into an attractive, responsive tile body..
Art and creativity comprise the backbone of Saint Kate, which features several permanent installations, like “The Space” by Lon Michels (above, right).
Back on the ground floor, the Bar at Saint Kate, located just off the lobby, serves as the focal point and primary gathering area for guests, artists and performers alike. Stonehill Taylor took care to design a space that also attracts pedestrians in downtown Milwaukee by strategically placing the Bar and surrounding seating in a central location in the direct line of sight of the floor-to-ceiling windows facing the street.
One of the design highlights of the Bar is the use of handmade tile from the ANN SACKS® Crackle Collection by KOHLER WasteLAB™. This innovative product employs Kohler’s recycled dry cull as its medium, transforming industrial waste into a responsive tile body. After the clay is pressed, WasteLAB artisans hand-cut each tile, remove excess and apply an interactive glaze. The result is delicate crackle that carries across the tile face when fired, producing a rich palette that resonates in deep color.
This unique collection is part of a series of recycling initiatives spun from the KOHLER WasteLAB, which aims to rethink and repurpose waste streams—like dust, powder and other scraps bound for landfills—into beautiful, thoughtful products. The WasteLAB is just one of several success stories to come out of Kohler’s Innovation for Good® (IfG) program.
Since 2011, IfG has broughts together associates from functions across the company and around the world to develop solutions to real-world problems that can be scaled globally. It nurtures the type of solutions-based thinking that that gives rise to projects like the WasteLAB, which can turn waste and by-products from the company’s existing manufacturing practices into new products.
“The response to both the product and our recycling program has been really strong,” says Theresa Millard, Project Manager for Sustainability and Kohler Stewardship. “Many designers and specifiers who are looking for sustainable, green materials are also looking for beautiful, inspired design. With Crackle, you have an authentic sustainability story that shows a real commitment to solving ongoing waste and upcycling challenges.”
Tory Knoph, Senior Interior Designer at Stonehill Taylor, was one of those specifiers looking for a unique story and an intricate design aesthetic. “While in the early stages of the Saint Kate project we toured Kohler and spent time in the WasteLAB,” she explained. “We were immediately attracted to the story behind The Crackle Collection and wanted to capture the product as an art feature. The fact that they were making each tile by hand, and no two were the same, fit the design narrative for the Saint Kate project perfectly.”
These tiles now grace the lobby bar in the hotel, providing a gorgeous backdrop to live musical performances, intimate dinners with loved ones and drinks shared amongst colleagues.
_____Tory Knoph, Senior Interior Designer at Stonehill Taylor
As the country’s first visual and performing arts hotel, Saint Kate needed to be more than just a beautiful hotel. It needed to serve as an authentic experience at every touchpoint, right down to the KOHLER Artist Editions’ custom bathroom sinks in every guestroom and industry-first KOHLER WasteLAB tile in the lobby bar. The result is testament to the power of materials and innovative hospitality design.
The following is a sample of Kohler products used in the Saint Kate Arts Hotel:
Veil™ Vessel bathroom sink
Pop-up clicker drain
Premier pop-up drain, exposed, with overflow
Standard pop-up drain, non-exposed, with lift rod
Awaken® G110 Geometric 2.0 gpm multifunction handshower
72" ribbon hose
60" metal shower hose
60" ribbon hose
72" metal shower hose