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A Design-Forward Hotel Finds a Home in Somerville

The Boston Globe - May 19, 2022

Cambria Hotel Somerville Boston Globe CambridgeSeven

In photographs, the exterior of the new Cambria Somerville Boston hotel looks horrifically out of place. It’s as if a giant accordion squeezed and wheezed its way up Somerville Ave. and settled in an empty lot adjacent to a mix of traditional retail and residential buildings near the Cambridge-Somerville line.

The Cambria boldly stands out, and its faceted, geometric, and crenelated exterior may not be everybody’s cup of cola. But photographs can be deceiving, and in person, the hotel, which is clad in deep red and terracotta Japanese cement boards, looks innovative rather than out-of-place. While pictures portray it as a Cubist accordion, up close, it’s well-suited
to the energy of the street. It’s more organic than awkward. You’ll need to take my word on this, and then see it with your own eyes the next time you’re in the neighborhood. “I think because Somerville is such a creative community, they really embraced the idea,” said Jan Brenner, associate principal architect at CambridgeSeven, the firm responsible for the design. “They wanted something unique and interesting architecturally instead of a cookie-cutter type hotel.”

Brenner said the idea for the angular facade was born of both necessity and inspiration. If the hotel had been designed with a flat exterior, the 100,000-plus square foot building would have looked like a big, bland box. He said the area’s bay windows inspired the sharp angles of the building. CambridgeSeven is the architectural firm behind the other local hotels such as Four Seasons One Dalton, the Liberty Hotel, and the Williams Inn at Williams College.

The Cambria slowly opened its doors last month with just four rooms and has gradually received guests floor-by-floor as more furnishings arrive. There are now 100 rooms in use. COVID-19-related shipping delays meant months of false starts, with fittings and decor slow to arrive and shipping costs escalating. According to Jordan Warshaw, developer of
the Cambria Boston Somerville and founder of the Noannet Group, the final price tag for the hotel is roughly $70 million. When all spaces are complete, the hotel will have 163 guest rooms with nightly rates hovering in the upper $200 range, based on seasonality and demand. Guest rooms average a spacious 375-square-feet, while a 960-foot rooftop suite, with views of Cambridge, Somerville, and Boston, has a private terrace.

The Cambria will also have a restaurant on the ground level with a large outdoor patio, but Warshaw is tight-lipped on details, except for hinting that a respected local chef will helm it, and the cuisine will be “accessible, everyday kind of food.” He anticipates the restaurant will open in the fall. Currently, there is no formal bar, but a bartender is on hand to serve drinks to guests in the lobby from 5 to 10 p.m. The scene was surprisingly lively on a recent Monday night, with 20- and 30-somethings gathered in small groups throughout the space.

“The lobby is designed to be the kind of place where you could imagine professors, students, and creatives hanging out and catching up, or just scrolling on their devices,” Warshaw said. “When our restaurant opens, we’ve got a giant 20-foot opening between the restaurant and the lobby, so that you’ll have the energy of the restaurant spilling into the lobby. The scene at the Ace Hotel is the best way to describe it. It’s just a place where you can go and feel comfortable if you’re 22, 62, or 82. It’ll have a very neighborhood feel, not a corporate hotel lobby feel.”

There is a Cambria hotel in South Boston (the Cambria Hotel Boston, Downtown-South Boston) but the property was developed and is managed separately. The only thing the two hotels have in common is that they’re both part of the same franchise. There are roughly 130 Cambria properties either open or in the works across the country. Warshaw, who is also the developer behind the 35-story Raffles Boston Back Bay Hotel & Residences, is partnering with his Raffles cohort, hotelier Gary Saunders, on the new venture. The Saunders Hotel Group manages the Somerville Cambria. Despite the partnership, don’t expect the Cambria to go over-the-top like Raffles. Jordan said one of his goals in creating the hotel was making sure that it felt like part of the neighborhood. To do that, he turned to designer Bill Rooney of Bill Rooney Studio.

The New York-based Rooney, who has designed interiors for properties such as the Charles Hotel, the Liberty, and the Four Seasons One Dalton, added very subtle nods to Somerville’s industrial past. Look carefully at the wallpaper in the guest rooms and you’ll see rivets create the windowpane check pattern. The navy blue wallpaper and navy wainscotting, a refreshing change from the overwhelming number of neutral hotel rooms in Boston, are a nod to colleges in the area. At least it brings to mind colleges without putting the spotlight on any one school.

“The region is so rich in history. It almost has its own vocabulary, and that’s something that I really love tying into,” Rooney said. “But I’m not here to create a period piece. What we’d like to do is to create something that juxtaposes the history and the youthful energy of the area. It’s got that loose light industrial connection, but it’s also very tailored. I really wanted the end result to feel fun and playful.”

Next on the Cambria to-do list is the launch of a game room, exact games to be announced. But Warshaw sees it as another way to incorporate the unique looking hotel into the neighborhood.

“I refuse to do anything that feels cookie cutter or corporate or anything like that,” Warshaw said. “So from residential buildings to hotels, I want them to be unique. I want them to have a boutique feel. I want them to be something that doesn’t feel like any place you’ve ever been, and I think that is definitely true for the Cambria.”

 

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