Dublin boutique hotel gets a jazz-age twist from Chicago billionaire

Richard Driehaus, a US fund manager with a love of antiques, has overseen work at the art deco-themed Number 31 hotel

It is not often that an American billionaire has a hands-on approach when it comes to the interior design of a small Dublin hotel, especially when there is almost 6,000km between his office and the property in question.

Number 31 is a boutique hotel and combination of two distinct buildings; a newly restored classical Georgian townhouse on Fitzwilliam Place, and a modernist coach-house located on Leeson Close, connected by a courtyard garden.

The two properties are owned by Richard Driehaus, a fund manager and philanthropist with a love of classical architecture and antiques. In his home town of Chicago he has founded the Richard H Driehaus Museum of Decorative Arts in the Nickerson Mansion – a Gilded Age palazzo that is often referred to as the most expensive residence ever built in Chicago.

He established the Richard Driehaus Prize for Classical Architecture in 2003; an international award to honour a living architect for a major contribution in the field of contemporary vernacular and classical architecture.


The $200,000 (€185,000) award, conceived as an alternative to the more modernist Pritzker Prize, has been won by Spanish architect Rafael Manzano Martos for his extension to the Museo del Prado in Madrid, and Egyptian architect Abdel-Wahed El-Wakil for the new Quba Mosque in Medina, Saudi Arabia.

The museum, which opened in 2008 is home to designs from the art nouveau era including a number of works by Louis Comfort Tiffany – the American artist and designer most associated with the art nouveau and aesthetic movements – and the first design director at his family company Tiffany & Co, but when it came to furnishing his Dublin project, the emphasis moved to the later Art Deco period.

Georgian guesthouse

Number 31 is Driehaus’s second establishment in Dublin. He also owns Staunton’s on the Green, the Georgian guesthouse overlooking St Stephen’s Green.

Dublin-based interior designer Nigel Howard, who also created the interiors of Staunton's on the Green, was tasked with the interiors of Number 31.

Howard was introduced to Driehaus by Ray Byrne of Wineport Lodge in Athlone, whose company Nhance Management manages both Driehaus properties in Ireland.

As part of an overall project to revive Number 31, the Sam Stephenson-designed mews dating from the 1960s (which is part of the hotel and connects with the Georgian building via a courtyard) was given a “modern Irish design with an eclectic twist” in 2014, and just over a year ago, Howard was given the brief to transform the Georgian townhouse.

Howard describes Driehaus “as an absolute gentleman with a very keen eye for design, who loves to be involved and comes alive when talking about interiors”.

The brief they settled on was that of a jazz theme: “Jazz is quite a broad term as it crosses many decades, but given Richard’s preference for the 1930s we latched on to that” says Howard.

When it came to sourcing furniture, Howard took Driehaus to Francis Street and paid a visit to Niall Mullen, the antiques dealer who specialises in art deco pieces.

At the first visit to Mullen’s shop, art deco items were purchased for the refurbishment, and Mullen was asked to source further original pieces – some from his own stock in storage – and more items from colleagues.

These included a heavily varnished walnut desk and a great collection of interesting dressing tables and occasional furniture. “It was a great time for me as January is a lean enough time, but the launch of the new part of the hotel was short-lived due to the onset of the Covid-19 outbreak,” recalls Mullen.

Howard, along with fellow designer Michele Kennedy, sourced additional pieces at the mid-century modern sale at Adam's on St Stephen's Green last November where they "found some really good crossover furniture" in the form of drinks trolleys, tables and lockers.

While not of the exact period, they work really well together, showing that good design can cross all eras to give a truly unique result.

As large quantities of art deco furniture are not always readily available, some reproduction items were purchased from UK store Boogaloo Boutique, to finish the property.

One of the challenges faced in the restoration of the building – which needed a new room and some walls to be rebuilt – was the distance between the client and the property .

“The time differential was nothing, as I have worked with Richard on other projects, but the difficulty in showing colours and finishes through digital communication can be challenging, as it is never the same as seeing them in the flesh.” recalls Howard.

Samples across the ocean

That said, Driehaus was a frequent visitor to Dublin over the course of the past nine months (he was due to arrive on March 13th but that trip was cancelled due to the Covid-19 outbreak) and Howard sent many samples across the ocean to keep Driehaus up to speed on all aspects of the project.

Flooring was custom-designed by Couristan Carpets: “We went for a very 1930s shell design and I think it really works. It doesn’t have a huge amount of pattern, and we just love the muted subtle colours.”

The shell motif is further echoed in the headboards, and in wallpapers, some of which were sourced through Osborne &Little.

An interesting addition to the refurbishment and what Howard terms “one seamless image between the corridor and landings” is a vast artwork created from panels that once hung at the Ziegfeld Theatre in New York.

Designed by Joseph Urban, one of the originators of the American art deco style – most of whose architectural work has since been demolished – the panels were purchased by Driehaus at auction, and have been pieced together to create an artwork measuring 32sq m.

“A lot of effort went into choosing paint colours. We created huge sheets of paint samples and moved them around the rooms so Richard could get a better feel. You really can’t tell from a small sample how light will affect a paint colour in different parts of a room” says Howard about the choices of mustard, sage, ruby and saxe blue. “We wanted to use the colours from the jazz period, but didn’t want them to look dowdy, so we went for more contemporary tones of old colours.”

When the building was being re-wired and floorboards had to be lifted, Howard recalls a sense of doubt: “At that stage everything was very raw, and you wonder not only will it ever be finished, but also you feel a little anxious as to how the whole project will turn out. We were keen to restore the original features, and at times it felt like a contradiction to put an art deco spin on a Georgian building. When you see things in isolation – like the dark green, almost black skirting and banisters – you wonder will it really work. But you have to believe in your design.”

“Richard is very happy with the result. For me, though, it’s a little like giving birth. You spend nine months thinking of nothing else. You get a feel for every nook and cranny and know what will fit where and work best. It’s like you’ve reared the child and then bang – all of a sudden you have to let it go.”

The new wing of the hotel was opened briefly at the beginning of February, and will open again when the current health crisis has passed.

number31.ie, nigelhowardcreative.com, niallmullenantiques.com, nhance.ie, driehausmuseum.org