Graduate Iowa City

Jennifer Young • Photography by Christian Horan Photography • September 27, 2018

Owner, operator, and design firm: AJ Capital Partners, Chicago

The details: Guests enter a charming literary imaginarium at Graduate Hotels’ latest in Iowa City, home to the University of Iowa and the school’s esteemed Writers’ Workshop program. Andrew Alford, chief creative officer at Chicago-based AJ Capital Partners, which owns and operates the university-focused brand, transformed a former Sheraton into the nine-story hotel located on the Ped Mall, a popular hangout for students and locals alike. Iowa City is rich in literary history, says Alford, “but the people and places there also have a strong sense of humor.” A black and yellow plaid façade captures this playfulness while nodding to the university’s colors. The rest of the hotel channels the writing program, designed “as if you were entering the home of an author who collected pieces while traveling the world.” In the 231 guestrooms, colorful plaids and vintage furnishings complement various pieces of art, including a pop art portrait of author Kurt Vonnegut, who taught at the Workshop from 1965 to 1967, and an image of baseball players in an Iowa cornfield—referring to W.P. Kinsella’s book Shoeless Joe, which he wrote while attending the program. The writing theme fully comes to life in the rustic lobby, with walls covered in a novella by Timothy Taranto, while Poindexter Coffee welcomes patrons with a dramatic wall installation made from 180,000 new and used No. 2 Ticonderoga pencils. Gene’s restaurant, named after alum Gene Wilder, also sparks conversation with large garage doors that open to the mall, “letting all of the downtown energy spill out of and into the space,” says Alford.

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