Riggs Washington DC: The Reinvention of an Icon

Nestled in the heart of the U.S. capital, the Riggs Washington DC hotel offers an extraordinary experience into the famous town.

Washington D.C. is an old city by North American standards. Its heart beats around the connective tissue of government and history. Famous works of art, like the Washington monument and towering Lincoln memorial, serve as a reminder to D.C.’s deep connection with its past.  

While it may be old, D.C.’s thing is that it’s a government town, and those tend to lack a variety of fun. However, in recent years, D.C. has rigidly moved towards modernity and not just by adding craft breweries and fusion taco restaurants. Leading the charge is Riggs Washington DC, the design-focused hotel that embodies the history of America’s capital.

Riggs Washington DC - LYFSTYL - Jennifer Hughes

Built-in 1891, Riggs National Bank was once billed “the most important bank in the most important city in the world.” Throughout its history, the bank ran the personal accounts of many of the men represented in bronze statues and marble monuments across the city. Men like Presidents Lincoln and Nixon, as well as Generals-turned-Presidents Grant and Eisenhower, are just some of the fabled names that once frequented here. 

“It’s the building’s history as Riggs National Bank that’s most important,” says Jacu Strauss, architect and creative director of Lore Group, the team behind the redesign of the hotel. “The name Riggs alone resonates broadly in the city, and Riggs National Bank is still remembered for its role as the “Bank of Presidents” during the golden age of banking.”

Riggs Washington DC - LYFSTYL - Jennifer Hughes

While the Riggs Bank died fifteen years ago, the building, which is over a century old and ensconced in the middle of D.C.’s Penn Quarter neighbourhood, the now-converted hotel offers a historical rundown of America – both the light and dark sides. The Richardsonian Romanesque architecture dazzles with its grand proportions, classical details and imposing presence opposite the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. “We were able to give it the love and care it needed to come back to life,” adds Jacu Strauss. “It was important to us as much as it was obvious to us that the building was special not just for its beautiful bones but also for its heritage.”

An inherent problem with restoration projects is the unlikeliness or inability to fully revitalize the property to its original splendour. “We uncovered elements that were challenging, but some were pleasant, like the discovery of the original vault in the basement, which is now a trophy cabinet room in the bar Silver Lyan,” says Strauss. Finding the midpoint between restoration and contemporary design was a creative juggling act that can be seen across the hotel – from the suites and rooms to the reception counter, which has been repurposed from the bank teller counter from decades ago. 

Riggs Washington DC - LYFSTYL - Jennifer Hughes - Lobby

A total of fifteen suites are available along with four ‘First Lady’ suites modelled after a select few of America’s more creative and unknown balls and chains. Ida McKinley’s love of nature and Caroline Harrison’s porcelain collection, to name a few. The ‘First Lady’ suites are entirely distinct and personally designed by Jacu Strauss to reflect the uniqueness of four forgotten first ladies. The rest of the rooms are bathed in the same style of Baroque-era paintings and are covered in bold hues of blue, orange, and opal. Immersing the guest in the same manner, the building was initially constructed at the turn of the century. 

It’s easy to forget how arduous bureaucracy is when viewing a place like Riggs Washington DC, but keep in mind that up until 2016, the year the city amended the zoning laws that deal with the utilization of rooftop space, it’s challenging to find a rooftop patio at all, let alone a stunning one. Now, new developers can access thousands of square footage that were previously left alone to further bring out new vistas and ideas inspired by D.C. and the surrounding areas.

Featuring an impressive rooftop that covers 2,500-square-foot event space that opens to a large outdoor terrace, both of which offer D.C. views that have never really been enjoyed by the public before in the building’s 130-year history. 

Riggs Washington DC - LYFSTYL - Jennifer Hughes - Bar

What architect Jacu Strauss finds unique about his creation is the nostalgic features that summarize the long and detailed history of the city his hotel stands in. “We wanted to bring back nostalgia where possible, as much of it was lost or hidden over the years, and celebrate the grandeur that was put on display, and with some secret details here and there,” he says. “We also wanted to do this without creating a museum or doing something too gimmicky.”

If the spirit and uniqueness of D.C. can be captured in a single space, Riggs Washington DC offers a shot at the title. Through its vibrant palate design in the suites, the homage to shamelessly forgotten first stylish first ladies and a design approach honed in on D.C.’s historical convention, Riggs Washington DC gives the guest a complete look into what a city can represent.

Words by Sam Farrell.