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Ness redesigns Kemmerer Hotel

Posted: Thursday, Oct 14th, 2010


Interior Designer Tyson Ness, a former Diamondville resident, explains his redesign of the old Kemmerer Hotel, a project he created as part of his graduate studies. His award-winning project will be on display at the 15th Street Gallery in Salt Lake City on Oct. 22. The hotel is pictured on screen, circa 1912. GAZETTE PHOTO/ Kay Murphy Fatheree


Just a few weeks ago, one of our community’s own sons graduated from The Art Institute in Salt Lake City, Utah with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Interior Design.

Tyson Ness, the somewhat “nerdy” teenager, a champion swimmer at Kemmerer High School, a band geek and history buff, who was ranked fourth in his graduating class of 2004, is all grown up, spending the majority of his time on dry land and is now earning a name for himself and making a living in the field of interior design.

“For the past couple of months I’ve been working on my graduate project which was a ‘re-imagination’ of the Kemmerer Hotel and what could’ve been done with it,” Ness said in a recent interview. “I put together a whole redesign of the old hotel to give an insight on how it could’ve been saved from the demolition in 2003.”

Ness’s project won second place in a national interior design competition in Idaho this past weekend, and the same project will be on display at the 15th Street Gallery in Salt Lake City, Utah on the evening of October 22 along with other artwork from various artists.

“Mine will be the only interior design project and I will be the first and only graduate from the interior design program from The Art Institute to be featured at this gallery,” Ness said. Although the Kemmerer Hotel project will be displayed in full detail, all of Ness’s portfolio, including various design projects, will be on display as well, which includes another hotel design, a restaurant and “various residential work.”

Following the exhibit, the project will be on display at The Art Institute for some time.

Why the Kemmerer Hotel?

With his love of local history, old buildings and his interest in restoration and preservation of old, historic buildings, namely the Kemmerer Hotel, and with his flair for interior design, he didn’t have to tarry long in finding an idea for his graduate project.

“It could encompass anything that you wanted,” Ness said. “I wanted to do a project to show what could have been done and what could possibly BE done with the hotel if it was rebuilt. I didn’t want to do just a preservation or restoration of it. There is a growing movement in interior design and architecture of pseudo historic restoration. It does those things, but it updates it. You take it back to a certain time, back to 1898 when it was first built, or, for instance after the remodel in the 1960s. You can mix contemporary (aspects), but it still retains that aspect of being a historic building. “

In this case, Ness chose to redesign the hotel from the period just after it was built, just before the turn of the century, during the American Victorian era, which was roughly, from the 1880’s through about 1910, but update it for it’s possible patrons, with a modern technological flair.

With all that in mind, Ness chose the “steampunk” style.

“Steampunk is typically used to describe a writing style, a type of fiction, coined in the 1980s.” Ness said. “It is becoming very popular in TV shows, writing and movies. It is becoming a big movement and it is gonna get even bigger.”

Steampunk designers incorporate a decorating style from a certain era, in this case, the Victorian era, but use the technology of today with our modern conveniences and necessities.

Examples of the “steampunk” style in which your average moviegoer might relate to are the movies Stardust, The Golden Compass, and the new Sherlock Holmes movie.

For the more mature TV viewer, the old Wild, Wild West series, and for the younger movie buff, the newer movie version of the same show starring Will Smith, are both set in a steampunk style.

A brief history of the hotel

“When I was a kid I always had this weird fascination with the history of Kemmerer,” Ness said. “I’m a weird 24-year-old because I love history and I love Kemmerer’s history. It’s really more interesting than other small towns in Wyoming; especially the buildings and especially the Kemmerer Hotel.”

“It (The Kemmerer Hotel) was the biggest hotel in Wyoming for a couple of years right after it was built in 1898,” Ness said. “It was being built before Kemmerer was even a town. It was one of the most luxurious hotels in the West. It was part of the historic register of Wyoming.”

“Kemmerer is a town that started because of the industrial revolution,” Ness writes in his project description.

“Coal mining in the area existed in order to provide coal to the various plants and trains that powered the rest of the country. The Kemmerer Hotel was built . . . as one of the first permanent structures in a town with newfound wealth. Throughout the years the hotel changed owners, went through renovations and had additions.”

Near the turn of this century, the building was deemed structurally unsound. There were attempts to save and restore the building, but it was eventually torn down in 2003.

“Drawing on the roots of the town and my interest in historical renovations my goal was to put together an idea showing how the hotel could’ve been rescued from its unceremonious demolition. While most steampunk design is blatant and cartoon-like, I’m striving to end with an elegant, modern solution that also fits with the period, history and the geographical location,” Ness said.

Ness barely remembers the drug store, which occupied the lower floor and former lobby of the hotel when he was a small boy.

However, he did take the “opportunity” to investigate the inside of the building before it was torn down. “I discovered it had a sky light going up through all three floors.” That visit to the hotel was to remain in his memory and he incorporated the sky light into his redesign.

Redesign of the first floor

Ness drew inspiration from the “turn of the century industrial and mining machinery and 20s style and design.”

While researching the history of the hotel, Ness discovered several photos of the hotel’s exterior through the years, but there are no known photographs of the hotel’s interior, at least not that he could find. Ness had to rely on the exterior’s photos and written accounts of the hotel’s interior in relation to where the lobby was, the café, the barber shop, and the later accounts of the addition of a Rose Tea Room along with his memory of his “visit” to the building many years ago, and largely relied on his own imagination of what the interior must have looked like, but what an imagination it is!

The hotel’s first floor

Ness’s redesign was done in a steampunk style “that is reminiscent of Victorian Curiosities.”

The first floor has “five major elements or spaces: Phonography Parlor, The Butterfly Lounge and party area, The Cage, The Lobby and the new bar, ‘Chemic,’” Ness writes.

“The Phonography Parlor is the business lounge of the hotel, based on the turn-of-the-century interest in telephones and phonographs; this new room is a perfect example of incorporating ‘true’ steampunk style and aesthetic with our modern technology and necessities.”

Ness designed a computer station for personal laptop use, but the computer desk is designed to look like a very long roll-top desk to accommodate several laptop users at the same time.

There is a TV viewing area with “speakers concealed within old phonograph horns that wrap the ceiling.”

“The Butterfly Lounge is based upon both entomology and the spiritual revival of the Victorian era,” Ness writes.

The upper floors

The second and third floors consist of guest rooms and a lounge for patron usage only. The guest rooms/suites are divided into four different priced categories: The Bachelor, The Middle Class, The First Rate and The First Class with each increasing in price, elegance, and accommodations.

Each floor has a different themed design.

The second floor’s theme is “photography, with each of the rooms carrying a ‘painted’ photograph theme, and the lounge, The Photographie Studio, being based on a dark room,” Ness said.

“The third floor is themed on the curiosity cabinets of the (Victorian) era with the rooms being segmented into themes of terrestrial (earth), oceanic (aquatic), botany (plants) and entomology (insects) with the lounge based on the supernatural and mythical creatures that the Victorians believed existed (including mermaids, fairies, sea monsters and prehistoric/mythical creatures).”

“The Victorian Era is the first era . . . whereby people could afford to travel, they could afford nicer things,” Ness said. He explained that prior to the industrial revolution only the wealthy could travel. Curio cabinets were predominant then because people would bring back souvenirs and mementos from their travels. These curios were their “treasures” Ness said, and they were proudly displayed in their homes, thus the reason for the “Victorian Curiosities” on the third floor of the hotel.

The “cage”

The grand staircase, placed in the center of the hotel, was designed to look like an antique birdcage.

“The cage is a reincorporation of a grand staircase and the original skylight opening that the hotel once sported. This is the main circulation of the space and is based on a bird’s cage, with the bars extending from the first floor to the top of the third, where it is topped by a brass and glass dome to help naturally illuminate the interior. In the middle of the cage is a chandelier installation with 13-inch television sets, encased in brass and oak (as the Victorians would have most likely done, had they had television) and ‘Edison’ style bulbs.”

As people ascend the staircase, the image of a bluebird “flies” from one TV screen to the next, with the “bird” visible from the lobby as well.

What’s next for Ness?

Ness visits the area often as all of his family lives here. His parents, Tom and Jenny Ness live in Diamondville, and his sister, Amber is now living at home having just graduated from the University of Wyoming with a Bachelor of Science degree. Ness’s brother, Josh is attending Weber State University.

Ness’s grandparents are also local; Tom and Carol Ness live in Kemmerer and his grandmother, Jean Annala resides in Oakley. His late grandfather is Carl Annala.

Ness is working for a granite and marble fabricator in Salt Lake, and does interior design work on a case-by-case basis, but he has applied to several design firms in New York where he hopes to get some experience as an interior designer. After that he plans to open his own interior design business.

Ness will be the featured speaker, giving a talk on steampunk and neo-Victorian design to the local ASID (American Society of Interior Designers) on Oct. 27 in Salt Lake and visitors are welcome.

The 15th Street Gallery is located at 1500 South 1519 East Street in Salt Lake City. Most of the Ness family is expected to be at the gallery next weekend to support Tyson’s efforts.

Ness specifically wished to publicly thank the staffers of the Fossil Country Museum, the Lincoln County Courthouse and the Kemmerer City Hall for all their assistance in helping him find photos and records to aid him in his research.

The two and a half-hour drive to Salt Lake should be worth the time, effort and cost of fuel for any Kemmererites, Diamondvillians, Oakley-ans and Opal-ites to reminisce on their community’s vast historic past and to consider the possibilities of what could have been and what could be a possibility of a rebuild in the future. Only time will tell.

If nothing else, it should be worth the effort to support one of our community’s rising, young artists and to be able to say “we attended his first exhibit,” or “we knew him way back when ... in the steampunk era.”

For the complete article see the 10-14-2010 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 10-14-2010 paper.











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