“My books are like water; those of the great geniuses are wine. (Fortunately) everybody drinks water” -Mark Twain
The ‘Words on Water’ design story at Morrison House, Autograph Collection draws on themes from Mark Twain’s literary classic The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, in which Twain brilliantly describes life on the Mississippi River in the early twentieth century: all the freedom and possibility the river represents.
Boutique hotels don’t get much more inviting than this 45-guestroom Federalist-style property in the heart of Old Town Alexandria. Named one of the most romantic and well-read cities in America, Alexandria’s mystery and poetic allure are visible throughout the transitional property’s design. Farmboy Fine Arts (FBFA) and David Hill of DH Designs collaborated on the colonial-charm-meets-modern-luxury aesthetic of Morrison House’s recent renovation. American literary masterpieces set on or near bodies of water, such as the nearby Potomac River, served as inspiration for the FBFA artwork seen throughout the property and Ashlar Restaurant and Bar.
FBFA looked to the cover artwork of these classic American novels to create the custom digital collages seen in the property’s guestrooms. Combining traditional floral motifs with a modern pop sensibility, these botanical pieces bridge the gap between traditional and contemporary. Finished with simple framing and matting, they maintain the clean lines throughout the rooms and complement the furniture details. Nods to local tradition include incorporations of signature tartan plaids–a tribute to Alexandria’s rich Scottish heritage.
Upon arrival, guests are beckoned by the parlor with its soft dove-gray walls, modern wingback chairs, and long banquettes with tabletop checkerboards. Above the original decorative marble fireplace, FBFA developed a contemporary art piece featuring the profile of Mark Twain, adding to this stylish and engaging meeting place that connects the parlor room to the bar.
A Custom Commission Honors the Region's Rich History
FBFA collaborated with Tinto Creative on the statement art installation at reception. Creative Director Ricky Alvarez meticulously sourced vintage books from a local antique book dealer, selecting 100-plus year-old editions to highlight the importance of history in the area. He sought out American literary classics originally owned by libraries in the Potomac/Capital region, adding historic significance and authenticity to the property’s rich and opulent focal piece.
Alvarez hand-selected the faced books for consistent patina and page color, creating a clean and pleasing aesthetic. He applied a gilded topographical replica of the Potomac River meandering across a wall made up of the open books, using 24-karat 100 percent pure gold leaf. The laborious process of gilding dates back centuries and is painstakingly done by hand, ensuring meticulous application. Alvarez continued this treatment to the outside edges of the books, giving context and relevance to the sculpture. The result is a visually arresting, one-of-a-kind piece that sparks a conversation that continues across the rest of the property and its artwork.