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Inside LA’s new Freehand hotel, where shared rooms start at $55 nightly

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This place is not your hippie cousin’s bare-bones hostel

A photo of the lobby of the new Freehand hotel, with design by Roman + Williams.
The lobby of the new Freehand hotel. Photo by Frank Wonho Lee.
Courtesy of Freehand

Downtowners who might remember walking by the boarded-up ground floor of the Commercial Exchange building will now see expansive glass panes topped by rows of transom windows, allowing passersby to peek into a new lobby, bar, and first floor restaurant.

The transformation of 1920s-era building at Eighth and Olive from a mostly empty but beautiful space into a hip Freehand hotel is complete.

Sydell Group—the company behind Koreatown’s stylish Line hotel and Palm Springs’s colorful Saguaro hotel—enlisted Santa Monica-based Killefer Flammang Architects to revitalize the building. The project was announced in 2014, and starting this week, it’s taking reservations and its restaurant and bar are open to the public.

The Freehand began as a hostel-type hotel in Miami, but Sydell Group CEO Andrew Zobler says the idea of Freehand is more about capturing the culture of a hostel—meeting people and socializing, having unexpected interactions—than it is about being one.

Maybe that’s why the Downtown Freehand’s 59 shared rooms are nothing like the ultra-basic hostels familiar to backpackers.

A shared room at the hotel. Photo by Adrian Gaut.

In the shared rooms, bunk beds made of solid wood, like those at a mountain cabin, are outfitted with the same mattresses that are used in the rooms of the Sydell Group’s upscale NoMad hotels. (Sydell is also putting a NoMad outpost into the Bank of Italy building up the street.)

Whether they have four, six, or eight beds, all shared quarters have their own ensuite bathroom with sea green penny tile, and bathroom and shower enclosures—allowing for multiple people to use the facilities without things getting too invasive.

The setup is great for families traveling with small children or a group of friends traveling together, says Zobler.

The hotel’s remaining 167 rooms are private, not shared, accommodations. Both shared and private rooms have similar decor features and color palettes, incorporating nubby textures and earthy, natural tones.

A private room in the hotel. The operable sash windows are original to the hotel. Photo by Adrian Gaut.

The woven carpets, the multicolored woven throw rugs, and the textile art all look as though they’d have a uniquely pleasurable feel to the touch. “Everything here feels a little imperfect [and] organic,” says Zobler.

The hotel’s decor—from the ceramic pots in the windows on the ground floor to the carpets and throw pillows in the rooms upstairs—was curated by the design duo Roman and Williams.

Some of the rooms offer a glimpse of the hotel’s restored Commercial Exchange blade sign, a 12-story-tall reminder of the building’s past.

There’s still a little work to be done. The hotel’s much-anticipated rooftop pool and the accompanying lounge are expected to open later this summer.

Opening rates at the hotel will start at $229 for a private room and $55 for a bed in shared room.

Photo by Frank Wonho Lee.