The New York Times report in March of 1981 read: “On Jan. 26, 1939, two literary emigrants from England, W.H. Auden and Christopher Isherwood, arrived in New York and took rooms at the George Washington Hotel. Soon Auden was telling friends, ‘I adore New York.’ Unlike Isherwood, who lost little time before moving to southern California, Auden found the sturdy un-ostentatious comfort of the George Washington one of the city’s main attractions. When Benjamin Britten was planning to visit America in June 1939, Auden told him: ‘Anyway, when you come to N.Y., stay at the Hotel George Washington on the corner of 23rd Street and Lexington Avenue. It’s much the nicest hotel in town, and the manager Mr. Donald Neville-Willing (and don’t forget the hyphen) is expecting you. There is a good piano.’”

Nestled in the Flatiron District of Manhattan, the Freehand NY now occupies the space once home to the artist-, musician-, and writer-frequented George Washington Hotel.

Artists, bohemians, and college students(?) welcome! Bespoke art by Bard College students and alumni fills the modern Roman-and-Williams-designed resting place. Seriously, it’s like an upgraded version of a dorm hall (with better décor and a higher price tag).

Long story short, I found myself at Freehand Hotel and Studio in the Big Apple, because I’m a big supporter of the arts (well, not the millionaire kind: the kind who still have to depend on a salary for income).

With arts concept hotels in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Miami, I found the venue an authentic choice for art lovers, and wanted to see what the press buzz was about for myself.  

Experience Overview

In partnership with Bard College, the hotel invites artists to stay and do work for them, also known as a “residency program.” I found the idea romantic and appealing. I think artists must be the most generous human beings on Earth, as they give so much of their lives to create beauty. Many of them never are recognized for their work, and struggle financially. So, I was thrilled to experience a place supportive of my creative idols. I also think that any place that celebrates art is exceptional. While I am all for the celebration, the execution could be improved.

Money Score

Upgrades not worth it. Here, if you score a $119 room, that’s a fair price for what you get (at least it is in New York City). Just set your expectations low, pay the $119, and expect the service and the ambiance of a $119 place. You get what you pay for!

Consciousness Score

Considering this was an old dorm hall and hotel, they haven’t really changed anything structurally. Perhaps repaint, clean and change fixtures, add new beds, and hang up fresh art? Calling it upcycling might be a stretch, but I do give them the thumbs up for a good use of old space. On the downside, the fact that cold air was coming through the windows is a total waste of energy. No LEEDs certification for sure.  

On the positive, they had an exceptionally diverse, well-integrated team, who were all visible at check in, at the shop, and at their restaurants. Moreover, everyone looked happy, like they had the freedom to do what they wanted.

‘All the Feels’ Score

Bring your earplugs. The noise level was intolerable, with paper-thin walls and doors. On the 16th floor, the windows were old and not well-insulated. I essentially heard every car that passed by. Moreover, I felt like I really was back in the dorm with noisy neighbors coming back from the club at 4 a.m.

On the positive, the check-in process was very smooth, and they had a very nice, diverse team at the front of the house. They fit in with the vibe: easy going, not fully buttoned up, but adequate. But no concierge, so I had to go talk to the manager to confirm arrangements several times, but what did I expect? This was just their second week.

The queen-bed room was compact with charming little details and exceptional bedding,looking down on Lexington. On an  exceptional level, there was a hand steamer in the closet, which I’ve never seen it any other hotel, and complimentary toothbrushes.The fridge was empty, but large enough to fit freshly-squeezed juices from the shop or water and the fresh fruit basket hanging in the room was a charming touch. Other little extras: a bathrobe and Argan bath toiletries. Excuse me while I shove some shampoo in my bag…

In the modern world, we all hate the struggle of having to dart across the room to find a plug for the phone. Here, electrical outlets are fitted right by the bed, so you don’t have to “work for it.” This place certainly has us modern working women fully figured out!

Their color scheme was nice, and although I loved the concept of artwork being displayed throughout, there appeared to be an oversight in the curation: at least in my room. To me, the art wasn’t in harmony with surrounding. My room appeared to be a hodgepodge of random works. The only time something like that is charming is when your kid did it. If not, don’t hang it up. It downright doesn’t go together.

However, artwork scattered about different places in the hotel and novelty décor, like vintage New Yorker covers by the game room, was fantastic and just as diverse as the staff, from basquiat-esque kid drawings to Rothko-esque large oil paintings. The overall tone of the décor is super organic-looking, with rich, leather textures and a play off original woodwork. There’s a nice blend of old and new in the architecture, as if enhancing the building’s history.

The second floor is full of seating areas bustling with what looks like mostly creatives discussing art, and techies coding on their laptops. This long-and-wide hallway is dissected by collections of couches surrounded by plants and sculptures to create an illusive sense of privacy. There is very subtle background music, which allows for conversations to be heard, while maintaining secrecy.

The soft lights and the grand piano heighten the ambiance, making the space resemble a greenhouse-turned-residence. The plants are real (and apparently they keep adding more and more, or at least, that’s the gossip I got from reception). A veritable botanic gardens, this is great when you want to forget that you just came out of windy, below-zero February winds.

Another fun tip: on this floor there is a game room with board games, pinball, and a shuffleboard table (It has been so long since I played, I had to Google it!). Inside the elevator: a cork board where you can take a note or leave one hanging.

And don’t check out without visiting the gift shop. There is the new Quip toothbrush (I have been seeing their ads all over social media!) and really good chocolate from Puerto Rico. You’ll also see coloring and craft kits for kids and adults, handwoven pillows and blankets, jewelry, works by the in-residence artisans, crafts, self-care items, snacks and drinks: some healthy, others novelty. An eclectic mix, just like the hotel.