You’ve never said: “Hotels are just a bed and a place to lay my tired head.” The four walls do matter, as does what’s between them and on them. But while you’re sleeping, hoteliers are definitely not. They’re conceiving more ingenious ways to incorporate design elements using paintings, photography, sculpture and other objets d’art in the lobby or public spaces or as part of the whole “vibe,” down every hall and in every room.
“Clients are demanding we do things we haven’t done before,” says Andrea Dawson Sheehan of the boutique hotel design firm Dawson Design Associates, Inc. of Seattle. “We’re pushing the envelope for the guest who wants to be engaged, to have an emotional connection through art. People will love or hate it, yet finding that ‘sweet spot’ will ‘capture’ a specific guest.”
Not everyone embraces every hotel’s design agenda. “Backlash can occur when guests aren’t comfortable or hotels sacrifice hospitality for design: All amenities still matter,” says Sheehan. In case all you’ve done recently is check in, snooze and check out, know that a global movement originally best represented by high-style boutique hotels is driving art as a component of architecture. Designers are cultivating gallery and dealer relationships in a collaborative effort to avoid, at all costs, the impression that “what you have is just art hanging on a wall,” Sheehan says. “In the next five years, the boring hotel will not exist any more. Even Motel 6 will start doing things.”
What they see creatively is what you get: the 50 or more hotel design firms writing a story, exaggerating each hotel’s identity. “Art is the exclamation mark we wrap around to cement the whole look, the aesthetic package. Design is all over the place,” says Sheehan, who has plenty of company.
“Innovation is a pursuit of design, and as such happens regularly, cyclically, frequently reinventing the wheel and these days in the full glare of the spotlights,” says Patrick Goff in International Travel News.
No one knows this better than the iconic Ian Schrager, credited with the creation of the boutique hotel concept 23 years ago, and of bringing design to the often beleaguered travel experience. Don’t lump his projects generically into the “art hotel” category, however. Schrager assumes that sophisticated people still “understand good design, quality, originality and commitment to excellence. They will not accept something derivative and want the ethos and soul of a hotel to be authentic and have character as well as provide impeccable, modern and gracious personalized service that is at the same time luxurious yet down to earth.”
Schrager recently announced a somewhat unlikely partnership with Marriott International to create nearly 100 boutique/lifestyle properties. It’s all about a “balancing act,” says Schrager, who collaborated with friends like prolific French designer Philippe Starck and filmmaker Julian Schnabel “on a sensuous vision of artful diversity” in Manhattan’s Haute Bohemian-influenced Gramercy Park Hotel.
The Kimpton, Provenance and Thompson hotel groups have demonstrated they get it, from floor to ceiling, while other singular properties use art as an adjunct to their individual brands, much like their monogrammed towels and bath soap. Take the Bellagio Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, with its Gallery of Fine Art now showing Picasso’s Ceramics. Down the strip, it’s the Guggenheim Heritage Museum at The Venetian, now with Modern Masters. New York’s Jumeirah Essex House celebrates The Heart of Central Park with historic images in the lobby gallery through mid-2008, an exhibit overseen by the hotel’s curator, Katherine Gass: A concierge is not enough. That collection, along with permanent commissioned works by Korean photographer Atta Kim and American contemporary urban landscape painter Mark Innerst, brings a walk in the park indoors.
Savvy Northwest properties skillfully embrace art in their mission statements, like Hotel 1000, of MTM Luxury Lodging. “Here, stairs are art, even carpet is designed to reflect the look of art, all very three-dimensional,” says Sheehan.
“Perhaps it’s because the cities themselves are growing and not huge yet, so to become an artist here is easier than in New York or Los Angeles,” suggests Dina Nishioka, spokesperson for Provenance Hotels, with the hip Hotel Max in Seattle and Portland’s Hotel Deluxe. The art connection will be crystal clear when Provenance’s Hotel Marano opens January in Tacoma, home of the Museum of Glass. Also in Portland, Kimpton’s Hotel Monaco is designed “so guests wake up in our hotel and know what city they’re in,” says Liz Dahlager, director of sales and marketing. Not far away at The Heathman Hotel, spokesperson Stephen Galvan likes it when guests say, “‘I would never have expected this.’ We’ve created something about Portland that people will remember.”
If you like what you see and remember it, odds are you’ll be back. Call it “art” or “design” or what you will, it’s hip and it’s surely happening. Bleak, boring hotel surfaces sans some sort of adornment are just so yesterday.