By Terry Trucco
How are innovative hotels and brands developed and created? That was the topic of Hotels Curated NYC: Art + Innovation in Hospitality, a Friday afternoon conference-ette in the sleek upstairs space of Malt and Mash in the Meatpacking District.
The organizers – The N Group and Indiewalls – pulled together a marquee line-up of hoteliers, architects, designers and design observers, including art impresario Anita Durst and staff from Hospitality Design magazine, to discuss hotel art, branding, design and technology.
Here are six trends they discussed. Look for them the next time you stop by a hotel.
Local Sourcing Food is just the start. In response to savvy and well-traveled guests, properties are showcasing local culture. “We chose for the new Waldorf-Astoria Rio to be a Brazillian hotel with an international flair instead of an international hotel with a Brazillian flair,” says Jeffrey Beers, CEO of Jeffrey Beers International. Using local artists, florists and landscape artists helped tip the stylistic scales towards Brazil. At Le Meridien hotels, choosing local art is a way to connect “a brand born in Paris” with each hotel, says Julie Frank, Global Director of Design for Le Meridien Hotels/Starwood. For its new James hotel in Miami, Denihan Hospitality commissioned art and uniforms from locals and devised the children’s playroom with the help of the city’s children’s museum. “The traveler wants the local experience, and we want to be connected with locals in a way that’s consistent with the hotel’s story,” says David Duncan, Denihan Hospitality president.
Storytelling Hotels have always fit into basic categories, from luxury to flophouse. Today’s hotels go a step farther with narratives, a backstory that informs the entire property, inside and out. “We spent a tremendous amount of time on every detail, down to designing the chips for the gaming tables,” says Michael Achenbaum, president of Gansevoort Hotel Group, of the new Gansevoort Las Vegas. The narratives of historic hotels like the Plaza and the St. Regis are familiar to guests new and old. “If the hotel doesn’t have obvious memories, we have to create them,” says architect Shawn Basler, a principal in Perkins Eastman. For Manhattan’s new Quin hotel, Basler and his team pulled history from the hotel’s early 20th-century Emory Roth building, amplifying it with associations with cultured neighbors like Carnegie Hall, the Museum of Modern Art and fashion houses. Even when its subliminal, a backstory enriches the guest experience, the experts say.
Mid-Century Design For years, hoteliers and designers embraced Art Deco as a design template for contemporary hotels. But the new generation is looking to mid-century design for inspiration, says Thompson Hotels co-founder Jason Pomeranc, whose hotels include 60 Thompson and Smyth New York, among others. “Mid-century homes in particular are an inspiration,” he says.
Neighborhood Cred The day of the glass skyscraper looming over a flock of brownstones isn’t officially over, but developers should be sensitive to the neighborhood, says William Obeid, president of Gemini Real Estate. Mindful of Greenwich Village’s 19th-century history and low-slung buildings, the idea behind Gemini’s new Jade Hotel was “inspired nostalgia,” a look carried out with Greek, Roman and Scandinavian inflections and details like tin ceilings, hardwood floors and brick walls. “We wanted a look that reflected the neighborhood’s values,” Obeid says.
Video Art Look for more video art in hotels. Designers like video’s versatility and its ability to alter a room’s appearance and mood in a blink. “Hotels are a stage, and a kinetic media wall can be curated, refreshed and changed,” says Basler, who outfitted the Quinn with a 15-foot digital art wall rotating mixed media and film. But while contemporary, nimble and potentially less costly than bringing in changing exhibitions of paintings or prints, video art is in an early stage in terms of esthetics and technology, some say. “It’s not quite there,” says Brendan McNamara, brand director for Dream and Night hotels.
Serendipity A signature detail of Manhattan’s Dream Downtown is an outdoor pool with an aqua floor that’s perched above the lobby and punctuated by big glass circles. The circles continue a hotel motif that embraces round guest room windows and circular cutouts on the massive front doors (they also act as a clever lobby skylight). But they weren’t in the original plan, McNamara says. “The pool was supposed to have a plain glass floor.” Two weeks before the hotel opened, the New York Department of Health raised concerns that the glass bottom might make the pool appear deeper than its five feet. “They told us to do something to define the depth so people wouldn’t be tempted to dive in,” says McNamara. A design challenge, in short, can be a gift.