Masterpiece lodging: from luxury hotels to charming inns, hoteliers who make a place for art have garnered high-end, loyal clientele who are looking for a unique experience

Masterpiece lodging: from luxury hotels to charming inns, hoteliers who make a place for art have garnered high-end, loyal clientele who are looking for a unique experience

Debbie Hagan

the logo for Seattle’s Alexis Hotel speaks volumes about its interior. A tiny paintbrush crosses the “x” in Alexis. Scripted under the name is the hotel’s slogan: “a work of art.” In the lobby hangs a 12-foot high Dale Chihuly chandelier. Winding through the hotel floors is a rotating exhibit of original paintings, prints and sculpture.

On the opposite coast, artist and antique collector Charlotte Forsythe and her husband Gerald Fandetti transformed a Victorian firehouse into a boutique hotel filled with handmade quilts, antique American flags, old photographs and collections of firefighting badges. Set in the heart of Cambridge, near the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard, guests lounge in inn comforts, surrounded by paintings done by Forsythe.

Art and travel go hand-in-hand, so think some of today’s top hoteliers. They say leisure travelers are weary of cloned hotels that offer ho-hum services and milquetoast surroundings. Travelers gravitate to hotels that offer art, music, parties and personal panache.

Take the Hotel Triton, designed by six artists and situated across from the dragon-gate entrance to San Francisco’s Chinatown. Original murals are painted over the walls of the lobby, columns shimmer in gold leaf, and art-designed lamps appear more sculptural than functional. Serious Dead Heads often find the Jerry Garcia Suite more compelling than the city’s oft-visited cable cars. Garcia designed the one-bedroom suite so his paintings on silk could cover everything in the room, including the bedspread, chairs, roman shades and even the shower curtain. Original framed prints by Garcia hang on the walls. “It’s more or less a gallery,” said Jeremy Strober, general manager. “Jerry was very proud of this.”

Singers Graham Nash and Carlos Santana and marine painter Wyland also have theme suites here. “They’re like shrines,” said Strober. “You can go out and enjoy the city as much as you want, but the suite provides the fantasy.” It’s the job of the hotelier, he said, to provide “a safe environment, good service and a comfortable bed. After that, we try to provide as many fun surprises for our guests as we can. “So Hip It Hurts”–a combo stay and tattoo at Mom’s Tattoo Parlor–is one such unexpected amenity. As well, there are tarot card readings, art exhibit openings and complementary cocktail parties, complete with music and DJs.

No matter what gimmicks hoteliers concoct, some folks cling to the tried-and-true Westins, Marriotts and Holiday Inns. They like knowing what they’ll get. But this group is waning, observed Jack Corgel, managing director of Atlanta’s Hospitality Research Group. Emerging travelers search for alternatives to the “cookie cutter hotel,” he said. “They’re looking for a unique experience.” Other industry watchers agree. They say travelers look beyond a clean room and comfy bed to find memorable experiences.

Travelers Look for Art

“It’s logical that people developing [boutique hotels] give their guests not just interesting architecture and good service, but art,” said Peter Yesawich, president of Yesawich, Pepperdine, Brown & Russell, an Orlando marketing services firm for the travel industry. “Art is one of the ultimate forms of personal expression.” That’s what travelers look for today, he said.

Yesawich backs this up with results from a survey of 1,200 business travelers conducted by the National Business Travel Monitor. More than one-fourth of the respondents (26 percent) said they look for hotels based on unusual architecture and decor. One could only guess that leisure travelers would express an even higher interest.

“How do you account for this?” Yesawich asked. “People today want something fresh and different–out of the ordinary. Chains have done a marvelous job of standardizing their accommodations, but this survey shows that one out of four travelers wants to break the chain habit.”

Research conducted by Pam Danziger, head of Unity Marketing in Stevens, Pa., further supports Yesawich’s claims. Danziger’s company analyzes the psychographics and demographics behind luxury spending. She noted that for the past decade, marketers have catered to the cocooning customer–the buyer who invests heavily in the home and home furnishings. But with home spending at its lowest level since 1985, Danziger believes cocooning is over. The buyer has evolved into a butterfly.

“The butterflies are the segment most likely to employ luxury services to enhance their life and to save time for other more valuable personal pursuits,” she said. Those pursuits include travel and art.

In demographic terms, baby boomers (76 million strong and ages 39 to 58) have built and furnished their homes and raised their kids. Now, they’re ready to relax and splurge on luxury cars, jewelry, cruises and the trips they’ve always wanted. “It’s not about the destination, it’s the journey,” professes one travel advertisement, resonating the attitude felt by so many in this group. “Don’t you think you deserve the luxury? We do.”

In a survey on luxury spending, Danziger found that 23 percent of respondents purchased art and antiques. Those with a household income of $100,000 and more purchased art and antiques at a rate of 27 percent. On average, survey respondents said they spend $4,000 a year on art and antiques, averaging $1,000 per purchase.

“Especially valued are art or antiques that carry a particular story or emotional connection, such as antiques passed down through generations within a family,” said Danziger. “Art and antiques are ways to achieve uniqueness in one’s home and make it more special and a more personal expression of oneself.”

Applying this to the hospitality business, Danziger said hoteliers need to realize that the luxury guest is looking for more than a soft bed and a clean bathroom. They want a getaway experience–one that stimulates and indulges their personal passions.

Engaging in this thinking, hoteliers can “go up market to target the luxury consumer,” said Danziger. For example, she said, beer moved away from being just a blue-collar drink when Anheuser Busch introduced Michelob, a premium beer. “Then Samuel Adams and the craft beer companies came along and created better-tasting beer, produced with higher-class methods. Now there’s a whole new segment of luxury beer,” said Danziger, who refers to this product upscaling as the “Starbuck’s effect.” She also thinks it’s a principle hotels can apply to their business.

Scaling Up with Art

Take the Bedford Hotel–a staid, 1929-built San Francisco landmark. In 1981, Bill Kimpton, an art collector, purchased it and spun off a chain of boutique hotels (totaling 37 now). Overtime, the Bedford’s florals and chintz fell out of favor with the artists, art dealers and museum curators who frequented neighborhood theaters, galleries and museums. They looked to stay in places more hip and sophisticated.

To bring this crowd back to the Bedford, the Kimpton Group had to ditch the Laura Ashley drapes and redesign the entire hotel. Craig Waters, with locally based Fun Design, led the renovation project, repainting the lobby in shades of light blue, lavender and olive green and adding geometric-shaped lounge chairs and multicolored glass tile to the reception desk. He created a sleek, retro look. Waters carried this attitude through the guest rooms, down to the checkered carpeting and bold applique comforters.

“When we changed the name to Hotel Cosmo, I included everything artistic into the logo,” said Pace. The hotel’s tag line reads “creation through inspiration.”

“We put up artwork that inspires you and doesn’t intimidate you,” said Pace. Johnny Davis of ARTwork SF, curates the hotel’s quarterly exhibits. He gathers work from local artists, bringing in pieces that range in price from $200 to $2,000.

“In a hotel where guests are paying $100 a night, it’s useless to put up art that’s $10,000,” said Pace, who hopes guests will purchase “an original piece of artwork from San Francisco” to take home as a souvenir. Original art goes everywhere in the hotel, from the reception desk to the guest rooms. “If you like the art that’s over your bed and think, ‘Hey, this will look good in my living room’ we’ll take it off the wall and ship it to you,” said Pace. Fifteen percent of all art sales go to ArtSpan, a nonprofit organization that sends inner city youth to summer camp.

Each art show revolves around a theme, the most recent being “Visual Voice.” Twenty-six local artists displayed their work. A two-hour celebration in the hotel lobby, featuring wine, music and poetry readings, kicked off the show. Nearly 400 people showed up. “The reaction has been very positive” to the hotel’s new upscale appeal, Pace said. “Guests look forward to coming back and seeing what the next show will be.”

Designed for Occupancy

The Chambers Hotel, which rubs concrete shoulders with Manhattan’s Prada, Gucci, Tiffany and other swanky shops, uses the art theme without selling the art. Edgy, original art displayed in the lobby and in guest rooms creates a sense of life as lived within the pages of GQ and Vogue.

Architect David Rockwell patterned the building after a SoHo artist’s loft but made it more chic by using upscale materials like linen, leather and suede. Backlit 3-D graphic designs by Kiki Seor, drawings by Amy Sillman, original art installations in guest room hallways and 500 paintings and sculptures give guests the sense of strolling through a modern art museum.

Ira Drukier, an avid art collector and hotel developer, hand picked each artwork. “Everything is original,” he said, including art in the guest rooms. The hotel displays works by 100 artists, most of whom are young and emerging.

Why did he invest so much time picking out the art? “I wanted to offer something different than what’s normally found in a hotel,” he said. “If you developed a hotel that you want to be popular and put the same print in every room, people will react to that. You can’t fool people. Hotels that are well designed get a better rate and a better occupancy.”

Drukier believes everything sells by design and brand name today–that’s what consumers want. “When I was growing up there was one pair of jeans and one pair of sneakers. You could outfit yourself for $20,” he said. Not today. Everyone wants something that conveys a sense of personal style, be it sneakers, desserts or hotels. Drukier said, “Everything is designed today.”

Quaint and Collectible

Inn guests in Vermont often choose charm over high design. That’s what the owners of the Hermitage Inn in Wilmington think. Inn proprietors Lois and Jim McGovern have been collecting the nostalgic prints and paintings of artist Michel Delacroix for years. They’re displayed throughout the inn. The artist’s depiction of simple French life complements the mindset of guests, who have come there to escape and relax with their families. Guests can relate to the simple pleasures and joy in daily life found in Delacroix’s work.

“People come in and they fall in love,” said Lois McGovern about guests seeing Delacroix’s work in the lobby, restaurant and guest rooms. In fact, when they realized guests liked it so much that they wanted to buy it, the McGoverns set up an art gallery in the inn.

“In spite of the fact that we started collecting it because we liked it, it has become pretty important to our business,” said McGovern. The artist even created a painting of the inn, which the McGoverns purchased and sell limited-edition prints of to their clients. McGovern believes some guests come to the inn because of the art. “They know it’s special. Someone here is paying attention,” she said.

When McGovern’s planning a trip, she goes through the same motions she imagines Hermitage guests doing. She looks for a hotel with the amenities that interest her: namely art and atmosphere.

Studies show that more than one out of four travelers select hotels much like McGovern does, based on art and decor. Travel and art go hand in hand. Art personalizes a hotel, creates a fantasy and provides the emotional charge guests seek today.

Commissioning Artwork to order

Get into the art game with unique, original artwork

When a hotel or resort wants to make a statement unique unto itself, commissioning artwork created specifically for its interiors may be the perfect option. And with hundreds of artists on file, art consultants can help match a hotel with just the right artist for its project.

“By the time a hotel calls us, they already know what fabrics and colors they’re using, and they know what the design will took like and how the hotel will feel,” explained Francine Ellman, president of ArtSourceLA, an international art consulting firm in Santa Monica, Calif. To ensure their atmospheres remain consistent with their design objectives, many hotels turn to such firms to seek artists who satisfy their specific requirements. Ellman’s company, for example, has more than 4,000 artists on file. “We then look for the two or three artists who are most appropriate for a hotel’s needs,” she said.

Commissioning artwork allows designers a certain freedom, for they not only get to choose the medium and style of the artwork, but they also can choose exactly the size, colors and textures they want. “We may show the clients a 3- by 4-foot work on paper the artist has already done to see if they like the style,” said Bonnie Kogod, director of ArtSourceLA’s Washington, D.C. “But we can have the artist create the work on a 4- by 6-foot canvas, using the colors the project requires.” In addition, a hotel client can even commission a specific moulding for the framing to ensure that even the presentation of the artwork remains in harmony with the overall design.

Surprisingly, the cost for commissioned artwork is often no more expensive than purchasing original work already in existence. But, as with any original work, the price depends on the reputation of the artist and the complexity of the commissioned work.

“The difference is really the medium and the artist’s reputation,” said Ellman. “A successful artist with a track record will cost more than someone who is ‘up-and-coming.’ Some artists may be very prolific and may add a small upcharge for a commissioned work.” In addition, if a work is being commissioned for reproduction and display throughout the hotel, the artist may also be paid a royalty per reproduction.

ArtSourceLA has worked in hotel designs and remodels at all levels of the industry, including landmark hotels such as the Hay-Adams, the hotel across from the White House in Washington, D.C., and luxury hotels such as Le Meridien Chicago. Choosing commissioned artwork to suit a hotel’s design, said Ellman, starts with an understanding of its clientele–art commissioned to suit business travelers, for example, will be much different from what might please families with children. Also important is the overall experience the hotel hopes to offer its guests.

With the Hay-Adams, said Kogod, office, the hotel wanted to create a home-like atmosphere with the art on its walls. “Lately, the aim in hotel design is to make guests feel like they’re at home. For the art, we used photographs of Washington that were soft and sepia-toned to capture that atmosphere.” Ellman noted that commissioned artwork provides more than decoration for the spaces in a hotel. It also reinforces a hotel’s signature style and offers its guests and staff a unique artistic experience.

“People aren’t exposed to art nearly enough,” she said, adding that well-chosen artwork makes a hotel more memorable and offers guests an experience they simply won’t have anywhere else. “There’s just something about art–it offers people a sense of balance. And it really gets people to look.”

COPYRIGHT 2003 Advanstar Communications, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group