To satisfy guests who desire authentic local experiences while traveling, more and more hotels are showcasing works by local artists and using locally sourced materials to enhance the overall design of new-build and renovated properties. Rather than relying on mass-produced paintings and imported goods, many owners are opting for a more personal approach to décor that ties back to the hotel’s surroundings.
Michael Suomi, principal and vice president of design at Stonehill & Taylor Architects in New York City, says major hotel companies are moving toward regionalism in hotels. “Many companies are moving toward a more profound expression of local influence,” he says.
Suomi believes that the design of a hotel should spring from a strong conceptual narrative, which is reflected in not only the look and feel, but also in aspects such as service, food and beverage, and amenities.
“I try and develop a strong narrative approach to design and tie it back to the local culture and history, what makes that particular location for that hotel special, and how can the hotel celebrate that,” Suomi says.
HYATT REGENCY MINNEAPOLIS
For Hyatt Regency Minneapolis’ $25 million renovation, Stonehill & Taylor created an architecture and design concept that is a modern homage to the local heritage, culture, and economic history of Minnesota, as well as the history of American manufacturing. “I think that’s a real positive influence on the local community,” General Manager Randy Thompson says. The project, which includes the hotel’s guestrooms and suites, public areas, and restaurants, began in late November 2011 and is expected to be complete late this spring.
When a joint venture of Haberhill, Starwood Capital Group, and Hyatt Hotels Corporation purchased the property in March 2011, the new owners pushed for U.S.-manufactured furniture for the renovation. Building on this goal, Stonehill & Talyor researched and developed a whole concept around “proudly made in America,” with a focus on Minneapolis and Minnesota.
“We discovered that the state really built its history and population on the milling industry, which was brought there because of the plentiful water power from the confluence of the [Minnesota and Mississippi] rivers,” Suomi says.
To celebrate this famous milling industry, the firm primarily used locally sourced construction elements and textiles. The granite used for the countertops in the remodeled guest bathrooms was quarried locally and purchased from Cold Spring Granite, a 113-year-old Minnesota company. Red Wing Stoneware, which started producing pottery in Red Wing, Minn., in the 1870s, made crocks that will be built into the guestroom desks as pencil cups.
The rich Scandinavian heritage of the area served as inspiration for the lobby and guestroom designs. The highlight of the lobby will be an expansive stone fireplace framed by wooden logs, surrounded by a sunken living room with split-timber walls.
The 533 guestrooms and suites feature original artwork, including an oil painting of the Gold Medal Flour building overlooking the Mississippi River by local artist Mat Ollig, an aerial view of Minneapolis by Dennis Ekstedt, and a rendering of Swedish actress Ingrid Bergman by Mark Khaisman, who used Minnesota-based 3M packaging tape to create his piece. The hotel corridors feature artwork with a conceptual take on the state’s natural geography by artist Rosemary Dumar.
Ollig, a Minneapolis resident who grew up in a small town about an hour west of the city, says his “Gold Medal Flour” painting was inspired by antique painted advertisements and is part of a series on the local industry that built the metro area.
“Hotels are typically the first impression of a city people get exposed to when they travel,” Ollig says. “As such, they are in a unique position to be a type of cultural gateway to the arts, industry, and community of whatever city they are located in.”
RENAISSANCE BATON ROUGE
In late October 2011, Renaissance Hotels officially opened the new 256-room Renaissance Baton Rouge Hotel, developed and owned by Wampold Companies. Gensler, the global design, planning, and strategic consulting firm responsible for the hotel’s exterior and interior design, worked with Baton Rouge art consultant Ann Connelly and her team of artists to create a strong visual impact throughout the hotel that celebrates Louisiana’s indigenous art, culture, and heritage.
“We wanted to integrate artwork into what was already an amazing interior project,” says Connelly, owner of Ann Connelly Fine Art.
The large-scale, two-dimensional pieces on view include painting, photography, and sculptural installations that reflect the rich culture and natural setting of south Louisiana. Connelly says they collaborated with Elizabeth Griffin of Wampold Companies and designer Doug Detiveaux of Gensler to integrate the artwork with the interior architecture. Many of the works were specifically commissioned for the project.
Guests can view everything from Louisiana floral photographs by fine arts photographer David Carlysle Humphreys of Baton Rouge to a triptych painting on canvas of a crab by New Orleans painter Billy Solitario. Baton Rouge sculptor Brad Michael Bourgoyne created an installation of hand-formed polycarbonate birds that appear to be taking flight in the hotel. James Vella, artist and creator behind Vella Vetro Art Glass & Custom Design in New Orleans, showcases a hand-blown glass water lilies and frog installation and a hand-blown glass alligator and flowers.
For the guestrooms, Gensler printed a montage of works by wildlife photographer C.C. Lockwood, who specializes in Louisiana and the Gulf Region and whose work has been featured in National Geographic.
The hotel’s furnishings and décor reinforce elements of the artworks. “Where the design left off and the artwork began sometimes is a blur, and that is what was so amazing about it,” Connelly says.
HOTEL CHIMAYÓ DE SANTA FE
Heritage Hotels & Resorts, a collection of independent hotels in the southwest United States, transformed the Hotel Plaza Real in downtown Santa Fe into a cultural tribute to the northern New Mexico community of Chimayó. After nearly eight months of construction, the property opened as Hotel Chimayó de Santa Fe in August 2011.
Chimayó is a historic village nestled in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo mountains, 30 minutes north of Santa Fe. It was founded in the 17th century as a traditional fortified central plaza. Jim Long, chief executive officer of Heritage Hotels & Resorts, began building partnerships with Chimayó’s community members long before the project started. Once he earned their trust, the courtship led to more than 70 artists contributing to the hotel’s décor.
The community is not only represented in elements of art, but also religious devotion, lowrider cultural traditions, agriculture, and historical family recipes. “It was a very deep and engaging project—probably one of the first hotels, at least that I’m aware of, in the U.S. that truly showcases all aspects of Hispanic culture, including religious devotion,” Long says.
Interior designer Kris Lajeskie, of Kris Lajeskie Design Group, was central to the vision of the property. Lajeskie also designed Heritage’s Hotel St. Francis in Santa Fe, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. All properties in the Heritage portfolio are defined by a distinct cultural heritage and feature regionally inspired design, custom artwork, décor, cuisine, and entertainment.
Chimayó community members crafted 500 handmade crosses from found materials to accent the fireplace mantels in each guestroom at Hotel Chimayó. Weavings designed and crafted by award-winning Chimayó artists adorn the lobby and hotel rooms, and can be seen everywhere from the upholstery on chairs, benches, and pillows to bed runners. Hand-painted retablos (devotional paintings) of saints surround the fireplace in the lobby.
Having lived in New Mexico for almost 20 years, Lajeskie says she has a great appreciation for regional artisans. “They need people to support them. My interior work has always been about custom and including artisan work.”
Before the renovation, Lajeskie says the hotel was designed in the territorial style of New Mexico. Other than the exterior architecture, she found it to have a generic feel that wasn’t warm and personable. “Here’s this valuable property that had not been maximized and Jim maximized it,” she says, adding that the hotel is in a prime location, steps away from the historic Santa Fe Plaza.
To create an authentic New Mexican environment indoors, Lajeskie added adobe mud-plastered walls with straw and mica for texture and sparkle. “Not many would go to that degree to create an authentic environment. Everywhere you look, there is some visual or tactile or texture material that is absolutely a part of New Mexico, and more specifically of Chimayó styling.”
Lajeskie says the project was like creating a mini museum, preserving history in order to share it with visitors. “When you connect with a community so rich and you’re telling their story, that’s what makes my job so worthwhile,” she says. “There’s so much value there and so much to share. And part of it is making sure it’s authentically done.”
Long says when customers choose to stay with Heritage Hotels & Resorts, they are making a commitment toward cultural preservation.
“Our responsibility is to send guests home with spiritual and emotional memories, not more points to add to their point balance or more souvenirs,” he says. “It’s something deeper and more significant than that.”