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Mr. Ashen

Architecture & Design

Art First, Hotel Second

By David Ashen, Principal and Founder, dash design

On a recent business trip to Scottsdale, Arizona, I led a market tour with my client. We explored hotel properties within the vicinity of Phoenix and Scottsdale, including the recently rebuilt Mountain Shadows in Paradise Valley, which is surrounded by picturesque desert backdrops and sits just outside Scottsdale. The beautifully constructed resort, opened this spring and sits below Camelback Mountain on the site of an old torn down resort from 1959. Now, it has reemerged as, in the hotel's words, "an icon of luxury and design". Indeed. This four-star, unique destination hotel has quickly become a place to see and be seen. However impressive the transformation was, its grand rebirth is not what stood out most in my mind about the resort. Rather, it was the hotel's pre-function space, specifically, or what our tour guide referred to as "our gallery" as we walked through the hotel's public spaces, that held my attention.

The shift in calling a public area an art gallery first and a function space (pre-function) second was interesting to note. That's because, particularly during the last 10 years, art has become a necessary part of the story for all upper-end, boutique hotels. This is especially true in the United States, where there is scant opportunity for the display of notable, public art. Thankfully, hotels have been filling that niche, bringing excellent art to the general public and making it accessible. Now, quality art is not a nicety; it's an expectation.

The genesis of the trend harks back to The Sagamore Hotel in Miami Beach, Florida, one of the early innovators in making art an integral part of design and the hotel an essential part of the canvas. The hotel was the first to go beyond installing a piece of sculpture or hanging an object of art or two in the lobby, setting the stage for what would become a prerequisite for hotels that art be woven into the plan, if not a central part of it. If fact, at The Sagamore, interior spaces revolve around the significant, contemporary private art collection of the site's owners, Marty and Cricket Taplin.

The concept of art as a fundamental aspect of hotel design was taken a step further at the 21c Museum Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky, a boutique hotel in the city's downtown historic neighborhood that not only offers a full suite of comfort, dining and business amenities, but also boasts more than 9,000 square feet of exhibition space. It was there that the innovative strategy of designing art galleries with overnight rooms caught on. What were thought of as a beautiful art galleries with rotating collections and local culture in secondary markets, were designed as places where people could stay overnight.

That flip in priorities-art first, hotel second-led to what we see today, with art-centric locations in Bentonville, Arkansas; Durham, North Carolina; Lexington, Kentucky; Nashville, Tennessee; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; and in a property I recently visited, in Cincinnati, Ohio. It was there that I participated in an all-day meeting with a client who rented the hotel's conference space, which, again, was a gallery first and great meeting space second. All seven of the 21c properties share in this model and it's quite successful, with another hotel planned for the brand to open soon in Kansas City, Missouri. Each boasts major art collections worthy of any museum, but is, instead, placed in spaces in which people can enjoy, spend time and live.

The trend doesn't stop with The Sagamore or 21c, though. Eight years ago, Sage Hospitality Group launched the Nines, a brand of the Marriott family of properties, in downtown Portland, Oregon, as part of its boundary-pushing luxury collection. The brand shifted from the industry's usual paradigm and went all-in with the concept of art as a central part of the hotel's brand story, bringing to life the idea of highly curated art from hyper-local, Portland-area artists, a first for a large hotel group. To make the concept a reality, Sage Hospitality Group brought in art curator extraordinaire Paige Powell, who has worked with Andy Warhol and been called his muse. Powell curated a collection for the Nines, digging into the project with an intentional process of finding the perfect artists to commission just-right works to suit the hotel's tones and brand-story, along with its dedicated spaces. Among the notable local artists whose work Powell brought in and commissioned were Gus Van Sant, Mickalen Thomas, Philip Iosca and Strom Tharp, bringing the Nines great acclaim.

At the Nines, I worked with Powell when I designed the Library and the restaurant, Urban Farmer, for Sage. Powell's impact on the property was evident and I engaged her in a number of projects thereafter, including the multi-million-dollar renovation for the historic Lexington New York City hotel in Midtown Manhattan four years ago. The reimagined property, which transports guests into a Jazz-Age glamour with modern appeal, features an art collection carefully selected by Powell. More than 30 high-caliber artists were commissioned, including a combination of established and emerging talent, to develop memorable, site-specific pieces consisting of a three-dimensional, stand-out series of sculptural screens in the lobby by artist Alba Clemente, works by photographer Rose Hartman, and an impressive mural by famed illustrator Ruben Toledo on two floors of the hotel, from the elevator lobby through the staircase and walls.

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Lexington New York Art Lobby. Photo: Frank Oudeman

These unique pieces have become buzz-worthy parts of the narrative of Lexington New York City, a social hot-spot, traveler's refuge and business meeting place on Midtown Manhattan's East Side, where guests and visitors post Instagram pictures in front of its mural, even today. Moreover, people seek out the art pieces within the space, such as Clemente's laser cut steel panel that sit at the end of reception and, serves as a theatrical focal point within the lobby. Beyond that, the interactions tell a story, which has translated into brand awareness, social media shares and a higher-than-usual level of press mentions and media spotlights beyond a typical marketing campaign.

In addition to differentiating one hotel from the next and adding local flair, incorporating art collections into a hotel's design builds value and has given guests a sea of alluring hotel options from which to choose. Should a hotel later be renovated or liquidated, having an art collection adds to the property's assets, making it that much more desirable.

That's not to say hotel brands are the only ones that benefit from their fine art displays. The artists that create the pieces also reap rewards, such as a heightened exposure of their work and name. Thomas commands tens of thousands of dollars for selected pieces and earned a place for her art in The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in Manhattan. Tharp's art was included in the Whitney Biennial, a highly regarded contemporary art exhibition that was held in New York City's Whitney Museum of American Art and is regarded as a one of the world's leading shows and the place where artists like Georgia O'Keeffe, Jackson Pollock and Jeff Koons were more formally introduced to the scene.

So, what's the next move for hotel brands looking to add art? It could be said that art has become the point of entry and that this movement benefits the public and arts communities, in part, by allowing people to engage with creative works in a new way. Additionally, hotels' support of fine art has given new and established artists a new stream of income. For instance, our firm is working on the Autograph Collection's new MC hotel in Montclair, New Jersey, where a diverse community with lots of creative people are part of the community's mix. By incorporating art and local culture in the hotel's schematic plan, an excitement has been built within the area's artist community. Already, we have done local studio tours with Powell, which has helped build bridges within the area's vibrant arts scene.

Likewise, other hotel brands are drawing inspiration from the local art and cultural scene. In Detroit, The Baronette Renaissance Novi Hotel, a conveniently located hotel that offers the comforts of modest luxury, along with event spaces, planning and catering, has wisely taken advantage of its near proximity to the Cranbrook Academy of Art by having Powell commission fine art pieces by recent graduates and professors of the school to adorn the hotel's lobby. The strategy is one we recommend to brands we work with, as it offers another way to build-out an art collection with a uniquely local spin.

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Baronette Main Lobby. Photo: Frank Oudeman

Whether hoteliers seek a personal curator like Powell to help them build a curated collection, head to an art house, display their personal art collections, or connect with local galleries or art schools, it's clear they have begun to recognize the essential role of art in design, its ability to create a sense of place and the competitive advantage it brings to their brand. Gone are the days of using forgettable prints and blasé reproductions. Thanks to innovators like The Sagamore, 21c and the Nines, art has gone beyond earning its place on walls in public and private spaces and is at the table, too.

David Ashen is a principal and the founder of dash design, an award-winning New York-based interior design and branding firm specializing in hospitality and retail projects. Known for his ability to tailor each project to answer clients’ specific business needs, Mr. Ashen and his design team update spaces and reinvent brands. Clients include market leaders and Fortune 500 companies from all over the world including Shanghai, Hong Kong, Istanbul, Philadelphia, Cleveland, New York City and Aruba. Among dash design’s recent high-profile hotel projects are: the multi-million renovation of the Lexington New York City hotel; the Renaissance Aruba Resort & Casino; and restaurants at the Mandarin Oriental in Shanghai. Mr. Ashen can be contacted at 718-383-2225 ext. 201 or dashen@dashdesign.net. Please visit http://www.dashdesign.net for more information. Extended Bio...

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OCTOBER: Revenue Management: Technology and Big Data

Gary Isenberg

Hotel room night inventory is the hotel industry’s most precious commodity. Hotel revenue management has evolved into a complex and fragmented process. Today’s onsite revenue manager is influenced greatly by four competing forces, each armed with their own set of revenue goals and objectives -- as if there are virtually four individual revenue managers, each with its own distinct interests. So many divergent purposes oftentimes leading to conflicts that, if left unchecked, can significantly damper hotel revenues and profits. READ MORE

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You do not have to be a hospitality professional to recognize the influx and impact of new technologies in the hotel industry. Guests are becoming familiar with using virtual room keys on their smartphones to check in, and online resources like review sites and online travel agencies (OTAs) continue to shape the way consumers make decisions and book rooms. Behind the scenes, sales and marketing professionals are using new tools to communicate with guests, enhance operational efficiencies, and improve service by addressing guests’ needs and solving problems quickly and with a minimum of disruption. READ MORE

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Technology is becoming an ever more growing part of the hospitality industry and it has helped us increase efficiency for guest check-inn, simplified the night audit process and now has the opportunity to increase our revenue production. These systems need hands on calibration to ensure they are optimized for your operations. As a manager you need to understand how these systems work and what kind of return on investment your business is getting. Although some of these systems maybe mistaken as a “set it and forget it” product, these highly sophisticated tools need local expert like you and your team to analysis the data it gives you and input new data requirements. READ MORE

Coming Up In The November Online Hotel Business Review




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Feature Focus
Architecture & Design: Authentic, Interactive and Immersive
If there is one dominant trend in the field of hotel architecture and design, it’s that travelers are demanding authentic, immersive and interactive experiences. This is especially true for Millennials but Baby Boomers are seeking out meaningful experiences as well. As a result, the development of immersive travel experiences - winery resorts, culinary resorts, resorts geared toward specific sports enthusiasts - will continue to expand. Another kind of immersive experience is an urban resort – one that provides all the elements you'd expect in a luxury resort, but urbanized. The urban resort hotel is designed as a staging area where the city itself provides all the amenities, and the hotel functions as a kind of sophisticated concierge service. Another trend is a re-thinking of the hotel lobby, which has evolved into an active social hub with flexible spaces for work and play, featuring cafe?s, bars, libraries, computer stations, game rooms, and more. The goal is to make this area as interactive as possible and to bring people together, making the space less of a traditional hotel lobby and more of a contemporary gathering place. This emphasis on the lobby has also had an associated effect on the size of hotel rooms – they are getting smaller. Since most activities are designed to take place in the lobby, there is less time spent in rooms which justifies their smaller design. Finally, the wellness and ecology movements are also having a major impact on design. The industry is actively adopting standards so that new structures are not only environmentally sustainable, but also promote optimum health and well- being for the travelers who will inhabit them. These are a few of the current trends in the fields of hotel architecture and design that will be examined in the November issue of the Hotel Business Review.