Experience is everything when it comes to creating the perfect hotel stay. And with so many hotel options available to the average consumer, upper end hotels are firmly focused on delivering experience through cohesive design. But none of that can happen without story. That is, a design that tells a story in some manner is easily relatable to the guest. Story also acts as a shortcut in helping guests emotionally bond with a property while tethering all design elements together.
“Design is storytelling and we write a design story for every project. Sometimes it gets really rich and takes on a life of its own but it something that is authentic and true to the property. That is what makes an emotional connection with a guest and helps operators make a lasting impression,” said Gregory Filis, associate and design director, Gensler, during presentation at HD Boutique this week.
Take Hotel Lola for example. The New York City hotel originally opened as the Hotel Martha Washington and was the first hotel in the country specially designed for women only. When it debuted in 1903 women had no safe place to go because that was a time when women were just starting to find independence away from family or a husband.
In its heyday it housed women such as Hollywood starlets Veronica Lake and Louise brooks. In the early 80s Madonna even spent time performing in a club in the building. But in 1998 after years of neglect and decay they property was finally closed.
In 2010 Highgate started work on a new hotel in that building and reached back into history to create a story for the property which would become Hotel Lola.
“You build the DNA and that creates the personality, positioning vibrancy and the entire style that creates the brand,” said Susan Jaques, vp branding, Highgate Hotels, the company which owns the hotel. Highgate has 40 total properties, 14 of which are in New York City.
Jaques said they designed an illustration of ‘Lola’ who would serve as the inspiration of what the hotel would be and she is a modern woman who is a little sassy and a tad bit naughty too. “What this did for the marketing aspects as well was incredible too,” said Jaques who mentioned the tag line for ads are “whatever Lola wants.” She added that ownership is happy because this is a modern hotel designed for women that also attracts men.
According to Filis, whose team designed the guestrooms said they focused on a story that highlighted the collective impact women have had on society, and more specifically 12 women (one for each of the hotel’s floors) that had a strong effect on society through design and architecture.
Each floor focuses on a separate woman and the interior design and furnishings is based on each specific woman’s work. Women featured include Eileen Gray who was a preeminent designer post WWI and had a strong impact on modern furniture design and architecture. So there are reproductions of some of her designs in guestrooms as well as items inspired by her design point of view.
Other women highlighted include Dorothy draper, one of first women who created interior design as its own bona fide profession, Bernice Alexandra “Ray” Eames and Florence Knoll, who Filis said invented screens created by interlaced wires.
“The idea is to tell an authentic story. We took a pattern reminiscent of design and use it tell a story and to share ideas with people. This project is meant to show you all these women together and how together how they have had a collective impact they have on society,” said Filis.
In the lobby Filis said a lot of the original design was lost to history, with the exception of one section of the lobby that had been converted to a luggage storage room decades before. They were able to take that area and create a champagne bar.
Matthew Rolston is a photographer and lighting designer who curated the art and lighting for the hotel’s public spaces. He used photographs of sophisticated women shot in the 1960s by photographers such as Marvin Sokolsky (School Room, 1963) and William Klein (Smoke and Veil, 1958).
“This [hotel] was a major step forward to women’s lib and I wanted to honor that but I did not want to get preachy. I feel this look is like the bubbles in a glass of champagne and we used images of bubbles as a bubble of protection for the modern woman,” said Rolston.