|Art installations, such as this collection of sculptures by artist Judy Fox that sit behind the reception desk at the 21c Museum Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky, are becoming an increasingly common fixture at many boutique hotels.
LONDON—Previously just window dressing—in both a literal and figurative sense—art has emerged as an immersive, impactful component of the guest experience in a growing number of hotels throughout the industry.
Perhaps nowhere is this more apparent than in the boutique sector, in which entire brands have been built around the concept.
21c Museum Hotels, as the name suggests, features dedicated galleries in its Louisville, Kentucky property. The same is true for five of The Kessler Collection’s 11 properties.
“We look at hotels as entertainment venues, not as hotels as places to stay,” said Richard Kessler, chairman and CEO of The Kessler Collection.
An avid art collector as well as hotelier, Kessler was one of four panelists discussing the place of art and design in the hotel industry during a panel at last week’s Boutique Hotel Summit.
“We look at the whole building as a piece of art, and we start with that concept. The whole experience should be an artistic experience,” he said.
Kessler and his team choose an overall artistic concept or theme during the early stages of development that begins with the exterior and weaves its way into the public spaces and guestrooms.
“It’s an integral part of creating the mood and ambience of the space, particularly in a restaurant or a lobby,” said Angela Dingle, creative director for Hughan Design, a design firm specializing in hotels.
Like Kessler, she advised attendees to choose an overall concept early in the process. It should not be an afterthought.
That concept need not be monotonous, however. The panelists highlighted a few hotel developments that employed a different artist to design each room.
“If you’re working in a very small scale number of rooms … that’s possible,” Kessler said. But for larger projects, that ambitious artistic vision can quickly turn into a nightmare.
For one thing, it creates considerable headaches trying to orchestrate everything on the front on, Dingle said. Building or renovating a hotel is challenging enough with similar design specs, let alone unique specs for each space.
For another, the finished product can present obstacles to housekeepers who have to arrange duvets, pillows and other elements differently in each space.
Perhaps most difficult, however, is the impact on guests. It’s difficult to market and sell rooms that are so different that a guest does not know what to expect, panelists said.
Worse, some artists might try to evoke too strong an impact with their finished products. Artist and panelist Alex Echo advised the hoteliers in attendance to remember their ultimate goal: providing a comfortable home away from home. Art should put a guest at ease; it shouldn’t put them on edge. Therefore, hoteliers should establish boundaries from the get go.
“It’s important to put limits on artists,” he said.
“You try to create a space which is harmonizing or sometimes it can create a reaction, but you hope it won’t create too much controversy,” Dingle said.
The perfect showcase
Hotels provide a perfect showcase for art, Echo said.
“The goal for artists is to get your vision out there,” he said, adding hotels provide a stage through which hundreds of spectators pass every day.
Featuring art installations within a hotel also benefits the guest, added Sophie Maxwell, insight director of design firm Pearlfisher.
It’s like living in a museum, she said; guests have a much different experience with art when they live with it for a few days.
“It allows us to build a much more meaningful connection between the hotel itself and the artist,” she said.
The concept of “art” has become arcane during the past 30 years, Echo said. It used to be for the masses and not just for a select group of aficionados.
“This is a great way to introduce people to art around the world,” he said.