Remember when “hotel luxury” made a splash as a decor trend? In the early 2000s, it was all about every imaginable shade of white on white, with bits of beige creeping in. Thousand-count thread sheets and fluffy towels were also an important part of the design scheme.
But reducing the look to paint and linens ignores the true rationale of hotel design. Designing for durability and functionality, while being constrained by small spaces and tight budgets, is something many can relate to.
Perhaps you have a heritage home that needs some updating. Consider following some of the steps taken to transform the Moda Hotel from its previous incarnation as the Dufferin Hotel.
Built in 1908 to house both travellers and workers on the Canadian Pacific Railway, the hotel was showing signs of its age. In 2009, senior designer Jonathan McNeely of the Smart Design Group gave the lobby and suites a fresh look and feel, while designer Alda Pereira did the standard rooms.
“In the design process, we looked at elements that had intrinsic value,” McNeely says. “For example, we kept some of the original tile work because it illustrated the original character of the place.” In other areas, massive wooden support beams were exposed, and the hardwood flooring dating to the 1930s was given new life. The deep windowsills – almost window seats – were sacrificed in order to add in a secondary pane of glass, reduce street noise and provide an additional layer of insulation.
Putting a modern spin on the furniture bridges the century-long esthetic gap between then and now. The beds’ button-tufted headboards are covered in rich chocolate brown faux crocodile hide. The vinyl is easy to clean, inexpensive, and long-wearing. A classic Georgian-style wing chair has dropped arms and a receded overhang upholstered in muted gold. A bright punch of red — in the carpets, chairs or throw pillows — is anchored by cool sooty grey, and woven through the rooms as a constant thread.
“We treated it as eclectic so that you’re not stuck in one era. That’s something people can apply to their own homes,” McNeely says. “Thinking from the eclectic perspective gives you a freedom to have the place evolve through time, and truly reflect you.” He says it’s important to play with colour and texture.
On the surface, the recent revamp of the 96 rooms at the Opus Hotel would appear to be all about playing around. The rooms are painted in lime green, raspberry sherbet or Hermes orange, full of highly textured commercial grade fabrics and decorated with artwork from Tiko Kerr. The giclee prints are of Vancouver streetscapes, illuminated by neon signage.
“The rejuvenation was about freshening the colour and decorative patterns in an edgy way,” says Robert Bailey of Robert Bailey Interiors. “It’s a young esthetic, but you don’t have to be young to stay here for a weekend. Think about it like getting dressed up for a night out.”
It’s the penthouse suite, which I’ve dubbed the Lady Gaga room, that truly shows off his sense of whimsy. (The pop performance artist stayed there in August, while on tour in Vancouver.) The dominant colour is black: a black velvet sofa, flocked black wallpaper in the main area — it is vacuumed when cleaned — and black carpet. It’s offset by slashes of hot pink and the sparkle of the chrome bed and bedside lamps.
“The colour is used holistically, so it expands the room, rather than chopping it up into little bits,” Bailey says.
Beneath all the surface trappings of a rock star room are solid design principals. Bailey says you can’t forget about the functions of each piece or space, sometimes doubling up to maximize utility. If you omit proper lighting and proper furniture dimensions, you’ll sacrifice comfort. Simply put, it’s about “fundamentals before fantasy.”
Sometimes, it’s about planning the little details in a room. In hotel rooms, there are always the right nooks and crannies in which to display or put away items. It’s very rare when you’d find one that doesn’t have some sort of closet shelving to maximize storage space.
Rain shower heads installed directly overhead appear to be standard in many hotel properties. It’s the easiest way to avoid a nasty blast of hot or cold water. The Fairmont Pacific Rim has added a practical touch to luxury: the marble shower floors are on a subtle downward slope, allowing water to easily drain through a long metal grate.
In rooms at the Adara Hotel in Whistler, the front “closet” is an open, wall-mounted wooden unit, which makes it easier for guests to shrug off their winter jackets and heavy boots. Heated towel bars can be used in a pinch to dry off wet ski or snowboard gloves, and the electric fireplaces warm up the room without the hazard of anyone burning their fingers.
The Adara has taken a quirky approach to “cottage in the woods” decor. Deer antlers are frosted onto mirrors and embroidered into pillows, and resin casts of antlers are also displayed in the lobby.
The lobby also has a boldly patterned rug that doesn’t make sense until you see it from the upper level in the lobby: it’s a horizontal slice of a log, with concentric age rings (and even a notch cut out of one chunk.) Images of Brent Comber woodcuts are overlaid in transparent sheets on the shower glass, and the vanities have a distinctive wood grain.
“We wanted it to feel like a ski lodge with a twist,” laughs Jay Brooks, principal of Box Interiors. “It’s tongue-in-cheek with a fine line — if you make it too kitschy, it ends up very abstract.”
Call it the next step up from watching home design shows and tearing images out of the newspaper; the next time you stay in a hotel room you might just want to look around for inspiration.