I stayed recently at the Renwick hotel in Manhattan, and while I didn’t particularly care for the stenciled quote on the wall of my room, I did like the look of the Renwick’s cozy lobby. I thought the stacked books painted to create a portrait were an especially cool touch.
Hotel lobbies — constantly pushing the boundaries of room decor!
This week I stayed at one of those pop-up hotels you see in many suburban communities. This one was in Bensalem, Pennsylvania, one of the suburbs of Philadelphia. From my experience, the hotels cater to an itinerant population of lawyers, salesmen, accountants, and other business people during the week, and soccer moms and traveling team parents over the weekend. They’ve become the vagabond way stations of modern America.
The lobby of this hotel includes a seating area with a wall that includes shelves with the “decorations” shown above. Is there a rhyme or reason to the choice of objects, their color, their form, or their positioning? If so, I couldn’t discern it. It looks like a combination of the kind of random “accent pieces” you see at furniture showrooms, mixed together on shelves.
The implicit message was clear: you’re in the generic zone, weary traveler! This isn’t home, so don’t get too comfortable. Pass by quickly, without a second glance, and move along.
Tuesday night I had a bad commuting experience and got in to my hotel in D.C. late at night. Exhausted and bedraggled, I slunk into the hotel lobby, checked in at the reception desk, and headed toward the elevator to get to my room and drop off my bags.
And there I saw . . . this. A perfectly good sculpture, I suppose, in a normal setting. In a museum, people might pause to examine it and remark upon its craftsmanship. But the last thing a tired traveler needs to see on the way to a strange room in strange hotel in a strange city is a depiction of a distraught man folded in on himself, his head cupped in his hands — the very picture of despair and dejection.
Here’s a tip for hotel interior decorators — when you’re selecting art for the lobby, anything that conveys deep depression and loneliness probably isn’t a really good idea.
I prefer old hotels to new hotels. New hotels offer more plug-ins for our electronic devices and more modern amenities. Old hotels, however, definitely have better lobbies. I’ll take clocks, painted ceilings, and gilding over generic atriums any day.
When I enter some modern hotels — like the one I stayed in most recently, which shall remain nameless — I feel like I’ve been flung into one of those sci-fi movies about a Big Brother future where all concepts of art and beauty have been stripped away, leaving only a soulless, dreary, monochromatic functionality. I half expect to see RoboCop come springing out from behind one of the elevator towers.
Hotel lobby art is a special kind of art. It has to be large enough to work in a cavernous, high-ceiling space, yet likely to be inoffensive to the vast majority of patrons shuffling by on their way to their rooms or the concierge desk. Most hotel lobby art blends unobtrusively into the background; it’s rare to see something that is interesting enough to demand a second look.
The lobby of the Grand Hyatt in New York City, next to Grand Central Station, is an exception to that rule. It features two striking statues of the heads of sleeping women by artist Jaume Plensa. Made of white marble and created with horizontal lines, the two statues have a peaceful, ethereal feel and look like gigantic holograms. You feel compelled to walk around them just to make sure that they are tangible.
It’s nice to come to a hotel lobby that makes you think, even for a moment, about the wonder of art.
Some time in the distant past, someone designed, for the first time, a hotel lobby with a towering atrium and glass elevators and concrete walkways that allowed you to look down on other patrons far below. It apparently was a hugely successful design, because it has been copied again, and again, and again. My current hotel is just another example.
So many hotel interiors have that interior atrium design that the look has become generic, giving business travel a kind of mind-numbing sameness. It’s one big reason why I like to stay in old hotels if I have that option. At least the old hotels tend to have a dash of individuality and flair.
Good hotels seem to like to have some sort of landmark in the lobby. Maybe it is just an added feature to make the lobby a bit more memorable, or perhaps its true purpose is to give guests a distinctive place where they can link up after dropping off their bags in their rooms. (“OK, let’s meet by the clock in the lobby at 6:30.”)
I stayed at the Houston Four Seasons recently, and it is a fine hotel, indeed. Its “lobby landmark” is a large carved wooden horse that is found at the corner of the lobby, next to the central staircase. The horse is life-sized, or pretty darned close to it, made of blonde wood, and extremely realistic in appearance. The craftsmanship on the piece really is quite striking. As landmarks go, the “blonde wooden horse in the lobby” is pretty strong.
There’s only one problem, apparently. The horse is located right next to the lobby bar, and according to the bartender there have been occasions where a guest has had a few too many and tried to ride the horse. This is Texas, after all.