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!
When I got to my room at my hotel in NYC last night, I discovered it was one of those places that has random quotes printed on the walls.
In this case, it was the above quote attributed to Andy Warhol — although some contend it actually originated with Marshall McLuhan — helpfully placed right next to the bathroom. For good measure, the mat on the desk has a quote attributed to John Steinbeck: “People don’t take trips, trips take people.” (This is a paraphrase of sorts of a line from Travels with Charley: In Search of America that reads “We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.”)
What’s the point of quotes on the walls and on desk mats? I’m guessing it’s supposed to convey a certain erudite edginess, like you’ve suddenly found yourself in some intellectual artist’s loft in Soho, rather than in a stodgy hotel. But in my view, the wall quote places are really more alienating than the standard generic hotel room. After all, I didn’t pick the quote — and in fact I don’t think I’d ever print any quote upon my wall, even if it were some deeply meaningful quote from the Gettysburg Address rather than a vapid observation about gullible art critics. So when I wake up and see the quote on the wall, it immediately tells me that I’m in a strange room. It doesn’t exactly convey a “make yourself at home” feeling.
Everybody seems to be big on quotes these days, although many of the quotes you see are actually fake. It’s as if the message is that there’s no original thinking yet to be done, and we should just sigh with appreciation at the wisdom of the ancients — which is an approach I heartily disagree with. But even if you are a big fan of quotes, what does a quote from Andy Warhol about art have to offer a weary traveler? My guess is that Warhol himself would find the fact that his quote appears on a hotel room wall to be a hilarious commentary on the wannabe state of modern society.
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.
So I did.
One weird thing about American hotels — they’re not satisfied with traditional table items. So instead of a little pitcher that immediately tells you it holds cream, you see a steel rectangle with a notch in the side . . . and you have to figure out it’s the cream dispenser.
Well, I guess it helps you to get your brain working in the morning.
Hotel air conditioning in the common areas can be . . . uneven. The temperature in the elevator lobby on my floor of the hotel last night was so cold the air had a kind of gelid feel to it. It was only a fraction above see-your-breath levels. I half expected to see cattle carcasses hanging from hooks, or a sad-eyed kid whispering “I see dead people.”
Of course, my actual room was hot.
One last thing about the Glacier National Park area: I really liked the entrance halls of the lodges and hotels we visited. It’s not that I’m a huge fan of taxidermy or hanging animal heads (I’m not), but the lobbies all conveyed a very strong sense of place — woodsy, wild, and recognizing the roles played and the traditions created by the native Americans who treated this part of the world as a sacred place.
A favorite of ours was the Lake McDonald Lodge, which is located on the grounds of Glacier National Park itself. Like many of the lodges in the area, it has an exterior that looks like a Swiss chalet, which evidently was part of a campaign to convince rich people back east that the Montana Rockies were like the Swiss Alps. The lobby, though, is a more evocative place, with a vaulted central area open to several floors of the lodge that features stuffed animals and heads everywhere you look and a unique central light fixture with shades that were hand-painted by members of the Blackfeet tribe.
At one end of the lobby there is an enormous, two-tier fireplace decorated with pictograms. The fireplace creates a kind of initial gathering area, complete with rockers, and with an interior fireplace behind. It’s not hard to imagine what it would be like to come in from the cold, shake off the snow, and then sit by that fireplace to be warmed. And it’s got a moose head, too, of course.
I wouldn’t want a moose head in my home, and the lodge decor obviously wouldn’t fit in Columbus, Ohio — but when you are going on vacation and looking to get away from it all, a lobby that physically and tangibly reminds you that you are someplace different really helps. It sure as heck beats the generic lobbies you find in most hotels.
There’s a certain skill to picking hotel room carpeting. It must be louder than the carpeting any rational person would select for their home, so stains won’t show, yet at the same time absolutely generic and forgettable.
Do they teach a class in carpet selection for hospitality management majors? If so, I bet the person who picked this green pattern got an A.