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Luxury Hotels Transforming into Mini-department Stores;
Hotel Guests Clamor to Buy Furniture, Sheets,
 Pillows, China
The Orange County Register, Calif.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

July 6, 2004 - Carla Kallen enjoyed her stays at the Ritz-Carlton so much that she brought part of the experience home with her.

The mother of five shelled out $400 for a Ritz-Carlton goose-down blanket and two fluffy king-size pillows. And she's not a bit guilty over her investment in luxurious slumber.

"It's going to last a long time," said the San Juan Capistrano resident. "I had to indulge. You spend a lot of time sleeping. You may as well make it nice." Kallen has tapped into an emerging trend: hotels promoting the resort lifestyle in homes. Across the country, luxury hotels are transforming into mini-department stores, selling furniture, 400-thread-count Egyptian cotton sheets, comforters, china and even mattresses.

At the Montage Resort & Spa in Laguna Beach, you can buy a Chenille throw for $85 or a king mattress and box spring for $1,699. At the St. Regis Resort and Spa in Monarch Beach, $1,200 will get you a eucalyptus night stand and $40 a mother of pearl wastebasket.

It's a relatively new but potentially lucrative enterprise. Experts say the hotel retail market could top $500 million a year, with average sales of $430 and the 529,000 luxury hotel rooms in North America.

"People are relating to a great moment or special service, and they are willing to pay for it," said Cary Schirmer, president of San Francisco-based Boxport.

The company an offshoot of hotel procurer Higgins Purchasing Group helps the St. Regis in Monarch Beach and other four- and five-star hotel chains in the U.S. and internationally run their retail arms thorough Web sites and catalogs.

"Where else do you get the opportunity to test drive a bed and sheets?" Schirmer said.

Experts say the shopping trend is a case of unintended consequences.

A few years ago hotel chains upgraded their mattresses and bedding to enhance the sleep experience and court business travelers.

"The original goal was to create a great experience that would bring people back and cause them to use that hotel over and over," said Jim Burke of the Collins School of Hospitality Management at California Poly-Pomona.

"But they did such a good job people wanted to buy them," he said.

It's actually a bargain, Burke said. The products are exclusive to the resorts and generally cheaper than similar goods in regular stores. "Hotels are buying things that are not only luxurious, but stand up to many washings," he said.

Simplicity appeals to Sue Roe, a Santa Ana interior designer. She has replicated the Craftsman look at the Montage for several clients and in the bedrooms of her Costa Mesa home.

She said she and her customers appreciate the "livable" quality of the hotel's rooms.

"The luxury and the complete look of the Montage is what convinced me," said Roe. "It was the beautiful white lines, the simple elegance and the convenience of being able to go to the resort and simply choose what I wanted." "You can go to other European lines and the quality isn't that good and you're paying more," Roe said.

Bedding is the biggest seller among Boxport customers. But about 5 percent of customers want the total hotel experience, spending $20,000 to $25,000 to outfit an entire room St. Regis style from rugs to end tables, bed frames to box springs, Schirmer said.

Sheila Hupp, a Lake Forest interior designer, expressed surprise when told about the hotel-home decorating trend.

"To escape to a lovely room at a luxury hotel is very appealing," said Hupp, president-elect of the American Society of Interior Designers' Orange County chapter. "To take that room home is not." A lack of vision, as well as the sense of status tied to luxury hotel rooms, could be behind the new trend, Hupp said.

"For some people it could be a great solution to decorating," she said.

"They're not looking for something one-of-a-kind or unique." Plus, she said, they can bypass hiring an interior designer.

Nearly everything is for sale at the St. Regis, where rooms cost between $465 to $5,500 a night and feature Italian 440-thread-count duvets and shams, special Simmons mattresses and deep mahogany furniture with simple lines.

The hotel launched its on-line catalog in 2002.

"Right at the beginning there was a demand for the beds," said Kristi Plasso, hotel spokeswoman. She compared the mattresses to a "big white marshmallow that you sink into." Goose-down pillows at $140 a pop are a big seller at the Montage, said Annie Salcedo, the hotel's retail director.

The resort where rooms run $560 to $5,500 a night racked up about $5,000 in sales weeks after putting their products on the Internet in April, she said.

Salcedo remembers a couple who walked out of the resort with 24 shopping bags stuffed with pillows, sheets, feather beds, duvet covers and bathroom linens for their Silicon Valley and San Francisco homes.

"I was so concerned about how they were going to get everything on the plane," Salcedo said. "When I asked them I found out it was their own plane." At the Laguna Niguel Ritz-Carlton where rooms are $395 to $3,200 the biggest sellers are the featherbeds and sage green down throws.

The hotel recently launched a catalog that includes a $175 large dog feather bed with the embroidered Ritz-Carlton logo.

Unlike the Montage and St. Regis, whose catalogs include furniture, the Ritz sells mostly luxury bedding.

Still, if the hotel can procure an item, such as a desk or armoire, they will and often do, said Vince Yardum, retail buyer for the Ritz. It can be a challenge, however. Most of the hotel's furniture is antique bought more than 20 years ago, Yardum said.

Carla Kallen isn't done adding Ritz-Carlton touches to her bedroom. A recent stay at the Pasadena resort left her hankering for more.

"Now I want the featherbed," she said. The cost: $250 for a queen bed and $275 for a king.

By Susan Gill Vardon, Heather Lourie and Erika I. Ritchie

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(c) 2004, The Orange County Register, Calif. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News. For information on republishing this content, contact us at (800) 661-2511 (U.S.), (213) 237-4914 (worldwide), fax (213) 237-6515, or e-mail MAR,

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