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Ending Hotel Room Boredom: Finer Hotel Rooms Looking
 More Like Something Out of a Fabulous Home
By Eils Lotozo, The Philadelphia Inquirer
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

Jan. 13, 2006 - Not so long ago, high-end hotel rooms seemed to come in two flavors: blandly tasteful or, thanks to hotelier Ian Schrager and designer Philippe Starck, surreal and cutting-edge.

But these days, hotels seeking crucial repeat business are focusing on comfort and high style that's neither off-putting nor cookie-cutter.

In fact, in many of the finer spots, hotel rooms are looking less like hotel rooms -- and more like something out of a fabulous home.

To lure monied guests used to the very best, the idea is to create hotel rooms "equal to or better than what they have at home," says Cheryl Rowley, the Beverly Hills designer responsible for a lively makeover of the rooms at Philadelphia's Four Seasons Hotel. She has given them contemporary touches mixed with a Federal look, featuring a rich palette of faded tomato red, celery green, butter, charcoal, and chocolate.

For the rest of us, hotels have become design exemplars. Hotel chains have forged a lucrative new business selling room furnishings, from bedding to lamps, to guests eager to capture some of that luxe style.

Karen Daroff's Philadelphia firm, Daroff Design, has done thousands of hotel rooms around the country, including those at the Loews Hotel here. She says there's definitely a crossover.

"Hotels want their rooms to have the warmth of a residence, and guests want to bring some of the sense of luxury and escape into their homes."

But re-creating a posh-hotel feeling takes a whole lot more than just buying the right pillow-top mattress from the Four Seasons, a goose-down quilt from the Ritz-Carlton, or crisp white sheets from the Westin, top hotel designers say.

Sure, a great bed, high-thread-count linens, European featherbeds, and the blissful sleep such things promise are key to most fine hotel rooms. Still, the pros say, turning a space into a relaxing getaway requires attention to a long list of other essential details.

Among them:

  • controlling light levels with lamps and window treatments;
  • locating switches and outlets for ease of use;
  • building in bathroom amenities; and
  • finding a way to create -- no matter how tight the fit -- a sitting area.

Hotel designers start with a theme.

"Our tagline is 'Every hotel tells a story,' and your room at home should too," says Andrew Alford, design manager for the San Francisco-based Kimpton Hotel group, which runs 37 boldly designed boutique hotels nationwide.

At Kimpton's Hotel Monaco in Denver, for example, the story is "indulge your senses." Rich with color and pattern, rooms include leopard-print robes and goldfish in bowls.

At Kimpton's Hotel Helix in Washington, there's a retro Hollywood-glam theme, says Alford, who selects the furnishings sold on the Kimpton Web site ( He encourages hotels in the chain to have guests with design questions call him directly.

Imbuing room after room with that home-away-from-home feel gives these hotel designers a special perspective. So we asked their advice on how to transform your home into a serene place to retire at night.

"The first thing you have to do," Daroff says, "is decide on the look and feeling you want the bedroom to have."

Maybe it's a spalike serenity; perhaps a beloved travel destination, like Italy or the Caribbean. Deciding on a theme will guide all your color, fabric and furniture choices.

"When I think of the Caribbean, I think about pale, sunny yellows, spice oranges, the turquoise of the sea, and textures like woven grasses," Daroff says.

But, she adds: "Whatever you do should be appropriate to the bones of the house. You don't want to go overboard like they do on those home-makeover shows on television and do a fake thatched ceiling."

Do some visual research on your design theme. Clip magazine pictures of rooms, details or furniture. Gather paint chips and fabric swatches. Daroff even suggests pasting all those elements onto what's known as a storyboard.

Unlike a hotel room, which must accommodate the needs of guests from business travelers to couples on romantic getaways, your home suite can be designed to suit only you.

"Some people want their bedroom to be their sanctuary. They want to eat, sleep and watch TV there. Other people's philosophy is 'My bedroom is a place to sleep, and I don't want any other stuff in there.' "

Wherever you land on this continuum, you can't create a vacation feeling until you deal with the clutter our bedrooms tend to accumulate, Rowley says. One of the reasons hotel rooms can feel so relaxing, in fact, is that they allow us to leave our disorder behind.

"You have to find a home for things, even if that means going to the expense of putting in some new storage," she says.

A word about pattern and color: Though some see pale, cool colors as restful in a bedroom, others feel cosseted by warmer, deeper hues. Some can't live without pattern; others couldn't sleep in a room wild with pattern.

Daroff, whose personal aesthetic tends toward modern minimalism, suggests keeping larger areas in the bedroom -- such as walls, flooring and bedding -- more neutral, providing splashes of color and pattern in the form of pillows, throws and accessories.

"That way, it's easier to change them out if you get tired of them," she says.

Alford is in the opposite camp.

"I love pattern and color," he says. "I think a great place to put pattern is on the floor. It's such a big area, and you can get a lot of impact. I'd never go beige on a bedroom floor."

Another sure way to give your room that fine-hotel feeling is with a cushy seating area.

"Creating a space to lounge that is not the bed is so important," says Christine Soderman, owner of Barley Sheaf Farm Estate & Spa in Bucks County. "It's so great to have a place you can read a book, or have a glass of wine, that is not the living room. And it can be a private social spot for a couple where they can go to relax and talk."

If space is too limited for luxuriously overstuffed armchairs, two small slipper chairs sharing a single ottoman can do the trick. Or pair a chair with a chaise placed at the foot of the bed, suggests Soderman, a designer who is overseeing the final stages of a renovation of her inn's 16 antiques-filled suites.

Finally, if your home is blessed with a master-suite layout, you're already ahead of the game for creating the sense of privacy a luxury hotel room affords, even if your bathroom doesn't have the soaking tub and floor-to-ceiling marble, two-person shower that seem to be de rigueur for top hotels these days.

"It's not that difficult to add a steam function to an existing shower, if you have the space in a wall to do it," Soderman says. And putting in one of the immense whirlpool tubs Barley Sheaf's suites feature requires only the services of a good plumber.

Don't have space in the bathroom? Soderman put tubs into some of her suites' separate sitting areas. In one oversize combination bedroom/sitting room, she created an ultra-romantic environment by placing the tub in a corner next to the fireplace.

"People love it," she says. "It's a great place to relax and talk before you go to sleep."

Contact staff writer Eils Lotozo at 215-854-5610 or


Copyright (c) 2006, The Philadelphia Inquirer

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