What design elements define the expansion of the boutique hotel movement?
Beginning in the 1980s, stylish independent hotels in Europe and the U.S. began to gain traction. In 1981, the Clarion Bedford Hotel opened in San Francisco, and in 1984 Morgans opened in New York City. These were some of the first small hotels that could be defined as a “boutique hotel”—a small hotel focused on design and individuality that is usually independent.
Now, boutique hotels’ unique designs have continued to create value for hotel investors, leading to many acquisitions within the last few years, such as the purchase of Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants by InterContinental Hotels Group in 2014 or Marriott International purchasing Starwood Hotels & Resorts and inheriting W Hotels in 2016.
Travel company Skift recently put together a complete oral history of boutique hotels, almost 40 years after the movement began. Skift says that one thread in particular connected all of the young boutique hotel owners: that they wanted to be unique, “unfettered by old, staid, or stuffy traditions.” They wanted guests to remember their stay above all else. Moreover, this has continued in modern boutique hotels around the world, catering to travelers’ longing to stay somewhere hip and different, and somewhere that reflects the local community where they’re staying.
So what factors pushed the movement forward, and what’s driving it now?
Defining the boutique hotel
Part of the lure of a boutique hotel is that it can’t be defined by traditional standards. As Ian Schrager, co-founder of Morgans in New York City, told Skift, “If other hotels were generic and ubiquitous, they were department stores. We were a boutique. We had a specific attitude. We had something to say. We had real focus. It wasn’t about size. It was about narrowness of focus.”
Boutique hotels, then, are meant to be unique and individualistic, not part of big chains but catering to local flare. Many boutique hotels have an overall theme, which each area of the hotel ties into, whether the lobby, restaurant, bar, or guest rooms.
Opinions on how many rooms a boutique hotel can have differs, but they’re usually smaller than large hotels and generally have between 40 and 300 guest rooms. However, boutique hotels are defined more by their philosophy, or how they make guests feel, rather than a particular size.
Whether they’re historic or luxury, boutique hotels are different and stylish, and offer something never-before-seen to travelers.
Lobby design elements
The lasting legacy of those initial few boutique hotels has to do with interior design. Small and large hotels around the globe have integrated the chic styling present in unique hotel lobbies. These lobbies now integrate sleek bars, where not only hotel guests hang out, but also the locals. They integrate natural décor like hanging ivy or waterfalls. They have fireplaces to make the lobby feel like you’re at home in your living room.
Boutique hotel lobby design is all about statement pieces. Think of the stylish, bright-colored couches and chairs you’ve seen in lobbies. Artistic light fixtures or throw pillows. An elaborate rug under a vintage-style coffee table. Despite the statements, there is often one overall theme behind these lobby design elements that’s unique to that hotel property.
Another element in modern boutique hotels is the shared workspace. As more people are taking advantage of the gig economy and working remotely or on a project-by-project basis, more people are looking for places to work with other like-minded individuals.
To keep up with this demand, many hotels now offer co-working spaces in their lobbies. These spaces typically still offer comfortable, stylish furniture, and they add in desks or long tables and lots of power outlets.
Examples of hotels with shared workspaces include:
AC Hotel Phoenix Biltmore, with its indoor/outdoor AC Lounge
Charlotte Marriott City Center, with its gourmet café Coco and the Director
The Revolution Hotel, in Boston, with its co-working space, Conspire
Deliberate, unified room design
Don’t assume that the integrated design stops with the lobby. Boutique hotels also put great care into making each guest room feel comfortable and unique. This means that furniture could be different throughout all the rooms, or that each room has its own theme. Sometimes, mismatched furniture within the guest rooms themselves can lend lots of character, even if it’s high-end furniture.
Boutique hotels often make sure they have the most comfortable beds on the market. These hotels focus on the customer experience from check-in to check-out, and so it’s no wonder that they also value the comfort of their furnishings. They want their furniture pieces to make guests feel most at home.
Because they focus so much on experience, statement pieces are important in boutique hotels. With the rise of photo sharing and social media, hotels now have to think about areas where guests will take photos and share them. This is why including something quirky in the guest rooms or a big statement piece is becoming more and more important.
Boutique hotels have continued to gain popularity since the 1980s, and they don’t appear to be going anywhere anytime soon. This is especially true as most of the big hotel companies now offer a boutique brand, Skift says, and boutique hotels aren’t just appearing in big cities anymore.
Beachwood Custom has been proudly serving the boutique sector since 1992. Learn more about our top-quality furniture and finishes.