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Heavy Mettlers

(June 2017) posted on Fri Jun 30, 2017

When it comes to earth-shaking hospitality concepts, it’s less about face melting and more about technical chops. Examples: 21c Museum Hotels and Getaway.

By Oriana Lerner

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First and foremost: Know when not to innovate. Even the cleverest concepts are only sustainable if the methodology behind them is as well-considered as the elevator pitch. And, beyond obvious efficiencies of scale for giant hotel chains and a few specific corporate amenities like loyalty programs, unconventional operators like 21c and Getaway still choose to follow most of the conventional wisdom about how to build a lasting corporate framework to support even the quirkiest design.

Getaway's cabins are built on a trailer base so that they're portable. A residential build quality translates to a (very petite) home away from home. Photo: Roderick Aichinger

21c, for example, has a book of brand standards that spans everything from the big picture overview of cutting-edge art and great F&B to a detailed design strategy. “The formula may not be visible, but to us the public areas are always about art. The upstairs [guest spaces] should feel like home,” says Deborah Berke, partner at her eponymous design firm, who has collaborated on all the 21c hotels.

Even the guest room floors aren’t exempt from their own entry in that brand encyclopedia. “We try to avoid using carpet in the rooms, for example, unless there is a special case; we’ve used everything from terrazzo to wood instead,” says Berke. Keeping the back-of-house spaces as standard as possible helps streamline the process of converting old buildings (though, Wilson notes, complete consistency isn’t possible in historic sites) and prevent overruns.

21c Nashville
To make 21c Nashville's gallery space work in the long, narrow Gray & Dudley building, the design team cut light wells into the space and knocked out some floors above. Photo: Courtesy of 21c Museum Hotels

Davis and Staff took a different leaf out of the big-brand playbook: tiered room offers that let guests, even in a retreat setting, choose their own experience each time they stay. “We build each cabin around big central elements: real wood, high quality materials, big windows that let nature be the star and lots of space for lounging, reading and reflecting,” says Davis. “Various cabin families (each unit can sleep two to four people) arrange our key elements in different ways.”

And people don’t want their style cramped, even in a small space. Electric toilets and real showers are built into one end of each cabin, all of which also have a kitchen. Guests won’t settle for cheap finishes or subpar build quality, even in what is, effectively, a trailer. (Staff lived in one in his pre-Harvard days, so he should know).

Sleeping areas on different levels maximize interior space in Getaway's Salvatore cabin. Dark soft goods are a durable solution—and a great foil for blond wood tones. Photo: Dylan Engels

“Fortunately, the scale of the cabins makes superior finishes more affordable,” Staff points out.

So, ultimately, even visionaries have to know their way around Excel sheets, paperwork and TripAdvisor reviews. But before designers or owners tear their hair out over that, they can take comfort in the fact that doing so allows them to take style risks when they’re backed up with good business sense.

Homework still pays off. Sorry ‘bout that.


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