Something to Declare: There's an art to creating an inspiring place to stay
Sunday 22 April 2012
Dew-kissed rose petals: every time I see a close-up photo of them in a hotel, a part of me dies.
It's not that I expect a Titian or an Emin in my boutique bunk-ups, but is it too much to hope for eye candy born from a little imagination? The vast Cy Twombly that occupies the lobby of Manhattan's Gramercy Park Hotel might not be up your street, but you can't deny the arresting red strokes have more vim than a run-of-the-mill Hilton reception. Tattooed pigs and an excrement-generator might be too much (among the former exhibits of Tasmania's Mona Pavilions – part of the Museum of Old and New Art) but at least you'll have grist to your postcard/Twitter mill.
With the Frieze Art Fair straying into New York next week, let's salute those savvy style dens that have a curator on their roll call. Nick Jones of the Soho House group wants his spaces to reflect the creativity of their members. Each of his properties, from LA to Berlin (and soon to incorporate Mumbai and Istanbul), has its own aesthetic, laced with locally resonant artworks chosen by Francesca Gavin, who asserts that the most effective way to create an identity is through art.
Louisa St Pierre, artists' agent and editor of Spread ArtCulture, ascribes winning formulas to having a curator who is erudite not only in art but also in popular culture, branding, and the experiential. "There needs to be an eclectic array of pieces that chimes with different guests, and works as a whole." For this, see the Standard and the Ace hotels in the US.
Nailing both style and substance, for me, is New York's Crosby Street Hotel. Kit Kemp is the creative half of the husband-and-wife team behind the pretty and witty Firmdale group, for which Crosby Street was its first foray out of London. Their colourful collection injected new life even into one of the world's most sophisticated and saturated scenes, thanks to a specially commissioned 10ft head by Jaume Plensa, Justine Smith's cartoon-mâché dogs, and Peter Clark's collage pooches.
Other hotels boost their credentials by flaunting them in their title: Australia's Art Series hotels are three Melbournian stays themed on Adam Cullen, John Olsen and Charles Blackman. A cute stunt was their Banksy competition: they planted a "graffito" by the artist, valued at $15,000, in one of their hotels and invited guests to find it, steal it and, if uncaught, keep it. (Maura Tuohy was the winning tea-leaf.)
Still, is a hotel's art collection enough alone to lure you to check in? Debbie Lawson's carpeted "Persian Moose" – at the tad-institutional Town Hall Hotel in Bethnal Green – endeared it to me. And the Damien Hirsts at 45 Park Lane give these glossy Dorchester digs cred.
Yet, when it comes to the visuals, less can be more. Ilse Crawford's simple but inspired reworking of The Olde Bell in Hurley, Berkshire, dispenses with framed frippery in favour of artisanal touches at the 16th-century inn. Here, art is not particularly relevant other than sketches by a local historian and photographs of the life if the local community. "The key is to do it well," says Crawford. And I'm fairly sure that means no Audrey Hepburn canvases from Ikea.
Juliet Kinsman is the editor-in-chief of Mr & Mrs Smith hotel guides ( mrandmrssmith.com)
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