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What makes a boutique hotel stand out from the rest?

March 29, 2018

By David Stelter

Creating a carefully crafted design that tells a strong story is important for both the interior and exterior of a boutique hotel

Boutique and luxury lifestyle hotels have been a driving force for new trends in the hotel industry. They offer creative freedom for designers and unique experiences for visitors. So what makes one boutique hotel stand out from another? Our experts in Stantec Architecture’s Chicago office share their thoughts. 

Meet our experts:

  • David Stelter: Hospitality practice lead and an expert in US hospitality, commercial, and mixed-use architecture design.
  • Lisa Chervinsky: Senior hospitality designer who has been designing interiors for more than 25 years.

At Hotel Zachary in Chicago, the significant upholstered headboard recalls the lush green of the ballpark nearby. The artwork program was carefully curated, featuring historical ballpark photos, whimsical imagery, and work by local artists.

Q: In a city full of world-class accommodations, how do you make a boutique hotel stand out?

David: Successful boutique hotel architecture creates a sense of uniqueness and identity in all aspects—aesthetics, planning, and functionality included. The goal is to create a memorable and sometimes unexpected experience for the guest. We strive to work hand-in-hand with our clients to achieve these goals in our delivery.

Lisa: From an interiors standpoint, successful boutique hotels have a very strong story, highly developed to the detail level. All elements are carefully crafted, from the vanity design to the type of ice cube in your cocktail. The best boutique hotels deliver a memorable experience that connects the guest with something special about the hotel’s context.

It would have been easy to design a 'Cubs hotel.' We challenged our creativity, and ultimately, wanted to bring history and style together.

Q: What inspires your designs?

Lisa: Inspiration can come from anywhere. Our approach is a process of exploration that considers many things including context, history, and local culture to find something special that not only speaks to us but enables us to achieve our client’s vision in a meaningful way.

David: Our inspiration starts with our client and a clear understanding of their goals and desires. We then analyze further relative to context, scale, desired guest experience—utilizing our creativity and expertise. In the case of Hotel Zachary in Chicago, we aimed to achieve an individuality and identity in the design that would fit within the overall masterplan for the Wrigley Field campus, living harmoniously relative to scale and fenestration, without simply copying the overall ballpark aesthetic.

Q: When trends are constantly changing, how do you ensure a hotel continues to make an impression long after the opening day?

Lisa: The main goal of hospitality design has always been to create spaces where people want to gather. The methods for achieving this have varied over time: in the 1980s there was a baby grand piano in the lobby, today the focus is food and beverage (F&B) centric with a communal table. As long as you create spaces that are flexible and conducive to gathering, your design can evolve over time.

David: When my team was chosen as the architects and guest room interior designers for Hotel Zachary in Wrigleyville, I was thrilled. I’m a lifelong Cubs fan and have worked in the architecture industry for nearly 30 years. It would have been easy to design a “Cubs hotel.” We challenged our creativity, and ultimately, wanted to bring history and style together. Hotel Zachary was inspired by the designs of world-renowned Wrigley Field architect, Zachary Taylor Davis. The intent is to create framing architecture and landscape design that celebrates local history and building practice.

We don’t tell visitors what they should think about the hotel—the connection to the city and the neighborhood is there for you to discover.

Each room at Hotel Zachary in Chicago offers an authentic experience and builds on the history of the neighborhood and the ballpark’s architect, Zachary Taylor Davis.

Q: Why should Chicago visitors get excited about the Hotel Zachary?

Lisa: I was the lead designer for the 173 guest rooms and suites at Hotel Zachary, and each room truly offers an authentic experience, building on the history of the neighborhood and the ballpark’s architect, Zachary Taylor Davis. The guestroom experience invites the patron into the private realm of its namesake, should he be alive today.

Upon arrival, guests are greeted by a custom paneled armoire inspired by the entry halls found in grand residences of the time. The significant upholstered headboard recalls the lush green of the ballpark, making a statement while keeping comfort in mind. We coordinated a carefully curated artwork program that features historical ballpark photos, whimsical imagery, and work by local artists. The centerpiece of the room is a historic blueprint of Wrigley Field drawn by Davis, and the flat-screen TV sits on a bureau meant to look like a piece of furniture that Davis would have used to store his blueprints.

Our design evokes a sense of nostalgia through the use of familiar residential details typical of early 20th century Chicago, while capturing the architect’s progressive spirit with clever accents blending classic elements with a modern aesthetic.

David: The hotel’s unique position adjacent to the ballpark is the central gathering place for social and commercial activity. We designed Hotel Zachary to complement the existing context, such as pedestrian circulation and surrounding iconic architecture.

Respecting the ballpark architecture was our main goal in Hotel Zachary’s scale and choice of materials: masonry, exposed metal, and mixed tinted and clear glass. The hotel’s two-story masonry base provides a strength and consistency in its straightforward and repetitive arcade, anchoring the building at grade and suggesting its retail functionality. Upper level terraces and large expanses of operable glass are incorporated in the retail base to give pedestrians an enticing view of the internal activities and to create a vibrant and active retail edge. The hotel’s main entry takes on its own language integrating more classical detailing, providing the user a hint of the hotel they will experience upon entry.

When you design a boutique hotel in an iconic neighborhood, authenticity is key.

  • David Stelter

    David is an architect, principal, and project manager who leads Stantec’s Commercial / Hospitality architecture practice in Chicago.

    Contact David
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