From Furniture To Flophouse: West Elm Joins The Boutique Hotel Trend

Another entry in the boutique hotel genre brings with it huge brand recognition.

By Jeff Vasishta October 21, 2016
Photo courtesy of West Elm

To test out their new line of hotels, furniture company West Elm had employees dump cigarette butts, soda and other substances on their fabrics to see how durable they were. Clearly, they aren’t anticipating Justin Beiber or Charlie Sheen as guests.

Related: Time To Really Meet The Neighbors: The Commune Comeback

According to the Wall Street Journal, West Elm will design, furnish and market the hotels, which will open in Detroit and Savannah in late 2018. They are partnering with DDK, a hospitality management company which will be in charge of the day-to-day operations.  In a decidedly un-Beiber move, rather than demolishing the furniture, guests will be able to be buy it. Everything in the room will be available online, guests excluded…we presume.

The move into hotel chains is West Elm’s attempt to stymie an over expansion of retail stores, the Achilles heel of many a bold chain. West Elm’s president Jim Brett says the brand doesn’t envisage doubling its current footprint of 100 retail stores.

Boutique hotels are all the buzz these days. Not only have all the major hotel chains such as Marriott (who have their Edition line) and Lark Hotels (which has the Attwater) got in on the action but celebrities such as Robert De Niro (Manhattan Greenwich Hotel) and Francis Ford Coppola (Blancaneaux Lodge, Belize) are now also hoteliers. Other hotel owning celebs include Gloria Estafan (Costa d’Este Beach Resort), U2’s Bono and The Edge’s, The Clarence in Dublin and even Abba’s Benny Anderson has the Hotel Rival in Stockholm.

West Elm President Jim Brett. Photo courtesy of Kevin Hagen for The Wall Street Journal

So what’s the draw? Apparently it’s those demanding Millennials that are to blame. Again. How dare they want to feel pampered and looked after in a hotel. Anyone would think they’re paying for it. Wait, what? They are? Looks like that generation might be making their own bank these days.

“Boutique hotels speak to how people travel now,” Rob Blood, the founder and CEO of Lark Hotels told Fortune. “Millennials want experiences, not just a room to stay in.” But Blood is quick to point out that it isn’t just millennials driving the interest. “People really want to connect with their hotel in a different way, and get insider information about the area they’re visiting,” says Blood.

For Millennials the standard creams and beige’s of box chain hotels are out. They want earth tones, cool industrialization and reclaimed wood. Also, seasonal fare is often on the menu like at the Salt House Inn in Massachusetts. Don’t be surprised to discover traditional checking in and out times have been banned too.

Other boutique lines of major brands include Lanhgam’s Cordis which just opened in Hong Kong with future chains in China, Sri Lanka and Bali in the pipeline.

Photo courtesy of West Elm

The Shangri-La brand have really got into the spirit of things. They’ve created a fictional character and embarked on a kind of Lee Strasbourg influenced bout of method acting to create, Hotel Jen. Who, or what is Jen? Imagine if you will, a professional hotelier who loves to travel and discover new places. The brand’s target audience is independent travelers who like a simplified approach to hospitality. Hotel Jen emphasizes insider local information, and key amenities are geared towards the iPhone obsessed, including free Wi-Fi and phone charging stations in the lobby. But surely that’s what everyone wants, not just Jen?

If you never quite got over your college days, the Graduate line of hotels in the college towns of Athens, GA, Madison, WI, and Tempe AZ are supposed to evoke a kind of retro college splendor without the moldy furniture, “herbal” aromas and frat parties. They’ll even call mom to come and pick up your laundry. Rekindling your ex-college romance, though, is completely down to you.

Jeff Vasishta



Jeff is a writer, husband and father but not necessarily in that order. As a music journalist he counts Prince, Beyonce and Quincy Jones amongst those he’s interviewed. He's also owned and flipped homes in Brooklyn, NJ, CT and PA.

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