It’s impossible to say exactly how and where the artists designed hotel room first popped up. I suppose if we were to go back long enough in history, one could argue that the caves at Lascaux were the first, somewhat transient, quasi-permanent shelter where individuals painted on the walls. We could ramble through the middle ages where inns popped up along the trails between various religious pilgrimage sites and innkeepers claimed to have pieces of relics or holy paintings.
Lets skip all that and pull ourselves in to the modern era a bit, its hard to go through any city across the globe these days and not find an “arts hotel”, Bohemian culture has long been seen as cool and hip and an early gentrification marker for fringe neighborhood growth – if you want to see an in depth case in point look no further than Miami’s Design District, more on that later. If we wanted to find a place to start, the arts hotel began with Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager when they developed and launched the Morgans Hotel, their pop culture “Cheap and Chic” hotel destination in New York City. It was the first of what would become an iconic hotel brand, The Morgans Hotel Group. The Morgans Hotel business model was to get people out of their hotel rooms and socializing in the lobby and other public spaces, the hotel rooms themselves were very, very minimal, walls painted white, white tile floors, simple wooden bed frame and furniture.
If the rooms were sparse, the lobby’s were stunning and magical, very fairy tale-ish, somewhat akin to an Alice In Wonderland extravagance, artistic, fun, irreverent. The pied piper of boutique hotel design was Philippe Starck, a very frequent collaborator with Schrager.
Artist Designed Hotel rooms, or at least those hotels that were specifically branded as such, cropped up in the mid to late 90’s or so. More often than not it was used as a way to “jazz” up otherwise dowdy motels and hostels.
The Phoenix Hotel in San Francisco, developed and owned by Chip Conley and his Joie de Vivre brand, was probably the first one, making a name for itself as a place where bands and rockstars on tour could hang out in a low key environment, inexpensive that was not a chain hotel. The Phoenix set itself apart by also having a true live music rock and roll venue in the hotel itself.
One of the other more notable hotels, The Winston Hotel, really a hostel in Amsterdam’s Red Light District was the European version, where all rooms were designed by different local artists in and around the Netherlands.
The South Beach version of the artist designed hotel, The Creek South Beach, was developed and designed by Ken Fields as an independent hotel, he was clearly inspired by the previous two, exactly like The Phoenix, The Creek was a run down 1950’s motel in need of repair. There’s a great Facebook page dedicated to the property.
Fast forward to today and do a google image search on artist designed hotels and the shear number of hits and the richness of the imagery serves to illustrate how quickly the concept has grown and become its own hospitality category.