Design this good is not that common, and it deserves appreciation when you find it.
We needed a place to stay overnight -- with our dog -- en route from the Smoky Mountains to our home. We knew nothing about this place but it accepted dogs, had a little kitchen (which we usually prefer), and was in the right spot just off our freeway. We pulled up outside the Hilton and were instantly delighted. The place opened in January 2016 and everything about it seems (and smells!) fresh.
In the first place there are plants among the cheerful pebbles that edge the car park and driveway. Before one reaches the lobby, one sees a portico with an outdoor living room -- comfy sofas arranged in a square -- to give those wishing to be outdoors somewhere nice to sit and be sociable.
The lobby is decorated in a smart but warm fashion, with large colourful vases on shelves and an open, airy reception space. There is a breakfast bar that comes alive as a morning tableau of happy breakfasters but was decorously screened and darkened for the night when we arrived.
This is all very nice -- but the real brilliance, the sheer competence and flair of the design of this hotel became most clear when we turned from the fresh and pleasant corridor into our room.
The first thing that impresses is the sense of white and the presence of light. One looks around: it's crisp, modern, and everything is open to view. There is minimal colour, but the colour is essential and it is well chosen. The muted twill blue of the partition curtains by the door (ironing board space) and in the bedroom (suitcase space) offers a nice complement to the solid wood look and the polished metal of the fixtures.
Everything is integrated and open to view, so that the bathroom looks into the bedroom and also into the eating-dining area. The kitchen has shelves rather than cupboards, so one sees exactly where the beer glasses, cups, bowls, and plates are. Men in particular seem to dislike looking for things, and want everything not only to hand but also ‘to eye’. They have it, here. The light wood Ikea-like desk pulls out as needed, so one can array on it whatever devices or papers one has.
But most of the space is given over to relaxation: the king bed that looks even larger with a tasteful white stitched bedspread — circles like bubbles that subtly soften the edginess of a rectangular bed in a rectangular room with rectangular headboard. The sofa, in grey with a light green piped edging, offers a subtle contrast to the green-and-white line-segment wallpaper, though the same green is picked up on the fabric portion of the bed’s headboard. The carpet is shades of beige and brown with a darker pattern in a rectangle in front of the sofa, which is woven into the broadloom but gives the visual impression of a rug.
So what is the effect of these colour choices, these selections of furniture? Well, it’s a home away from home (Home2, as the name suggests, for visiting when you leave your Home1). But especially, it’s a man’s home away from home. The cube in front of the sofa, being a dark brown vinyl, invites him to put his socks or even his shoes up as he watches the television — though there is plenty of light either side for reading — and the wallpaper behind him is evocative of the lawn that he has left behind at Home1. (It also substitutes for the live plants that would look so good in this suite but that naturally the hotel can’t provide.) In the middle of that wall behind him is a picture, of fireplace hues orange and red; but the picture actually depicts not a fire but skeleton keys, and the word for ‘house’ in various languages, popping up between these vintage keys like a collage. Home is where the lawn and hearth are, even if it’s only a suggested hearth and a visual stretch of imaginary lawn.
There is also one other piece of art, over the small and probably not much used ‘dining table’ (most people eating alone would prefer to eat from their lap while being entertained). It is unframed, in a wraparound canvas style that immediately seems unfussy. It depicts an array of teaspoons, fanned out and splashed with colour so as to resemble a peacock’s tail. It’s a work that manages to be modestly domestic and kitchen-y in the right place, even as it is also clearly artistic and clever. Nowhere are we confronted with pointless images of places we’re not in (black-and-white photos of the Eiffel Tower, for instance) or generic floral trivialities that make a wall less barren without actually offering any visual interest. Nowhere is the aesthetic offering unpleasant for a woman’s eye, yet nowhere is it the least bit unmanly.
This is the only artwork in the place, not counting the sculptural sconce lamps that differ from the bedroom to the living room. This is a design that tries to achieve a balance between unity of decoration and a sense of separate functions and moods. In our view, it succeeds. No heavy fabrics; no particular dust traps; no extraneous items getting in the way. For instance, there is no cooktop -- just a microwave -- but if you want a plug-in skillet, you may get one upon request.
One of the benefits of the place is how uncluttered and economical it is, without losing that sense of ‘home’ which is part of ‘the sell’. The window covering lets in daylight while saving privacy: there is nothing to pull aside if you like it that way. The light-excluding blind over top of it is effective at keeping the room nice and dark for a good night's sleep -- always an important consideration in a building surrounded by lights. They haven’t done away with lamps: they’ve just halved them, so to speak, and stuck them up on the walls. They haven’t prevented you from making it cosy: they’ve given you the shelf space to put up your own pictures or objets d’art.
Even the bathroom gives a man (in particular) what he wants in a way that is both neat and economical for the hotel: a tiny but still useable bar of soap (who needs more for an overnight stay?) and two dispensers in the shower stall: body wash, and shampoo. It’s easy, it’s cost-effective, it’s smart. I even liked the melamine-type bathroom counter, pale and flecked like a lakeshore or a sandy beach, and sculpted round the sink like a natural feature. On the one hand, the bathroom seems ordinary enough; on the other hand, every aspect of it represents a decision. The counter could have been louder, with many coloured flecks, or designed so that copious visible quantities of silicone were needed around it, or fitted with a plastic tap common to cheap bathrooms everywhere for decades. Instead, the choices are just right. There is no pretension to anything grand, but there is nothing to disdain or wish were different, either. The brand of bathroom products chosen, by the way, is Neutrogena, which has a high-quality reputation and a satisfyingly unisex presentation.
Interestingly, the man of different moods -- not just the businessman at work -- is accommodated, too. In the bedroom there is a lamp with two settings: one turns on the bulb under the lampshade, while the other lights the base like a glow-ball. It is atmospheric lighting. Here is the recognition that someone might want softer more decorative lighting: for relaxing, or for a tryst. There's not much this designer didn't think of!