by Morton D. Rosenbaum | April 01, 2005

W Mexico City

New angles:
A detail from the
W Mexico City’s
intimate communal
“living room” as
designed by
Studio GAIA

Thanks to the new boutique hotel boom, wireless Internet and cushy beds aren’t the only must-haves this season. Today’s discerning guests want a little architectural pizzazz for their buck. 
    “Customers know and expect more now in terms of design,” notes Stacy Shoemaker, senior editor for New York City-based Hospitality Design magazine, “and hotels have had to step up.”
    Boutiques, of course, are leading the pack, enlisting the design world’s sharpest talents for the next wave of chic properties. M&C rounds up and interrogates the new confectioners, whose sugary visions are turning the hotel world on its head.

Deborah Berke & Partners Architects LLP
New York City-based architect Deborah Berke cringes at the term “hotel designer.” Since 1982, her firm has been helming projects residential, commercial and institutional alike. Her team’s first engagement in the hospitality arena last year, however, has earned her the false title more than once.

Deborah Berke

“What we found
hidden in its awfulness
were some great
spatial opportunities.”
Deborah Berke

     The mislabelers can be forgiven, perhaps, in light of just how sizable a stir the James Hotel in Scottsdale, Ariz., made when it opened, adding more than a splash of bold color to the oppressively neutral desert hotelscape.
    “It’s so vibrant and beautiful out West,” enthuses Steven Brockman, senior designer and colorist for the project, whose bold blues, yellows and reds have earned the James a far-reaching reputation as a mischievously sexy desert maverick. “Most of the hotels you see there are these muted, adobelike buildings. We really wanted to take advantage of what was around us.”
    Paying homage to the area’s big sky and generous light, Brockman arranged for fiery touches such as the red bedside chair “It’s supposed to make the guest think of sex,” he says. (It worked. Travel + Leisure magazine ranked the property America’s sexiest resort last year.) All the color, however, Berke and company are quick to point out, is in service of a larger purpose the space.
    “We’re not decorators,” she says, with more than a whiff of dismissal in her voice. “We’re architects. We look at elements like color, form and shape in terms of how they affect the volume of a space. With the James, we were gutting and remodeling an old hotel not old as in vintage classic, just old as in bad. But what we found hidden in its awfulness were some great spatial opportunities.”
    The 200-room James offers a distinctly unboutique-like 10,000 square feet of meeting space. Berke will revisit the hotel world with the upcoming 21C Wyndham Hotel and Museum in Louisville, Ky., which is expected to open by year’s end, as well as her second James development, opening in Chicago early next year.