Hotel furnishings go high-tech, eco-friendly

Wyndham Hotels' new "Smart Chair" aims to do for in-room lounging and working what Westin's Heavenly Bed did for sleeping.

The Westin pillowtop-mattress bed, introduced in 1999, was an instant hit and is credited with starting a revolution in hotel bedding.

The Smart Chair, designed by Michael Graves & Associates, is currently ensconced at select Wyndams (the Dallas-Fort Worth airport, downtown Atlanta, and Princeton, N.J., to name a few). It is due chainwide by the end of 2008.

The chair has integrated pivoting tables that provide surfaces for dining, writing and computing as well as a built-in power source and Internet port. It comes in fabric, vinyl and leather and has pockets for newspapers and magazines.

"We felt the 'bed wars' were over and turned our focus to signature products that would appeal to a new generation of travelers, namely the Gen Xers," says Evy Apostolatos, a Wyndham spokeswoman. Other Wyndham room upgrades in the works include brighter lighting and a Michael Graves-designed alarm clock/radio with a music-player adapter and built-in tray for spare change. A "Wyntunes" option lets guests listen to a preprogrammed selection of songs from emerging artists.

The Smart Chair is just one of the cool new furnishings on the hotel landscape, aimed at travelers who expect rooms with more bells and whistles. Other cutting-edge elements of room décor include:

•Eco-friendly furnishings and recycling wastebaskets. Scores of hotels are making efforts to go green. The Lake Powell Resort in Page, Ariz., even has "EcoRooms," whose bathrooms have counters that look like granite but actually incorporate recycled glass. Bathroom floors are made from recycled glass and ceramics. Toilets are water-efficient and the toilet paper is biodegradable. Even the cleaning products are eco-friendly.

•Furnishings you want to take home. The Heavenly Bed prompted guests to ask if they could buy one. It's now sold in Westin's online boutique and at Nordstrom stores. Wyndham plans to sell the Smart Chair and other Graves products (including an ice bucket) online in late '08.

Meanwhile, the new Aloft chain from Starwood, due in 2008, features cork headboards that may have customers clamoring. Another likely hit: bedside lamps turned on and off by a tap on the base at Kimpton's new Hotel Palomar Arlington in Virginia.

•A room devoid of room-service menus and other printed information. It's all on the TV screen at the new Andaz chain from Hyatt, which opens its first outpost in London this month. "With today's technology, we can take paperwork out of the process" from check-in to check-out, says Hyatt Hotels exec John Wallis.

Bathrooms are getting more attention, beyond marble and double shower heads:

•A spritz of comfort and function. The bathrooms at the W Fort Lauderdale, due in 2008, are designed by a woman (an Irish-born interior designer called Clodagh). The soaking tubs have comfy cushioned backs, retractable nozzles for hairwashing, and a tray to hold bathing paraphernalia and a book or drink.

•TVs in the mirror. They allow travelers to catch up on news or a favorite show while shaving or applying makeup. Hotels where embedded, hologram-like TVs can be found (flick them off and you just see mirrors) include The Charles Hotel in Cambridge, Mass.; the MGM Grand in Las Vegas; and the just-opened MGM Grand Detroit.

•Tubs with a view. The Regent Bal Harbour in South Florida, due to open in January, boasts free-standing tubs in front of floor-to-ceiling windows. (You don't have to be an exhibitionist. Windows are tinted and have electronic shades.)

•Toilets with heated seats and automatic washing and drying systems. A splash in Japan, they're crossing the Pacific. The Westin Chicago River North has started to install these wonder-loos — Brondell Swash 800 models billed as "the best seat in the house." The seat is germ-resistant.

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