For hotels, pampering is a fine art

The art-filled hotels aren't just for leisure travelers.

Columbia Sportswear in Beaverton, Ore., puts up its sales representatives at Hotel Lucia, an art-filled Provenance hotel in downtown Portland. The company's sales staff — most of whom are Gen Xers — like the hotel's atmosphere and level of service and prefer it over major-brand hotels in the downtown area, says Carolyn Greenwood, the firm's corporate travel manager.

Artist-film director Julian Schnabel gave the use of original works a lift in 2006 when he helped create Schrager's latest hotel, the Gramercy Park Hotel in New York. From the lobby to the bar, the hotel is filled with oversize paintings and other works by artists such as Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Schnabel himself.

But it's not just the boutique brands.

Ritz changes its image

Ritz-Carlton, in transforming itself from an old-world-style luxury chain to a contemporary one, has been selling off elaborately framed 18th-century oil paintings of sailing ships and hunting dogs. In their place are vibrant, abstract paintings, glass sculptures and other modern works.

"Our artwork has been seen as decoration for a long time, but it can be more," says Susan Konkel, the chain's chief interior designer. After all, she says, "Our clientele today is more sophisticated and has greater appreciation for contemporary artwork."

Ritz-Carlton's South Beach property, which opened four years ago, embodies the chain's new approach to art. Art collector Diana Lowenstein, the hotel's part-owner, filled the hotel with a $2 millioncollection of Latin American and European artists such as Spanish artist Joan Miro. Most of the art was created in the 1940s and 1950s, reflecting the Art Moderne period when the hotel was built.

Sonesta Hotels Chairman Roger Sonnabend, with his wife, Joan, pioneered the concept of hanging original artworks throughout their hotels about 40 years ago. He says quality art can actually save money, because hotels are able to skip sconces, wood paneling and other decorative elements. The 22-hotel chain includes properties in Boston, Miami and New Orleans.

"It's probably the most inexpensive way to make a space look exciting," Sonnabend says. "You put up art and the space comes to life."

The Sonnabends, who are among the most experienced at putting expensive art within reach of guests, have never had a serious problem with theft or damage of art, says Joan Sonnabend. She says the artworks are secured with a special security system and insured.

"We've never had to put in a lot of claims," she says.

The Sonesta art collection contains roughly 6,000 pieces, including original prints from Warhol and Jasper Johns that the couple bought for a few hundred dollars apiece when they were newly married. Some of the Sonesta prints, if sold today, would get as much as $40,000, he says. But Sonnabend says they're not for sale.

Brandman's Thompson Hotels favor art that's relevant to each hotel's location, he says. For instance, at the Hollywood Roosevelt in Los Angeles, hallways feature photographs by Ron Galella, the pioneering "paparazzo" who has photographed celebrities since the 1970s.

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