Q. My interior designer just told me that my house looks like a hotel. So what's wrong with that? (from Marie Claire in Baltimore, MD)
A. Marie Claire, thanks so much for writing in. We have been observing that the decorating distinction between a fine boutique hotel -- featuring all the amenities of home -- and fine home design -- featuring suites of furniture and boutique hotel amenities -- is becoming quite blurred. We hope that changes.
Call us old fashioned, but we're of the school that says that unless you want to decorate to look like the Presidential or the Royal Suites at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, you should avoid having your home decor sing the Boutique Hotel Blues. Let's let some photographs do the talking, shall we? Here are some scenes from both suites at the Waldorf:
Contrast these pictures with photos from contemporary boutique hotels:
Did you notice the difference? At the Waldorf, designers chose eclectic arrangements, and each piece of furniture had a distinct contribution towards making not only the room function well, but for the entire design scheme to jump with joy. The boutique hotel photos showed matching and well-coordinated furnishings and accessories that robbed the rooms of any character or uniqueness. There is also a trend to design boutique hotel rooms with mid-century coolness, right down to the Jonathan Adler knockoff vases, and it's become so prevalent that Boutique Cool has morphed into Boutique Sterile.
Waldorf = Beauty & Personality
Boutique Hotel = Matchy-Match & Mass-Produced Look
Hospitality decorating, even in a wonderful boutique hotel, usually errs on making the same kind of furniture suites for multiple rooms, with the same kind of coordinating accessories and bedding. It's fine if you're traveling on business and you only have to stay in that environment for a day or a week, but it would be sheer boredom if you had to call this environment your home.
We recommend mixing up your design choices. Choose some inexpensive furniture and accessories, like a bookshelf from Target, a club chair from Crate & Barrel, the Horizons Studio buffet from Ethan Allen, and funky accessories from Urban Outfitters. Or go crazy at local auction houses and flea markets and get true "finds" that ooze quirkiness and warmth. Then go shopping for some antique and used furniture pieces that add patina and beauty to your rooms. We recommend spending more than you think you can afford to get a few very special things that will immediately become a room's focal point and conversation starter. Coordinate wall colors and coverings, window treatments, and accessories like rugs and pillows with your mix of items so they all come together as a whole.
And what if you had a few one-of-a-kind items for each of your rooms? New Yorker Pamela Bell's muslin upholstered sofa and wing-back chair got a revved-up look (see below) when she invited her child's entire class over to graffitti-it-up and embellish it with colors, autographs, drawings, and sayings. You won't find these furniture items in a hotel, but it's this kind of uniqueness and energy that makes a home something personal.
Diversify your design choices, listen to your decorator's good advice, and work with her or his vision to create a unique space that reflects you and your family's tastes and personalities. And know that you don't want to live in a hotel room when you can more comfortably and sanely have your own unique-looking home. Good luck!