Designers Herald a Motel Makeover for Next-Gen Travelers

Skift Take

Updates to fixtures, furnishings, and food can reinvigorate motels for the next generation. But you need to use a consumer lens, not just a developer's budget, to make the right design choices.

Series: Future of Hotel Design

Future of Hotel Design

What you need to know about the look, feel, and functionality of experiential innovation at cutting-edge properties. (See our past stories.)

Motels won’t go the way of the dodo bird if Lark Hotels founder Rob Blood has anything to say about it. 

In just about a year, Blood’s boutique brand will have expanded its wingspan with nine properties under a new sister brand, Bluebird by Lark. The brand gives motels and lodges new life with a similar design-forward approach that’s earned Lark a following in California and across the East Coast.

But whereas Lark’s 22 properties feature mostly bespoke accouterments like gilded wallpaper, ornate lighting fixtures, and mosaic tiles in the bathroom, Bluebird strives to be a bit more durable and affordable. 

Opened this month, Bluebird Lake Placid in Lake Placid, New York. Photo by Matt Kisaday. Source: Lark Hospitality.

Broader Trend

Bluebird’s effort heralds a broader trend of hotel designers and developers attempting to reinvigorate the motel concept for next-gen travelers faces competition. Last month, investors Starwood Capital and AJ Capital launched Field & Stream Lodge Company, a “modern and affordable lifestyle lodging brand” that will use the brand name of a chain of outdoor recreation stores.

Other players in this space include Tourists in Western, Massachusetts, whose blond-wood lodges, Dezeen-applauded interior decor, and yoga pavilion update the roadway motel idea. Three Basecamp Hotels in the southwestern U.S. have attempted to create a more consistent, hipper experience for fans of the outdoors. In the U.S. Northwest, Loge adds hip layer to motel-like inns close to adventure spots. In coastal New Jersey, the Starlux is a boutique motel done up in a Doo-Wop style a block from the ocean in Wildwood.

In Europe, German brand Motel One is scaling up a design-led roadside hotel concept, with BWH Group (Best Western Hotels)’s Vib (pronounced “vibe”) brand attempting something similar.

One of the cottages at Bluebird Dennisport in Dennisport, Massachusetts, in mid Cape Cod. Photo by Matt Kisaday. Source: Lark Hospitality.

Design-Led Motels

At Bluebird, each hotel is threaded, whenever possible, with design elements that transform underused areas like meeting rooms into spaces that capture a culture of fun, Blood said.

“Our concept is good design in outdoor locations at a mid-scale price point,” Blood said. “Simply by the physical nature of buildings at Lark – where you can typically only fit one bed – that narrows that demographic quite a bit.”

A common area at Spa City Motor Lodge. Photo by Read McKendree. Source: Lark Hospitality.

While guests will find the same cushy pillow-top mattresses as Lark-branded maximalist hotels, the Bluebird aesthetic skews noticeably more minimalist Scandinavian. Walls are typically neutral colors, and woods like pine or tambour are used for furniture, textured walls, or headboards.

Hardwood floors at several locations peek out where outdated carpeting used to be. In Cape Cod, beautifully restored knotty pine painted white by most renovation teams maintains a sense of place. 

Not only are natural materials highly durable for families with kids, but they have lower maintenance and lower sourcing costs. That was especially important as Lark’s in-house design brand, Elder & Ash, scaled so quickly in five states. 

The Lark Hospitality parent company’s team — which also includes Elder & Ash principal Megan Kennedy — uses more online art retailers for Bluebird properties versus Lark’s, but still pokes around in local curio shops to sprinkle in some finds that Blood calls “contextual.”

A pegboard at Talta Lodge. Photo by Read McKendree. Source: Lark Hospitality.

In the Lake Placid location for Bluebird that opened this month, an antique auger that would have been used on an ice fishing expedition is on display. In Sunapee, New Hampshire, a collection of taxidermied fish pay homage to one of the region’s favorite pastimes. In Dennis Port on Cape Cod, a thrifted needlepoint of a sea captain becomes a conversation piece. 

In Sunapee, a rec room with games — and yes, wood paneling with contemporary updates  — is meant to channel ones like Blood and a certain demographic grew up with.

“Wood is very practical because it’s a warm element, but it’s also economical,” Blood said. “You’re not paying a ton of money for wallpaper, and you can bring natural, sustainable materials into the rooms.”

A common area “rec room” at Bluebird Sunapee. Photo by Matt Kisaday. Source: Lark Hospitality.

Common areas for guests to mingle include the lounge at the Tälta Lodge in Stowe, Vermont, which features vaulted ceilings, coffee table books, modular couches and a roaring fireplace.

Bluebird Parker Beach Lodge in South Yarmouth, Massachusetts in mid-Cape Cod. Photo by Read McKendree. Source: Lark Hospitality.

“Bluebird is about hotels that my family would want to travel to,” said Blood, a father of three.

Tags: budget, budget travel, design, future of hotel design, future of lodging, hotel design

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