APP Out of Town - The Jefferson DC + PUBLIC Chicago

A comparison of two hotel experiences...

I have a background in art history, and in curating shows for non-profits and pop-up exhibitions. As a hospitality art consultant, selecting art for hotels is similar to creating a show. While curating for a museum or gallery, you are largely relaying a message, movement or concept that is punctuated by being within white walls. Art consulting for hotels is about creating an emotional, immersive time and place situation for the visitor. Many impressions are made because of the quantity of guests and the lengthier “shelf-life” of the design.

As a child, I remember going to see the Barnes Collection in Philadelphia. I was completely blown away. It was the first time I saw the luxurious experience of living with art. The beautiful home was filled with art, hung salon style, and co-existing with the elements of home: furniture, rugs and books. Traveling after that in Europe exposed me to more of the same. Places like Versailles are like Disney World to me. I don’t want to live there – that’s not MY luxurious life. It’s not realistic, and completely overwhelming for the senses. But I love being there, experiencing the time-period these places capture and the feeling of luxury they convey.

Great hotel stays should envelop the guest with a cohesive look and feel. Every hotel has a mission statement and the selected art is a large part of conveying that message. My work is in the luxury hotel tier and this is where I stay when I travel. While they really are apples and oranges, I want to offer a comparison of two hotels I stayed in this year: The Jefferson in Washington DC and Public Chicago.

THE JEFFERSON HOTEL, Washington DC (photos courtesy of the hotel)

I visited the Jefferson in February because I was working on a historical hotel project in the city. While I was already in the mindset working on a package that honors the aesthetic choices of a past era, I was deeply impressed with the authenticity of the entire hotel. All the furnishings and art were Jeffersonian; the photographs and portraits in the public spaces and the maps used in the downstairs bar offered a complete picture and feel. The frames were gilded but not themey at all. The hotel aura was classic and classy down to the last detail. And that’s what this job is about – the DETAILS. The fresh snacks I noticed along with the turn-down service, were apples. I was transported back in time and my stay was comfortable and comforting, exactly what I needed after two busy and cold days. This hotel exemplifies what we try to offer with our boutique approach. We try to develop the character of the space, enhancing the design with unique, perfectly paired pieces of art.


PUBLIC Chicago Hotel (Photos courtesy of the hotel)

On the other hand, my July stay at PUBLIC in Chicago did not have the same cohesion or comfort. Where the Jefferson had a specific tenor that it offered seamlessly, Public had a shtick, and the delivery was pretty jarring. Firstly, the lighting throughout the entire hotel was very dim. The dramatic mood did not provide a feeling of ease, and the layout of the lobby was not intuitive, giving more confusion than warmth at reception. Similarly, in my guestroom, the back lit headboard was an interesting “feature” but I really didn’t like having to work to create my own ambiance. The light was the hotel’s design element but I was in charge of it adjusting it.

The extremely neutral color palette, lack of art in the corridors and very minimal and oddly chosen art in the guestroom did not mesh with the elegant, traditional art that could be found in the public spaces downstairs. The overall impression the Public gave me was that there were multiple designers on the job. And that brings up another important point: When I am staying in a (nice) hotel, I should not be thinking about the designers’ decisions, even if I am in the industry. The Public hotel was not successful at encompassing me or delivering their mission. I spent my two nights and had a wonderful time in the city, but honestly in regards to many elements in the hotel, I just didn’t get it.

Again, these are two totally different hotels. But in my opinion, every hotel should offer what the Jefferson did so well – a luxury, relaxing stay in an environment where all the details work so well together you don’t notice the process. 


- Amy Parry