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Bye-bye monochrome, hello color, pop and fun. Hotels are putting a smile on our faces, and Tucson’s new Aloft Hotel is at the helm. By Gillian Drummond.

Aloft Tucson University Hotel

Photo courtesy of Starwood Hotels

The roof is the Swoop. The pool is the Splash. The gym is named re:charge. The meeting rooms are called Tactic. In the lobby, a refreshments and snacks area bears the name re:fuel. Outside the elevator you’re told the hotel is smoke-free with a sign that adds: “No butts about it.”


Photo by Gillian Drummond

Everything about Tucson’s new Aloft hotel at the corner of Speedway and Campbell is designed to put a smirk on your face. “It’s witty and whimsical,” says Simon Turner of Starwood Hotels and Resorts, of which Aloft is part.

Starwood is the same global hotel giant that spawned the W brand. And if W has built a reputation as stylish, mature and contemporary, Aloft is its teen little sister: sassy, flighty and impatient. In the lobby/lounge the modular furniture, including a Pac-Man-shaped circular seat and compact side tables that hug together or stand on their own, could be straight out of a 15-year-old’s bedroom. Other pieces, like the white leather feature of a double-sided desk/seat, are more upscale.


photo by Gillian Drummond

Hotels usually influence homeowners and residential designs. In some ways Aloft does the opposite – it steals from us. In a move that’s popular among cash-strapped homeowners, the hotel does an affordable revamp every three months to stop everyone from getting bored. It changes out the accent pillows in the lounge and art on the walls (told you this brand was impatient).

Also on the list for a three-monthly-makeover are the ‘skin’ that wraps around the circular check-in desk in the hotel lobby, and beer taps at the bar, w xyz.

Aloft hopes to do what the W brand is renowned for, which is turn the property into not only a place to stay, but a destination for locals to drink and hang out. As for hotel guests – expected to be business travelers, parents of students, and people visiting for sports events – the idea is to make them feel like they can connect, although only if they want to.


Photo by Gillian Drummond

“Business travelers want to be alone to get their work done, but they want to be alone in the company of others,” says Simon Turner who, as president of global development and someone who travels the world constantly, should know. “If you look at the raised tables and stools in the bar, there are power points all along the table. If you want to be alone you can do that but still be at a community table.”


Photo by Gillian Drummond

“It’s an experience which is beyond the boring brick and mortar,” says general manager Craig Martin of the newly revamped property, which opened in April.  Formerly a Four Points by Sheraton (also a Starwood brand), the seven-story building was converted by Jonathan Nehmer & Associates and HVS Design, both based in Maryland.

It now has a much more open space inside. What was once a long wall with a small door at the back of the hotel lobby has been turned into a wall of windows and glass doors that take guests out to the back patio. Here you’ll find happy colors – lime, white. turquoise – and funky shapes. White sculpted seats look like squashed marshmallows, and a poolside shady seat is a  hooded and cozier alternative to a cabana.


Photo courtesy of Starwood Hotels. *See more on light up furniture in 3 Story’s feature.

The rooms and corridors carry on the party spirit of the lobby, with bright striped wall and ceiling coverings. The elevator interior is disco: black walls, a satin fabric curtain, and colored lighting. In each guestroom there is a signature vintage clock.

A hundred and twenty miles up the road, the ethos behind The Saguaro Scottsdale is similar. When New York City architect/designers Peter Stamberg and Paul Aferiat visited the building the hotel housed, they found a place that was black and white. Peter remembered the comments of a friend from Phoenix: “I wish you could see the desert in the Spring when it’s in full bloom.”


Inside The Saguaro Scottsdale. Photo courtesy of Joie de Vivre Hospitality

This was summer, but there were still desert plants showing their color. Desert wildflowers became the inspiration behind the whole property. Although the management company, Joie de Vivre Hospitality, wanted pieces of trad southwest, Peter and Paul modernized it with color, and in unexpected ways. For example, the saloon walls of the Old Town Whiskey bar are covered with weathered barn wood and feature indented drywall shelves painted bright (see below).

Peter and Paul mourn the loss of color in contemporary design, and their portfolio, ranging from private residences to commercial spaces, reflects that. “The entire ancient world was highly colored and everyone forgets that. Color really left the built environment relatively recently,” says Peter.

And what better place to bring it back than a hotel? After all, he says: “People are going to hotels to have a good time.”

3 more fun hotels to steal from


Photo courtesy of Joie de Vivre Hospitality

* At Hotel Tomo in San Francisco, in the heart of Japantown, it’s J-pop heaven. The anime-style murals, Japanese trinkets, pops of bright color and tween-style furniture are designed to lift your mood, and shave a couple of decades off you too.

* The same management company behind Hotel Tomo manages The Saguaro Scottsdale and The Saguaro Palm Springs, where a desert palette is taken to a whole new level. Forget sand, earth and the green of cactus. These hotels use twelve native Sonoran Desert wildflowers as their inspiration. The result? Vivid doesn’t even begin to describe it. Check out the playful Distrito, the Mexican restaurant at The Saguaro Scottsdale. It mixes up desert cliches with fun: wood and leather, kooky shelf built-ins and beanbags and, yes, the odd saguaro cactus.


Distrito restaurant at The Saguaro Scottsdale. Photo courtesy of Joie de Vivre Hospitality


Photo courtesy of The Bowery House

* Maybe it’s the fault of IKEA. Maybe it’s the economy. Maybe we’re all just getting a little friendlier. Whatever the reason, bunkbeds for grown-ups are in fashion. At The Bowery House on the downtown lower east side of Manhattan, where rooms go as low as $49 a night, you can pack as many as 12 people in one space. The ‘rooms’ are cabins, restored from the original building that served as temporary housing for soldiers after World War II.  There isn’t much space, but then this is Manhattan, where nobody spends much time in their hotel room anyway.





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  1. lee small says:

    I just stayed at the Saguaro in Palm Springs. We ate at their wonderful and authentic Spanish tapas restaurant with lovely Spanish wine list and that great ham . I have never stayed in a motel that had 3 art books in the room to peruse and buy. (The chef’s arty cookbook turned me on to the restaurant.) They even had free bike’s to tour the Palm Springs night clubs and restaurants. The colors and sculpture filled lobby and the tequila tasting bar was au courant. I can’t wait to try the local hotel.