No matter what interest travelers have, from Barbie and Batman to lunar moon landings and medieval castles, they’re learning there’s likely a suite for that.
“Concept suites give guests something more than what you typically would expect at a high-end hotel, says David Wilbourne, founder and creative director of W+CO Design Studio. “It gives you an experience on top of an ultra-comfortable room.”
Concept suites are rooms designed to emulate a particular place in time; bring a particular fantasy world to life; evoke an memorable era of days gone by; or immerse hotel guests in a particular brand or lifestyle, explains Wilbourne, who, along with manager director, Jill Wittnebel, recently created four concept suites at The Carlton in New York.
Wilbourne and Wittnebel developed the concept suites based on the hotel’s longtime fictional character named Carlton, who they describe as a man about town with a work hard, play hard motto.
“Carlton” guides guests through his favorite rooms: “Broadway Diva Suite,” which includes a lighted stage mirror; “Speakeasy Suite,” which includes a secret bar and poker room hidden behind a bookcase; “Carlton’s Corner Pocket Suite,” which includes a vintage pool table, and “Carlton’s New Yorker Suite,” which is lined with classic covers from New Yorker magazine.
“For the business man who travels 200 days a year, he’s tired of the same old, same old,” Wilbourne says. “[Concept suites] work as an upgrade. It increases perceived value and actual income.”
On the West Coast, the Beverly Hills Conference and Visitors Bureau will incorporate the trend into the city’s centennial celebration in 2014. Five hotels – Montage Beverly Hills, The Beverly Hills Hotel and Bungalows, The Beverly Hilton, L’Ermitage Beverly Hills, and The Peninsula Beverly Hills – are each redecorating a suite to evoke moments from the past 100 years.
The bureau paired the hotels’ interior designers with project director Susan Manrao of Susan Manrao Design to capture specific moments in time. The planned concept suites include “Film Noir,” “The Golden Age Inspired by Marilyn Monroe,” “Stylish, Sophisticated Sixties: A Re-Imagined Revolution,” “The Era of Studio 54 – Fashion & Art Collide,” and “The Birth of Modern Glamour.”
The key to a creating a successful, stylish concept suite is to build an authentic background story that matches the design and décor, Wilbourne says, adding it’s best to avoid gimmicky, flavor-of-the month themes that will lose appeal quickly.
“If you wanted to have an African safari room, you wouldn’t put that in New York,” he says. “Then it just becomes a theme restaurant. It has no gravitas.”
In Texas, Hotel ZaZa, a boutique brand, was among the first properties to design concept suites more than 10 years ago, says Benji Homsey, president. “We were a pioneer of the concepts suites,” he says. “It’s a lot of fun for us.”
Homsey describes the brand’s various suites—including “Geisha House,” “Houston, We Have a Problem,” “Red Shoes,” “Rock Star” and “Shagadelic,” a pop-culture nod to Austin Powers—as comfortable, inviting, and inspiring. He says guests enjoy having the ability to customize their stay.
“You don’t feel like you’re in a hotel suite. You feel like you’re in someone’s apartment, and that adds a level of comfort for the traveler,” he says. “It’s helped give the hotel soul, and that’s a really important thing to have in any kind of hospitality business. That’s what stands the test of time. It really has become a differentiator for us over our competition.”