How Hotels Strategically Develop Their Identities

When it comes to hotel design, every single detail is obsessed over. From the color palette to the textures to the furnishings and fixtures, everything is the means to an end—finding the best way to convey to guests what the property is all about. Weaving the ideal design narrative for a property can be a challenging task, one that requires the expertise of a team of highly skilled individuals. No matter if the property is a new build or a renovation, it is with the combined effort of these experts that the path becomes clear and the hotel’s unique personality can shine through.

1. The Godfrey Hotel Chicago
OWNER: Oxford Capital Group
ARCHITECT: Valerio Dewalt Train

It took only a few years for the half-built, tarp-covered hotel at the corner of West Huron and North LaSalle streets to become an eyesore in Chicago’s River North neighborhood. Stalled during the 2008 recession, the project was originally conceived as a Staybridge Suites when the developers ran out of money and defaulted on their loan. In 2012, Oxford Capital Group, with financial backing from Cube Capital, stepped in to acquire and resurrect the building through an amicable deed in lieu of foreclosure.


Rather than picking up where the prior developers left off, Oxford saw an opportunity to reposition the 16-story property as an upper upscale lifestyle hotel, which it would name The Godfrey. It would be the flagship hotel of a new brand that Oxford would be developing in key urban markets across the United States. The plans called for 221 rooms, a restaurant, and an expansive indoor-outdoor rooftop lounge and event space. The independent property, which opened in early 2014, sits adjacent to the Hotel Felix, another Oxford-led project.

The Chicago-based firm, which specializes in complicated, large-scale acquisitions, redevelopments, and operational turnarounds, is building a name for itself in the burgeoning lifestyle segment. Earlier this year, Oxford announced plans for its 11th hotel project in the Chicagoland market, located in the historic London Guarantee Building at the corner of North Michigan Avenue and Wacker Drive. Once renovations are complete, the property will reopen as the LondonHouse, an upscale lifestyle hotel in Hilton’s Curio collection, in spring 2016. Other notable developments with the Oxford stamp include The Langham Chicago, Hyatt Magnificent Mile, and Renaissance Chicago North Shore. Oxford enlisted frequent collaborator The Gettys Group to design The Godfrey Hotel Chicago’s interiors. Gettys in turn partnered with Valerio Dewalt Train, the architecture firm that had originally designed the cubist-inspired structure.

To build the design narrative, Gettys held an ideation workshop or “DNA charrette session” with key decision-makers, including members of Oxford Capital, the operations staff, Valerio Dewalt Train, and the branding team. They went through a series of phrasing exercises to determine the identity of The Godfrey. Words they came up with included memorable and authentic, playful and distinctive, stylish and surprising, and vibrant and fresh. “We definitely wanted this building to be hip and chic in the non-trendy sense, and we wanted this hotel to appeal to a lot of different age travelers,” says Chris McDonough, the design director at Gettys who served as the project lead. “Everyone is focusing on the millennials and younger travelers, but we didn’t want to alienate the business travelers that Oxford really attracts. They’re very good at managing their hotels and revenue streams.”

Visual mood imagery studies also helped the team identify sources of design inspiration. Some of those inspirations included classic men’s suiting, fashion and retail, stitching, and textured heather. In a time when most brands are hyper-focused on having a local feel, The Godfrey would be more about timeless and classic design, McDonough explains. “The hope is the guests feel like their experience is a little elevated and sophisticated. We’re not trying to be something we’re not. We think those truly timeless, classic details and feeling are throughout the brand story.”