Each hotel in IHG’s Indigo brand has its own “story” that is told through design, giving the hotelier and the designer a chance to create a unique narrative. When the new Los Angeles property opened in April, the story focused on the life and career of Anna May Wong, the first successful Chinese-American Hollywood star.
“What is different about Hotel Indigo is the amount of art found throughout the property,” said Valeria Lassalle, senior designer at hospitality design firm Hirsch Bedner Associates, designer of the property, just before it opened. “Indigo requires very large-scale printouts to match 20-foot-high walls, so we were able to add patterns to images of [Wong’s] life in order to successfully utilize images that normally we wouldn’t be able to, while staying true to the overall image.”
Those printouts were developed courtesy of JVA Art Group, a San Diego-based design company that specializes in creating custom artwork for hotels. JVA worked with the interior designers to make sure the artwork both complemented the hotel’s furnishings and contributed to the story of Wong and the early days of the film industry in Los Angeles. “We were given the interior designers’ initial story, their initial color palette, everything that they wanted to tell their story,” Sarah Soto, senior art director at JVA Art Group, recalled. “And then we could just go with it.”
Instead of a monochrome accent wall, the guestrooms have photographic wallcoverings behind the beds that connect to Wong and her era. The print on the hallway walls is of classic white brick, while the carpeting evokes flashbulbs. “You see it in the decor as well; it ties into the artwork and goes hand in hand,” Soto said.
At the same time, the artwork celebrates the Fiesta de los Flores, a popular parade evoking flowers that took place in Los Angeles around the turn of the century. Perhaps the most notable artpiece celebrating the Fiesta is a “motion wall” by the lobby’s elevator bank.
The wall, using nine flat screens, evokes an old-fashioned nickelodeon or flipbook with 24 slides that repeat endlessly as they rotate from screen to screen. “We made that modern and digital,” Soto said. “If you look, you can see the turning of the pages. You can see the flickering, the imperfections of the paper. You don’t see it right away unless you go up to it.” The wall alone took a year to create, from the initial concept to the animation and its background, and then finally bringing it to the screen. “It takes a lot of time to do that,” Soto said.
“We worked very, very closely with the story that the designers told,” said Janet van Arsdale, president of JVA Art Group. “We talked with them every day, sometimes every hour. We’d go back and forth, and the person they’d talk to on the phone was the person who was making the art for them.” That closeness, she said, helped speed the process along and make sure everyone was on the same page. “There aren’t three or four people in between the idea and the conception,” she said.
Everyone at JVA Art was involved in the Indigo project, Soto said, including one team member who also works as a hand model. An enlarged photograph of her hand holding a makeup compact was used as artwork to separate the shower stall from the rest of the bathroom.
And van Arsdale herself took the photographs of flowers that are seen throughout the lobby, making sure that the picture fit the design team’s concept exactly. Finding stock imagery of flowers would be easier, she acknowledged, but “I don’t think the resolution is high enough.”
And in some cases, stock photographs simply wouldn’t work. A backdrop in one elevator is a giant picture of pink leaves. “I had to source them from a florist in Hawaii, and [have them] shipped here to take a picture,” Soto recalled, explaining that the designer wanted a specifically staged picture of that exact leaf, and it could only be found in Hawaii. “We shipped them over, photographed them and enlarged them.” Once they had the perfect picture, the team could print it on a giant flatbed printer that can create images on anything from film to vinyl to plexiglass. “We often will submit a different version just to see if it will fit in, but she really wanted that one.”
And that, van Arsdale said, was why they were selected for the project in the first place. “We give them what they want, not what we have.”