Marriott emphasizes theatricality in its Renaissance design push

While many brands have core design elements that immediately let guests know what kind of hotel they’re in—like the central atrium at Embassy Suites or the “Living Room” lobbies at W Hotels—Marriott International’s Renaissance brand offers much more latitude in terms of its looks. Its recent renovation and new-build push, therefore, focused more on reflecting location rather than adhering to brand standards, and gave designers a chance to create unique elements.

“These renovations come on the heels of a major transformation of the brand,” said George Fleck, VP of global brand marketing & management for Renaissance Hotels. “We have had such a tremendous response from our owners, from our development communities and from guests around this design foundation that we knew we had to continue shifting the share and change the perception of the brand.” 

Clever Theatricality

This year, nearly half of the brand’s North American hotels will complete renovations, an initiative that began about three years ago. While each property’s look is customized to match its location, Fleck said that they are united by a theme of what he calls “clever theatricality.” 

Theatricality, however, should not make a property ostentatious. “We see this idea of a clever theatricality really anchored in three key components of the design foundation,” Fleck said. The first component is that of a true sense of the location. The second is an idea of “look and look again” to create a moment of surprise, while the third component is what Fleck called a “high-low” mix: “There are always these contrasts and these interesting juxtapositions that, just looking at the materials, might not fit—but then if coordinated well together within the design framework of the hotel, they match perfectly together and create this illusion and this idea of theatricality.” Combining this design foundation with each hotel’s programming, he said, results in a “very consistent product and programming experience, so the guests know that they are unmistakably at a Renaissance hotel.” 

When the Renaissance Philadelphia Downtown Hotel opens this spring, its design, courtesy of Campion Platt, will combine the historic fabric of the city with a modern energy, contrasting materiality and pop art throughout the hotel. The reimagined lobby, reminiscent of historic Elfreth’s Alley in Old Town, is anchored by a 100-foot graffiti wall designed by local artist Dan Murphy. The hotel’s restaurant, meanwhile, displays portraits of Benjamin Franklin’s five mistresses created with pixelated $100 bills.

New York Strong

Renaissance already has two hotels open in New York City—one in Times Square and one in Midtown, close to Penn Station and Madison Square Garden—but it is looking to conquer a few more Manhattan neighborhoods. The new-build Renaissance New York Chelsea South Hotel will open next year on the former Antiques Garage Flea Market site, which will inspire the property’s design. Acknowledging the neighboring flower district, the hotel will combine design elements of an indigenous flea market and a garden with a dramatic staircase dominating the lobby, along with a collection of contrasting modern and antique door knobs, locks and keys.

The brand also is moving uptown. The Renaissance Harlem Hotel is scheduled to open in 2019, restoring and reimagining the Victoria’s Loews Theatre, which was at the center of the Harlem Renaissance era in the 1920s and 1930s. “It will take a lot of inspiration from Harlem and that theater world and the whole art scene of that area,” Fleck said of AJC Design’s take on the property. “So you can see how between Midtown and Times Square and Chelsea and Harlem, they all have their unique story.” 

Going Global

Renaissance will also make its debut in 16 new neighborhoods and cities in the next 12 months, including Warsaw, Poland; Taipei, Taiwan; and Hangzhou, China. “We've really been able to double down on the commitment to the design of our hotels in every part of the globe,” Fleck said. “We've opened a hotel every other month for the last 24 months. That's a total of 15 hotel openings.”  

Following the opening of the Renaissance Paris Republique Hotel in 2016, the brand and its owner partners will complete the renovation of the Renaissance Paris Vendome Hotel this month. Designed by Didier Gomez (who also worked on the Republique Hotel), the 97-room property’s design was inspired by the fashion designers and jewelers that have had their salons in the square. “We wanted to not just talk about what you would expect—the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, the Champs Elysee or shopping in the Marais—but actually go one layer deeper,” Fleck said. “It's all about the high fashion and the glitz and the glamor of the couture ateliers in this neighborhood around Vendome.” The property, he said, is “uniquely Renaissance because they're going to tell a local neighborhood story.”  

Renaissance Hotels will open two airport hotels in Europe this year. The Renaissance Warsaw Airport Hotel will mark the brand’s debut in Poland when it opens this spring. Looking to the avant-garde modernism of the 1930s, 1960s and today, JEMS Architects and Towarzystwo Projektowe’s design concept uses modern pops of primary colors in its art, textiles and furniture, inspired by the fashion, graphic design and pop culture of the time. 

The Renaissance Amsterdam Schiphol Airport Hotel, meanwhile, will open in November 2018, with design inspired by Amsterdam Bos, the city’s largest park, which is situated adjacent to the hotel. Because the park was created in the beginning of the 20th century—just as Dutch modern art, architecture and design gained popularity—the hotel’s interiors juxtapose a natural color palette with high-gloss furniture, contemporary accents and a modern twist on Dutch art throughout the public spaces, bar and guestrooms.

“It's really been an incredible journey for us to evolve the design foundation and the story to reflect what our brand can offer today,” Fleck said. The ultimate goal in terms of the brand's design philosophy, he said, would be to have guests experience something that they hadn't expected when they made their reservations. “Just something unscripted—something extra that you didn't really think would be the case once you arrive.”