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Mid-Century Modern Hotels Swing into a New Era

Originally published in USA Today

With a signature architectural style, classic mid-century modern hotels emerged throughout the U.S. from the 1940s through the 1960s. This design movement was characterized by minimalist structures and clean lines, accented by simple décor in vibrant colors. Instantly recognizable, mid-century hotels are popular both with nostalgic travelers and with millennials who admire the timeless modern design and the casual ambiance it embodies.

In recent years, several iconic U.S. mid-century hotels have been reinvented and given a new, contemporary point of view, while still retaining the essence of the era. These properties have embraced their mid-century heritage with a renewed vibe and updated feel, inviting guests to enjoy a glimpse of stylish (and sometimes kitschy) history while enjoying modern comforts and amenities.

The Monkey Tree Hotel
Palm Springs, Calif.

A hotbed of mid-century architecture, the city of Palm Springs is known for its numerous examples of both private residences and hotels. Showcasing its well-defined mid-century history, the boutique Monkey Tree opened its doors in 2016 as a revitalized version of its former inception, which was designed in 1960 by famed Palm Springs architect Albert Frey. A renowned celebrity hangout in years past, guests of the Monkey Tree have included stars Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, Eric Clapton, the Beatles (except for Paul), Bob Hope and Katharine Hepburn.

Currently, the resort is owned and operated by husband-and-wife team Gary and Kathy Friedle, who recently transformed this 16-room property into a whimsical yet sophisticated desert getaway, featuring a classic design as well as the area’s only Scandinavian spa.

Kathy explained, “We endeavored to recreate the feel of 1960s Palm Springs ‘chill’ with a few modern twists. The design of the individual rooms is simple and clean. Our goal was to create a comfortable environment for our guests without pretension. Fortunately for us, not many alterations had been done over the past years — and the excellent 1960 bones of the Monkey Tree Hotel were intact.”

Developing a festive mid-century ambiance, the couple sourced all the 1960s furnishings locally in Palm Springs — from flea markets, consignment stores, auctions and estate sales. The resort’s interior and exterior features pops of bright yellow and teal, which was inspired by the couple’s visit to the Albert Frey II house. Surrounding the pool is yellow and white repurposed patio furniture. Outside of all hotel rooms are authentic Salterini teal lounge chairs and cocktail tables that were original to the property.

The Diplomat Beach Resort
Hollywood Beach, Fla.

A rekindled beachfront spirit, The Diplomat hotel was a hip Southern Florida hangout for Frank Sinatra and his “Rat Pack” buddies in the 1960s. After a grand re-opening in April 2017, the Diplomat celebrates its illustrious past with a multi-million-dollar renovation and distinctive design elements.

The resort’s room and suite design taps into the mid-century modern appeal featuring simple, contemporary furnishings with bold pops of colors and sharp lines. There are plenty of nostalgic accents throughout, including the coral-colored logo, black and white surf photos, antique light fixtures and retro furniture. For an added touch, mini 1950s-style refrigerators in bright hues are featured in the rooms — an obvious nod to the mod.

The resort sports three swimming pools, 10 restaurants and cafes, a spa and an abundance of indoor and outdoor lounging areas.

Shai Zelering, the managing director for Brookfield Hotel Properties, says, “The design direction was simple. Bring the outside in — and inside out. And make it very comfortable. The Diplomat Beach Resort isn’t a catwalk. It is a place that should welcome me for a weekend.”

Andaz West Hollywood

With a prime location in the heart of Hollywood’s famed Sunset Strip, the Andaz WeHo’s clean lines and minimalist exterior instantly became a legendary property. Nicknamed the Hyatt “riot” House during its heyday in the early 1970s, it was a raucous home-away-from-home for major rock bands including Led Zeppelin and The Who.

Today, the 14-story, 239-room landmark Los Angeles property embodies the mid-century feel with an airy, modern lobby featuring retro-style decor. Rooms include streamlined furnishings, glass-enclosed balconies and a selection of vintage vinyl records to inspire musical exploration. The hotel’s rooftop pool deck is the highest in West Hollywood, overlooking the vibrant neighborhood that attracts locals and tourists.

In early 2017, potter, designer and author Jonathan Adler created the property’s new (Andaz)RED suite that reflects the hotel’s rock and roll roots through chic ’70s-inspired artwork and decor. With a red, white and blue color palette, the room includes gold and brass accents. It is furnished with custom pieces (as well as items from the Jonathan Adler collection), continuing his theme of “modern American glamour.”

Adler stated, “Over the years, there has been a revival in appreciation for mid-century design at home, and now people want those same clean, thoughtful designs when they travel.  The idea of a luxurious hotel has changed (thankfully!) — it’s no longer about overstuffed, baroque chintz.”

Watergate Hotel

Known for its infamous role in the 1970s political scandal, the Watergate Hotel’s iconic architecture is considered a classic example of mid-century hotel design. Perched by the banks of the Potomac River, the iconic property was revitalized in 2016. After being shuttered for over a decade, the hotel today is reinvigorated, following extensive renovations and major luxurious upgrades.

Originally opened in 1967, the Watergate was designed by Italian architect Luigi Moretti, known for his inventive and unusual structural approach. The hotel’s latest interior style was re-imagined by designer Ron Arad, who honored the existing avant-garde architecture with modern décor and metal art installations throughout the vast lobby and public spaces.

The hotel features nearly 400 modern rooms and suites, many with balconies and river views; a state-of-the-art 12,000-square-foot spa and fitness center; and an upscale restaurant as well as chic bar and rooftop lounge. Adding a dramatic centerpiece to the lobby is an artful 46-foot-long brass reception desk that instantly draws the attention of guests upon arrival. The invigorated space also features soaring metallic columns and reflective surfaces, a bold red sectional sofa and intricately patterned hand-woven rugs in shades of black and grey.

Four Seasons Oahu at Ko Olina

Though it was built in the 1990s, the Four Seasons Oahu at Ko Olina encompasses a classic mid-century timelessness, as it was designed by renowned architect Edward Killingsworth, considered an American “master of modernism.” Since the early 1960s, he has developed numerous minimalist structures throughout Hawaii and Southern California.

Situated on Oahu’s western coast, the 17-story property with nearly 400 rooms was renovated and renewed in 2016. The newly restored resort features an abundance of locally inspired décor to create an authentic Hawaiian ambiance throughout the entire property. The refurbishment added “Kama’aina-style” open air seamless indoor/outdoor experiences and majestic ocean views — in public areas as well as the guestrooms.

The resort’s renovation shines a spotlight on local designer (and descendant of Hawaiian royalty) Mary Philpotts. She curated an array of island-produced materials made by local artisans to complement the streamlined modern architecture. Artistic as well as functional, these elements include: guestroom carpeting featuring a floral motif, monkey pod and koa wood tables, reclaimed wood carvings, lava stone walls, banana-bark headboards, repurposed teak decks and handmade weavings.

The resort also features four swimming pools adjacent to the beach, an expansive spa with seventeen treatment rooms, a wellness center and four dining options.

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