It takes nerve to give bohemian decorators carte blanche in your hotel. But a faint heart rarely creates interesting art — or interesting hotel rooms, for that matter — and that is clearly what the Hotel des Arts in San Francisco is aiming for.
Each of the boutique property's 51 rooms is an individual work of art created by "street" artists working in mediums from spray paint to gold leaf. And the palette is ever-changing. "Every three months, we unveil 10 new rooms, painting over the old ones," manager Hero Nakatani says.
Rooms range from funky to beautiful to a bit disconcerting, such as one inspired by a New York City public toilet. "We have had a few people ask to change rooms after a night there," Nakatani laughs.
This approach is a far cry from big-box hotel decor — those "tasteful" prints of rhododendrons or soothing seascapes designed not to be noticed — or even from the bland minimalism that prevails at many of the world's boutique lodgings. I love creamy Frette sheets and sleek design as much as the next person, but sometimes I find myself wishing for something a bit more ... original.
And so do other travellers. These days, there's nothing inconspicuous or generic about many of the latest and greatest boutique hotels, where walls are covered with original works, both contemporary and classic, or where rooms are completely transformed — from doorway to bidet — by local artists.
These creative havens aren't just for twentysomething hipsters or wealthy art collectors — they offer comfort along with imagination, and room rates can be surprisingly affordable. Here, then, are seven of the world's top spots for connoisseurs of both art and accommodations.
Some of this hotel's rooms are so popular they have waiting lists. Anthony Skirvin's room, for example, is filled with maps and a huge image of a log cabin, and has been described as looking like "the Unabomber's workshop." Others are simply a treat for the eye, such as Kelly Ording's Asian folk art-inspired room, and Jet Martinez's gilded-fresco suite.
The same artists who create the rooms also have individual artworks displayed (and for sale) throughout the two-year-old hotel, so guests can take a bit of San Fran street art home with them.
Hotel des Arts: 447 Bush St.; 415-956-3232; www.sfhoteldesarts.com.