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Lessons from the ace hotel

October 9, 2008

With the word going crazy, it’s hard to know where things might be heading, but I think I might have found a clue at The Ace Hotel in Portland.

It wasn’t that I stayed there, but I wandered into it after eating at its adjacent restaurant, Clyde Common (excellent, by the way).

The world of hotels is a good metaphor and a sort of divining rod for the world at large.

Years ago, there was the boutique designer hotel- all open spaces and various expensive objects and furniture littered around.

It was the time when the only hotels that mattered were designed by Starck.

The tide shifted to opulence, lavishness and excess, when a couple of years ago, Mr Schrager declared his creation, the boutique hotel officially dead and opened the velvety Gramercy Park.

The Ace Hotel is timeless. It possess a kind of “make do” attitude, it’s neither opulent or minimalist. It uses simple, organic materials and has some really nice touches. They have rooms you can afford without an expense account-starting at $95, there’s a coin-operated laundry (no one wants to pay for hotel laundry services), two landmark adjacent businesses; the restaurant mentioned above and the Stumptown coffee house and a bike rental service.

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Ace seems to be ahead of the curve and represent where things might be heading.

Here’s why..

1.Local Matters– people want to break free of chain consistency; where passion and care seem to play second fiddle to the supposed comfort and security of corporate sameness. Ace is a mini-chain – there’s a hotel in Seattle and soon to be outposts in NYC and Palm Springs, but supporting local businesses gives it a local feel. It also doesn’t feel like an unwelcome invader, it seems to understand the world that surrounds it.

2. Enough of the Cookie Cutter– people want to see the rough edges.

3. Community Matters– the coffee house and restaurant aren’t owned by the hotel, but they feel part of the family.

4. Making Do- We don’t need or want the flash. We want resourcefulness, getting more use out of old things, finding new uses out of old things. Doing things on a limited budget makes sense and leads to more interesting solutions.

5. Invitational- We need more participants, collaborators and we need more sharing and talking. The Ace Hotel has a gallery space that it rents out for this kind of stuff all the time. Clyde Common also boasts communal tables- more of that sharing in action.

6. Being Thoughtful- Thinking ahead and doing something different that makes a statement of your intent. Everything communicates as we know and we often make the mistake of thinking that this means everything needs to be the same, instead of using “everything” to tell different and layered stories. Ace’s coin-operated laundry, is not only really convenient, it also says a lot about the experience and the attitude.

Posted by Ed Cotton

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