How to make an impact with art in boutique hotels

Terry Eaton reveals how to effectively incorporate art at your boutique or lifestyle property.

Art has an innate ability to dictate the atmosphere of a space, and with contemporary travellers expecting more from their hotel experiences, its importance to the hospitality industry is larger than ever. Over the past 25 years, my firm, Eaton Fine Art, has specialized in curating and collaborating on the art programs for hotels, including Hotel Van Zandt, Austin, TX (collaborating with Mark Zeff), Nobu Las Vegas, NV (collaborating with Rockwell Group) and Deer Path Inn, Lake Forest, IL (collaborating with Knauer.)  As chief curator and founder, I have personally seen how art can provide the creative soul for a hotel, complementing architecture and interiors in a way that intrigues guests, adds to their experience, and entices them to return.

This phenomenon has not gone unnoticed within the industry – over the last decade larger international hotel brands have embraced and emulated the avant-garde aesthetics of Boutique hotels, utilising artwork to enhance the guest experience and differentiate between their own brands. Yet, the means to curating an effective art program, especially when a limited budget is in play, can be tricky to master. Below are a few ways to create a successful art collection in a boutique hotel that will impress guests while making the most with your available assets.

Do your homework
As with everything, research is integral to creating a captivating art program, and artwork in hotels is perhaps most effective when it is inspired by a single concept or theme as opposed to presenting a collection of beautiful yet unrelated objects. Delve into the hotel’s history and location to see if there are any sources of inspiration before looking for artwork. It is important to find a compelling idea first so that the budget doesn’t get used on pieces that, no matter how aesthetically pleasing, ultimately detract from the big picture and overall client goals for a particular hotel. 

Think outside the frame
As the art world evolves its definition of art, it is pertinent that the hospitality industry reflects this. Therefore, it is important to look for different kinds of media when curating a well-rounded art program. We believe art is any visually stimulating element which engages a person’s senses – whether that is painting, sculpture, artistic wallcoverings, photography, video, or anything else. By integrating different types of artwork, guests can be stimulated in a variety of ways, both tactile and visual, maximizing the overall impact of each piece while creating a genuinely engaging and tailored experience.

Location is key
While it ultimately depends on the space, it is always preferable to have less artwork with a greater impact than more inconsequential pieces. The classic adage of “quality over quantity” applies with art programs as well; having too broad a focus and attempting to add in artwork just for the sake of having more can ultimately spread an art budget too thinly without much allure. It is worthwhile to invest in a few stand-out pieces, integrating them into heavily trafficked public spaces within the hotel to magnify their impact on guests. For the AC New Orleans Bourbon, we collaborated with Design Duncan Miller Ullmann and hotel owner NewcrestImage on the art program. In order to complement the rich wood-paneled walls in the bar and lounge area, we selected a few geometric stacked cube sculptures and other commissioned art which drew from the vibrancy of the French Quarter location, and the frenetic energy of jazz music. The curated art program created visual intrigue while maintaining the polished, upscale appearance of the space, which echoes the vibe of the hotel. In this sense, a little can go a long when it’s located in the right place.

For an art program to successfully engage guests, it needs to be more than decoration that is placed on the wall to fill gaps. It needs to ‘live’ and excite on multiple levels, elevating a hospitality space from a simple place to rest into a destination in its own right.

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