“There was a sameness that seemed unnecessarily terrible. It was as if everything was specified out of the ugly carpet catalog,” says architect David Rockwell, referring to stalwart midlevel hotel chains such as Hilton Garden Inn. Starwood Hotels & Resorts asked Rockwell to help it develop some fresh ideas, and Aloft Hotels, debuting this summer, is the result. “We thought, Why can’t we bring something similar to our W experience down to the masses?” says VP Brian McGuinness, who expects to charge a 10% to 15% premium over the Courtyards of the world (say, $165 a night versus $150). Starwood plans to open 72 Alofts by the end of 2009 and ultimately 500 worldwide.

To personalize each Aloft location, Starwood showcases local art in its public areas and offers games that cater to regional tastes (think air hockey for its hotels in Canada). There is no business center, but free Wi-Fi and electrical outlets built into the furniture let guests work while waiting to play.

To keep within its budget, Starwood made the public space compact and avoided duplicating areas with similar roles. For example, a breakfast nook later becomes a bar, thanks to cabinets that rotate to reveal liquor bottles. “The room transforms to accommodate the change of hour, rather than shifting people into a redundant space,” Rockwell says.

“In the airline industry, there's a huge adoption rate for self-serve check-in; not so much in hotels,” McGuinness says. With the goal of one-stop service, the kiosk lets guests select rooms and print hotel receipts and airline boarding passes. It also spits out electronic keys.

A full-height mirror formed by several angled pieces not only produces an artsy effect in the lobby but also adds functionality for staff working behind the desk. They can watch for guests approaching from the elevator banks.

Light fixtures in the Re:fuel snack shop are hung from a motorized winch. During the day, bare bulbs dangle down for brightness. At night, they retract into the shade to cast a softer glow. Similarly, video screens in the main lounge change colors throughout the day to create different vibes.

The front desk is pulled away from the wall and curled into a circle, so that a single employee can perform many functions: help guests check in, sell food from the snack shop, or serve as concierge. Its circular form was inspired by the giant teacups of the Mad Tea Party ride at Walt Disney World; the initial design even included a handle and a saucer. “We were like, ‘It’s a little too literal,’ ” McGuinness says. “But it did get us out into the center of the lobby.”

The main element of the bedroom is an oversize, multipurpose, freestanding headboard. The hip, utilitarian look was inspired by artist Donald Judd’s SoHo loft. One side it’s a bathroom wall, with closet space, a magazine rack, and a coffee station. On the other, it includes bedroom lighting.

The shower stall has a frosted-glass window that lines up with an exterior window in the bedroom, helping to pull natural light inside in the morning. “Natural light in your shower is a kind of luxury,” Rockwell says. And unexpected in a hotel in this category.

To add seating, storage, and style to the relatively small guest rooms (275 to 325 square feet), Rockwell designed a custom-upholstered bench with integrated backrests along one wall. Guests can lounge on top and stow their luggage beneath.

The headboard contains slots for displaying art and a cushioned backrest that allows guests to sit up in bed. Both of these pieces can be easily removed from the larger structure, so hotel operators can update the art and replace upholstery with ease.

Where most competing hotels have ceilings that are 8 to 8.5 feet high, Aloft offers 9 feet. “We learned from our W Union Square in New York, where the comment cards consistently say, ‘Your rooms are larger than most hotels in the city,’ ” McGuinness says. “They’re not. We just have higher ceilings.”

The JetBlue of Hotels

Cool design at a fair price — inside the new Aloft brand.

“There was a sameness that seemed unnecessarily terrible. It was as if everything was specified out of the ugly carpet catalog,” says architect David Rockwell, referring to stalwart midlevel hotel chains such as Hilton Garden Inn. Starwood Hotels & Resorts asked Rockwell to help it develop some fresh ideas, and Aloft Hotels, debuting this summer, is the result. “We thought, Why can’t we bring something similar to our W experience down to the masses?” says VP Brian McGuinness, who expects to charge a 10% to 15% premium over the Courtyards of the world (say, $165 a night versus $150). Starwood plans to open 72 Alofts by the end of 2009 and ultimately 500 worldwide.

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  • James Gentes

    Great article, but the page refreshes make reading it too painful to bear. Maybe I'll try the magazine.