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Heavy Mettlers

(June 2017) posted on Fri Jun 30, 2017

When it comes to earth-shaking hospitality concepts, it’s less about face melting and more about technical chops. Examples: 21c Museum Hotels and Getaway.


By Oriana Lerner

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A single hotel can ride the eye of the perfect storm—the right neighborhood, the right design, the right timing or even just the right influencers checking it out. Maybe a second outpost can tag along on that vibe. But how do designers and owners keep making an impact beyond that?

21c Nashville 
21c Nashville's video gallery provides a dedicated space for dynamic art. A black box-style shell is both functional and striking. Photo: Courtesy of 21c Museum Hotels

It’s a question more and more flags need to answer if they want to thrive in an economy where recession looks set to come sooner rather than later, and key U.S. markets might not be the hottest deals going. Whether world domination or local superstardom is on the agenda, taking the easy way out (in design, operations or branding) is, well, out.

21c Nashville
Issues such as low ceilings and odd footprints make adaptive reuse a challenge. A 21c Nashville suite uses low seating and white walls to maximize the visual space. Photo: Courtesy of 21c Museum Hotels



Steve Wilson, who co-founded 21c Museum hotels with his wife, Laura Lee Brown, never thought he’d need to think about what happens when hoteliers try to re-create their own magic. The couple just wanted a way to marry their love of art and the need to repurpose historic buildings as part of a downtown revitalization.

Steve Wilson and Laura Lee Brown
Steve Wilson and Laura Lee Brown, 21c Museum Hotels. Photo: Courtesy of 21c Museum Hotels

“We opened the first 21c in 2007 in our hometown, Louisville, Kentucky,” he says. “We weren’t planning to start a hotel company and weren’t thinking about what size city we were developing in. It was a project dictated by passion rather than any traditional hotel development strategy.”

Nonetheless, the success of that first property led them to turn 21c into a management company to expand their efforts. Fast forward to 2017, and seven 21c hotels dot U.S. secondary cities (another one is soon to open in Kansas City, Missouri, and the company also has a property under development in Miami’s Design District).

Deborah Berke, Deborah Berke Partners
Deborah Berke, Deborah Berke Partners. Photo: Winnie Au


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