Boutique isn’t necessarily the first word that comes to mind when thinking of Marriott Intl.’s Fairfield Inn & Suites brand. But when the owner of Philadelphia’s former Parker Hotel, The Wankawala Organization, decided to bring that early 1920s building back to its former glory, the brief called for a unique look that would reflect the location’s strong LGBTQ community, as well as the property’s Colonial Revival and art deco architectural features.
The locally based hotel development and management company also had to overcome scathing guest reviews of the property—which had suffered a fire and was in derelict condition for several years—all while carefully customizing and adhering to the Fairfield brand standards. (One TripAdvisor review from 2012 actually read, “If you enjoy sharing your food with mice and roaches, then this is for you.”)
“Marriott was very accommodating in our desire to make a boutique Fairfield Inn,” says Floss Barber, ceo of her eponymous Philadelphia-based interior design firm. For example, the designers wanted to place the reception desk in the middle of the lobby to recall the art deco era, but the brand generally calls for the desk to be incorporated into a side wall. “We were able to get a variance for our design, thus enabling the central reception with an adjacent enclosed breakfast room, which becomes the bar and restaurant later in the day,” explains Barber.
The designers subtly channeled the area’s LGBTQ heritage into the interiors through vibrant colors. “Originally we were going to use the gallery-like method of illustrating portraits, landscapes and art objects, but then we shifted to just color highlighted by the eccentric Hunt Slonem bunny form [recommended by Duval Art Consultancy],” says Barber.
In the guestrooms, the designers generally stuck to the brand standards, customizing the original white furniture with a dark umber hue and choosing a bathroom sink that could accommodate a shelf. However, the owners wanted to retain some of the building’s existing twin accommodations to appeal to a wider variety of travelers, resulting in the first twin rooms for a stateside midrange hotel brand.
Keeping the client focused on the big picture during the protracted implementation and construction phase and convincing them not to change various design aspects for expediency throughout the three-and-a-half-year project was no easy feat. “In addition, the construction team was challenged quite often with existing conditions and utility pathways in a compact concrete and steel building that needed to meet modern construction and life-safety criteria,” says Barber.
That’s not to say there weren’t existing design treasures to discover, such as the black-and-white marble tile flooring at the entry and in the lobby, the art deco coffer overhead and the green terrazzo underfoot in the restaurant, and the numerous windows in each guestroom. Contemporary light fixtures, updated fabrics and finishes, and metal elements add a modern punch to the historic backdrop, imbuing a sense of accessible luxury.