West Elm to Open Hotel Downtown

The home-decor retailer eyes a cool Indy address for one of its first locations.
West Elm blog
You know the feeling of wanting to live inside your favorite home store, always layered with the right textures and not-boring neutrals and quirky artwork? The fantasy is coming true—kind of—with West Elm’s launch of branded hotels,  including one slated for Indianapolis. The Wall Street Journal reported this weekend that the company, which opened a store in The Fashion Mall in 2012, is going into the hotel business to sell more of its midcentury-modern-influenced furniture without opening a huge number of stores.

Indy’s location will be part of the hotly anticipated redevelopment of the Coca-Cola lot at the corner of College and Massachusetts avenues. Catherine Esselman, director of real estate for Downtown Indy, toured the site with West Elm’s team about six months ago. “The response was, ‘Wow. I’m surprised we aren’t already here. This is exactly the type of market our CEO likes.’ The urban location, the storefronts, the walkability, the restaurants. And the area is underserved. There isn’t a hotel in that quadrant that serves that market,” Esselman says, adding that the hotel will most likely be new construction, not part of the historic reuse of the existing buildings.

West Elm’s innovative business strategy gives new meaning to the term “boutique hotel.” It will decorate with items designed exclusively for the properties and sell furniture and accents to guests through an app. The concept is also an extension of a trend in hospitality to push back against standardization.  “Over the last 50 years, every hotel room has been similar in many ways,” says Jonathon Day, an associate professor in Purdue’s hospitality management program. “While people appreciate that, a large number of travelers want something that’s not cookie-cutter. You can even argue that part of the appeal of Airbnb is that it’s not a stand-in, typical hotel room.” West Elm’s move represents a lower price point in a trend at the top of the market. “Versace, Armani, and Bulgari have their own hotels. Karl Lagerfeld has one in Berlin,” Day says. “These folks are good at tapping into a lifestyle. Even Hard Rock Cafe does it. If it’s West Elm, the hotel is going to feel more like home—either the one you have or the one you want. And when you’re traveling, that’s a really nice thing.”

Indy’s hotel probably won’t open until 2019 at the earliest; the WSJ article said that West Elm is targeting late 2018 for the debut of its first two sites, in Detroit and Savannah. By then, let’s hope the company will have learned the word “Hoosier”: