A Sneak Peek At The Country’s First West Elm Hotel

And why Indy was chosen as the site of the design company’s foray into travel.
The boutique-hotel concept is evolving into something called the “neighborhood hotel,” and Indianapolis will be at the forefront of the trend when the country’s first West Elm­–branded hotel opens in 2020. The company offered a preview by setting up a West Elm Lounge at the future hotel site on Mass Ave in September.

If boutique hotels introduced design-driven experience to the hotel industry, West Elm—the housewares company known for its effortlessly cool and modern aesthetic, as seen at its Fashion Mall store—now wants to make it personal. For example, the hotel will offer sleep education and how overall wellness has a serious impact on travel, and the innkeeper will cater to the traveler’s every need more so than a typical concierge—like a bed & breakfast owner meets that cool in-the-know friend. The concept will also be hyper-local. Sitting on West Elm’s “Hamilton” leather sofa, your might kick up your feet on a coffee table made by an area woodworker, echoing West Elm stores’ practice of featuring work by local makers. Each room will have art commissioned by Indy artists.

The neighborhood concept goes beyond aesthetics and into the realm of community by bringing locals and travelers together. “We are not building a hotel in Indianapolis, we are building an Indianapolis hotel,” says CEO Kim Phoebus. “A hotel focused on the local community, local culture, local makers, local art, and local employment.” The hope is that residents will view the lobby as a free-flowing office space, or a great place to meet with friends for a coffee or cocktail. Phoebus describes the feel as a “community living room,” with a top-notch food and bar concept. The hope is that by weaving themselves into the fabric of the neighborhood (in this case, Chatham Arch), the threads will extend to their guests and give them an organic feel for the city—something that is important for the modern traveler.

West Elm Hotels is focusing on mid-size cities out of the gate, and the Indy opening will be followed by properties in Oakland, Detroit, Minneapolis, Savannah, and Portland. Why Indianapolis first? Pete Fowler, the hotel division’s vice-president of hospitality, says the search was all about finding cities with rich histories and vibrant communities. There was just something about the “casual attitude of Indy meshing with the high-end industrial background” of the Bottleworks Coca-Cola bottling plant—Fowler’s eyes lit up when he talked about the original glazed brick and the historic relevance of the building. You could say it was a match made in Art Deco heaven.

The company’s commitment to the Indianapolis community runs deeper than simply supporting local makers and artists. Every item from the West Elm Lounge was donated to the Julian Center. While the hotel’s opening is still nearly two years away, it looks like West Elm already understands Hoosier hospitality.