After being hyped by Architectural Digest and Veranda magazine, The Bradley hotel (204 W. Main St., Fort Wayne, provenancehotels.com/thebradley) opened in downtown Fort Wayne in July as the city’s first boutique property. The 124-room hotel is full of verve and color in a polished homey style, with lots of references to Indiana, too. In the public restrooms, a custom-designed wallpaper combines the Fort Wayne skyline, cardinals (the state bird), and peonies (the state flower). Works by local artists fill the halls. Local coffee and local beer are on the menu. It’s a love letter to Fort Wayne written by Barbara Bradley Baekgaard, the retired cofounder of Vera Bradley, the accessories giant headquartered there.
While the company is named for Baekgaard’s mother, her first full-service hotel is an homage to her father, a salesman who was often on the road. Baekgaard inherited—or learned—his business gifts and also fell in love with hotels, which have been a part of her life since she grew up in Miami Beach, surrounded by Art Deco palaces. Traveling the world for Vera Bradley for nearly 40 years, she became a fan of Kit Kimpton, a designer for Firmdale Hotels, known for their whimsical, polished, curated aesthetics. It became Baekgaard’s personal dream to design her own hotel some day with her version of Kimpton’s upscale-at-home sensibility. She partnered with Oregon-based Provenance Hotels several years ago and worked with the city of Fort Wayne on a location.
Now it’s here, in the middle of downtown near its waterfront and pedestrian-only Landing promenade. Baekgaard, who has long been known as the “tweaker in chief” in Vera Bradley’s design department, spent the last week or so at the site with a hammer and nails, putting the finishing touches on the newly constructed building. “I still have them in my purse,” she said today. Her design partner, Ann Coil, went to Baekgaard’s house for fresh flowers and artwork on opening day, too.
The debut turned out better than Baekgaard expected. She mingled with family, friends, and guests from opening check-in (4 p.m.) until 9 p.m. at Birdie’s, a rooftop restaurant. Guests raved about the wine selection, and a couple of Vera Bradley fans were there celebrating their 55th wedding anniversary. Though the hotel will undoubtedly attract members of the VB “sisterhood,” as longtime customers are known, the decor isn’t straight from a Vera Bradley catalog. Its quiet blue-gray tones and white marble and gold bathrooms are more sophisticated than the brand’s cheery prints. Those who know Baekgaard will recognize her hallmarks on the hotel’s look—lots of patterned wallpaper, lively artwork, fresh flowers, friendly staff, and a kitchen run by Ring on Hook, a Denver-based hospitality company that also operates one of Bradley’s favorite restaurants in New York City. The luxurious Bradley is now part of a Provenance family that includes swanky, glamorous, and intimate hotels in the Pacific Northwest, New Orleans, Boston, and Nashville, Tennessee.
There is an exclusive Vera Bradley bag for sale at the hotel, however, and it came about in the most Vera Bradley way ever. Some of Baekgaard’s female colleagues—many of her friends were or are among Vera Bradley’s longtime leadership team—surprised her with a bag made from the powder-room fabric with the Indiana symbols designed by Vera Bradley’s Kat Rumon. Hooting about it, they decided to make one for the hotel gift shop. “We do a lot of spontaneous things like that,” Bradley says.
That fun, creative spirit has been an integral part of the Vera Bradley recipe, and will be at The Bradley, too. If you’re spontaneous, check in for a weekend and explore Fort Wayne’s lively riverfront park and The Landing pedestrian zone of restaurants and shops a block from the hotel, and make sure to visit the new Vera Bradley Foundation boutique, Good MRKT, representing makers with a philanthropic mission. Rooms run between $170 and $250 per night.