Using creativity and branding to transform a tired old hotel into a vibrant boutique experience
It takes vision, creativity, and a lot of cleaning supplies & white paint to turn a tired Days Inn into a destination boutique hotel. That’s what the team behind the new Studio Allston Hotel has accomplished. Before the transformation, the discolored, motor inn was at the bottom of the trip advisor rankings. Where others saw an eye-sore hotelier Robin Brown of Spot on Ventures along with Stephen Davis of The Davis Companies saw opportunity. Their vision was to create a boutique art-forward hotel that embodies the creative spirit of Boston’s offbeat Allston neighborhood – itself named after American painter Washington Allston. To realize the vision, the team worked with Proportion, a local branding firm with roots in Boston and New England, who were fresh off a rebranding project for the Hilton Boston/Woburn with the same team.
Repositioning and developing an authentic voice for a large project like the Hilton was phenomenal, but being able to create a truly unique experience and boutique brand with a gifted team of visionary partners gets us pumped to stretch our creativity. The project couldn’t be better for us. I have many fond memories (and a few blurry ones) of Allston after spending some of my formative years living as an art student there. – Blake Goodwin, Proportion Founder & President
Branding has increasingly become a tool to gain competitive edge across the hospitality industry. Travelers are now looking more for an authentic experience. An experience they connect to as an individual and also one that connects them to the location they are visiting. With more boutique, lifestyle, and soft hotel brands emerging, along with AirBnB, consumers have an increasing number of options when they travel. The brand was developed to not necessarily cater to the “all powerful millennial consumer” (because, really? That large, diverse group constitutes a focused target?) but rather a unique subset of travelers, differentiating Studio Allston from all.
Branding Process: Getting Out There
“It’s important for us on any project, but especially on one like this with a large group of stakeholders, to establish a strong overall brand strategy that creates clarity and consistency throughout the development process,” explains Goodwin, “from there, we can connect tangible elements and visuals with the emotional experience.” Through the initial efforts, Proportion conceptualized three brand strategies each with different names and programmatic options. First, the gallery, a direction that combined clean, whitespace with pops of art and color deliberately displayed and organized. Second, the workshop, essentially creative chaos on display, dramatic use of color and texture. And the third, the institute, like an art school where there are both gallery and workshop elements happening. A place where creative exploration and experimentation are the mission.
We knew right away that the institute was the direction we wanted to push this hotel. Allston is a unique, blended community continually finding balance between the weirdos, misfits, creatives, geniuses, artists, musicians, businesses, and universities. Often times you’ll find somebody who embodies all of that. That is what this hotel brand is all about. – Paul Reiss, Proportion Founder & Creative Director
Proportion went as far as trying to name the hotel “The Allston Institute of Art” but the experienced management team pushed back due to SEO concerns. “We thought the mystery of it would be fun, but that’s the beauty of working with a collaborative team that brings diverse experience to the table, the results end up connecting on all levels.” In the end, Proportion revised and delivered the naming solution “Studio Allston Hotel” along with the tagline, “Stay Outside the Frame” which speaks to both the hotel’s proximity to Boston’s city center, and acts as the mission and overall charge for the project.
The Identity Realized: Bringing It All Together
The development and management team together with Proportion, creative placemaking firm Isenberg Projects, architectural design firm Dyer Brown, landscape architects OJB, and the mural painting crew from Providence Painted Signs collaborated on bringing the Stay Outside the Frame pursuit to life. Isenberg Projects pulled together an outstanding art program for the hotel, finding a balance between local talent and those that fit the brand. Twelve contemporary artists were selected to create murals and additional framed pieces for each guest room. Five of the Hotel’s guest suites were designed as unique, immersive experiences. Welcoming visitors as they enter the lobby is a dramatic, three surface mural. At the center of the hotel’s identity, Proportion developed a logo depicting an abstracted “SA” breaking from a square frame and tilted at 13 degrees. This is coupled with a wordmark that downplays the hotel – focusing on the studio. The logo provided a framework from which custom wayfinding icons were created. The bold black lines are used across brand executions, most notably the hotel’s facade, a dynamic and eye-catching feature. Additionally, Proportion created extensive brand art that takes cues from the neighborhood, “We wanted to include something in this identity that embodies the layered composition and creative energy of Allston,” says Reiss. The collage work has so many elements going on at once, imagery, text, sketch, paint, yet it all works harmoniously. “Coming from a fine art background and being a little bit crazy myself, the collages were super fun to create. They feel authentic, like something you might find in an artist’s sketchbook. That’s because they did come from our sketchbooks.” There’s an ironic self-realization to the region that in 2012, was named one of “America’s Best Hipster Neighborhoods” by Forbes. Among famous artist quotes, and taglines within the layered text you can find cheeky things like “named best hotel in the USA, by me, the person designing this.”
For those travelers and growing local population that seek something unique and slightly ‘out there,’ Studio Allston will feel like home. Since opening in April, Studio Allston’s 117 rooms are nearly selling out every night with visitors across the country who feel a connection to Staying Outside the Frame.