A house is not a hotel. But can it be? Peter Jon Lindberg reflects on what he’s learned about design—and brought home—from a life in hotels.
Credit: L-Dopa

I live in a hotel. It’s not a proper hotel—we have a mortgage and no paying guests—but my wife and I do our best to make it resemble one. Wherever we travel, we return home bearing a dozen new items or design ideas for our apartment. I’d like to say we sourced these in antiques markets and exotic estate sales, but no. Pretty much all of them came from hotels.

Some guests will nick anything that isn’t bolted down: stationery, slippers, laundry bags. We’ve stolen the tufted sofa, the andirons, even the tobacco-y hue of the floorboards. (Figuratively speaking, of course.) We’re less interested in the signature-brand shampoo than in the granite shower stall itself, with its Grohe TurboStat® fixtures, model 34182 000. Upon checking in—rather than, say, perusing the hotel guest directory or hanging up shirts and blouses—we typically spend 15 minutes shopping the room for stuff that might work at home. Hey, wouldn’t this Cameroonian juju hat look great mounted above our mantel? Or, That paint color would be perfect for our bedroom. Get a photo of that wall!

Walk with me around our apartment and I’ll divine the provenance or inspiration behind virtually everything you see: the Vervain linen headboard (suite P6, International House, New Orleans); the bed itself (St. Regis New York); the Humanscale Freedom desk chair in my office (Nine Zero hotel, Boston); the Brazilian cowhide rug (Uxua Casa Hotel, Trancoso). Like a more insufferable J. Peterman, I could recount how we were sold on that Arne Jacobsen chair after a stay at the Radisson SAS Royal in Copenhagen. How those deliriously soft hammam towels come from the same Turkish towel maker used by the Maçakizi hotel in Bodrum. How we were persuaded to buy our Jenggala ceramic tableware while honeymooning at the Four Seasons Resort Bali at Jimbaran Bay, where breakfast is served on an identical set.

There was a time when hotel-y was a decorator’s pejorative, meaning anodyne, anonymous, anesthetically beige—everything you wouldn’t want your home to be, unless you were prone to nervous fits. The design-hotel era flipped all that on its head, upending expectations of how lobbies and guest rooms could look, and how far hotels could go in conveying, even pioneering, a certain style. Under the likes of Andrée Putman, Philippe Starck, and Kit Kemp, hotel design suddenly became interesting design: a cunning mix of form and function that guests could respectably try at home.

And try they have. Once hotels achieved a measure of cred, civilians began appropriating their tricks and tropes for their own spaces—and the industry was right there to support them, putting almost everything in the room up for sale. Apparently a whole lot of people want to live in a hotel, or at least pretend they do.

For the frequent hotel guest, shopping-your-room makes pragmatic sense: you can road-test everything from a box spring to a pod espresso maker. Any interiors magazine can show you a smart-looking floor lamp or window treatment, but only a hotel will let you live with it, touch it, spend the night with it. You can glean some valuable lessons about design, about what works and what doesn’t, from hotel rooms—not just good-looking ones but bad-looking ones as well, and all those near-miss rooms that would look so much better if they’d only get rid of that armoire or hang a Cameroonian juju hat above the fireplace.

But this isn’t simply about a sensible approach to decorating. Travelers are a sentimental lot, and we fill our homes with objects from hotels in part to remind us of the people we were there. The headboard, the armchair, the floor lamp: aren’t these just bulkier versions of the proverbial Ritz-Carlton bathrobe—visual cues to help us channel a more carefree place and time? To surround ourselves with such things is to imagine that we’re still on vacation, that beyond our bedroom door stands a coconut palm, not a sinkful of dishes and a desk piled high with bills. Hotels are where our ideal, unfettered selves check in and never leave: sleeping late, taking languorous baths, and lingering over the morning paper. For 24-hour increments, we rent the illusion of a streamlined life in which all our possessions fit neatly into one dresser and all the curtains are remote controlled.

My ideal self spends his fantasy nights shuttling between the Hotel Fasano in São Paulo, Brazil, the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles, the Mandarin Oriental in Hong Kong, the Knightsbridge in London, and Parrot Cay in Turks and Caicos. And in that list you begin to understand the pitfalls of my home-as-hotel conceit. Not only do those properties set a ridiculously high standard, but their styles are literally all over the map. No single residence could or should contain them all. Besides, what makes each of the above so compelling is its undeniable sense of place, cannily reinforced by the hotel’s design: each element telegraphs the essence of its locale. You might try to capture some part of that to bring home, but it’s like netting a butterfly: it dies before you get too far. The peeling radiators in my last room at the Chateau Marmont seemed to encapsulate all the louche glamour and artful decay of Old Hollywood. But transplant them to my apartment and they’d just be…peeling radiators.

It occurs to me that I’ve spent my entire adulthood trying to integrate my travel life with my “real” life, hoping I might bridge that unbridgeable ocean between home and away. Why else would I model my apartment after far-flung hotels, if not to persuade my ideal self to come back and live with me? Sometimes the trick almost works. Whenever I use one of those Turkish hammam towels, I’m instantly catapulted to a sun-drenched terrace on the Aegean. My mood shifts; I can almost glimpse the sea. Then, just as quickly, I’m back, drying my hands.

In other cases, the game totally backfires. As an impressionable 26-year-old, I fell head over heels for the Sofitel Legend Metropole, a stunning French colonial fantasia in Hanoi. My room had louvered shutters, paddle fans, and—O billowy emblem of tropical romance!—a mosquito canopy hanging cloudlike over the bed. Somehow I convinced myself that this could work at home. In a fit of misplaced nostalgie, I ordered a king-size mosquito net (from Pier 1, no less) to mount on the ceiling of my Manhattan rental apartment.

There were so many things wrong with this, not least that (a) there are few if any mosquitoes on the Upper West Side, and (b) I was living in a 300-square-foot studio, and this utterly functionless, curiously sticky contraption took up half the available space. It looked like an obese ghost. I told myself it might still work as a conversation piece, but when guests came over, my mosquito net stopped conversation altogether. People regarded it nervously, as you would a trapeze hanging over the bed. The thing lasted a week before I threw it in the trash. You can’t take it with you. But that seldom stops us from trying.

Hotel Style: From Their Rooms to Yours

Nespresso Citiz Espresso Maker: Viceroy Riviera Maya
Poul Henningsen Artichoke Lamp: Radisson SAS Royal, Copenhagen
Humanscale Freedom Chair: Nine Zero, Boston
Jenggala Ceramic Tableware: Four Seasons Resort Bali at Jimbaran Bay