Just 30 minutes south of the interiors+sources office in Iowa City, IA, lays one of the newest installments to a growing, well-curated and well-crafted collection of hotels. Known as the Graduate, this chain of boutique-style stays is popping up in dynamic university towns across the nation. Merging the history of yesterday with the spirit of today, each hotel’s design reflects the community it resides in and brings about a sense of nostalgia to its visitors.
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No “Typical” Here
Forgoing the usual cookie-cutter design that the majority of hotel chains have, founder and CEO of Graduate Hotels, Ben Weprin, makes sure that each individual hotel cultivates the spirit of its community through fresh design. Therefore, there is no typical design that encompasses all Graduate Hotels.
When I, along with i+s Editor-in-Chief Kadie Yale, went on a tour of the newly opened Iowa City location, we instantly noticed how the entire interior of this particular Graduate was perfectly tailored to the University of Iowa culture and Iowa City locale.
Photos courtesy of Graduate Hotels
You see, the interior of the Graduate’s design isn’t simply decorative. Each hotel tells a story of the city it resides in. Throughout Graduate Iowa City’s nine floors and 234 rooms, one will find well-thought-of cultural nods at every corner, with many little surprises along the way.
In the lobby, for example, columns are covered with hand-written novel works by Iowa Writers’ Workshop graduate and author Tim Taranto. The entire area draws inspiration from the University of Iowa’s creative writing program as well as Iowa City’s designation as a UNESCO City of Literature.
Floor-to-ceiling bookcases line the walls, cozy reading nooks are available for leisure, and a long communal table near large windows invites guests to take a seat. There’s even a corner that plays tribute to Iowa being the first state to caucus during each presidential election.
Graduate Hotels Design Highlights
Graduate Hotel’s in-house design team takes months prior to each location’s opening to curate local art and learn about the city that the hotel will inhabit – the team’s research is displayed throughout the hotel’s interiors.
At Graduate Iowa City, corridors are covered in pig, corn and cow-themed wallpaper from Wolf-Gordon that pays tribute to Iowa’s farmlands. Key cards imitate student IDs and feature pictures of the faces of iconic alum like actor Gene Wilder who graduated from the University of Iowa and was well-known for his role as Willy Wonka.
In guest rooms, more quirky wallpaper includes prints of Iowa’s state bird, the goldfinch, and baseball stripes that pay tribute to the movie Field of Dreams and its film location in Dyersville– a top tourist attraction for the state. Posters of college wrestling moves hang from the walls, full-length I-shaped mirrors are just outside the bathroom, Eskimo Pie nightstands and Persian-patterned benches line each bed, and Willy Wonka and Oompa Loompa silhouettes rest above the headboards. The design team even included photos in the bathroom that show the commemorative “Hawkeye Wave” that takes place during each Iowa Hawkeye home football game.
Community-Centric Lodging and Dining
While some Graduate Hotels are newly built, others like Iowa City reimagine existing structures – this particular one used to be home to a Sheraton. Locations currently open include Seattle; Bloomington, IN; Athens, GA; Berkeley, CA; Ann Arbor, MI; Charlottesville, VA; Lincoln, NE; Madison, WI; Minneapolis; Oxford, MS; Tempe, AZ; and Richmond, VA.
Graduate Hotels are often newly built, but sometimes reimagined structures
Each hotel is immersed in the heart of its college town and is close to campus, providing easy access for visiting families, sports fans and those on business. They’re also close to shopping, dining and nightlife. Graduate Iowa City’s doors open right onto the city’s famous Pedestrian Mall and are within a few steps of dozens of restaurants, bars and shopping options.
While there are choices outside each hotel, inner food and beverage programs are also a crucial part of each Graduate location. Each offers a unique restaurant and bar concept that aims to attract both guests and locals.
Graduate Iowa City’s include Gene’s, a 1970s-themed restaurant, and Poindexter Coffee. Named for Gene Wilder, Gene’s celebrates the actor’s most memorable decade - the 1970s. The indoor-outdoor bar features signature trends from the era including stained glass lamps, knotty pine and macramé. Next to Gene’s is Poindexter Coffee where students load up on espresso and stay to hit the books while locals play one of the many board games available on the tables. The hangout spot has “author-approved” decor including walls that are covered in more than 170,000 No. 2 pencils.
The collection of Graduate Hotels comes at a time when consumers are searching for alternatives to conventional hotel stays. They provide a sense of authenticity and memorable design, whereas chains can be predictable.
With 10-plus new locations set to open by 2020, including the chain’s first immersion in the Ivy League market, it looks Graduate Hotels are in style and here to stay.
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