ver the last five years, hotels have realized they can't compete with the home, or try to sell a 'home away from home' concept. Why? Because today, everyone's electronics, their furnishings, are superior to what you'll find in a hotel. Even a fine hotel can't really compete. So now we're creating an anti-home experience."

The speaker of these words, Adam Tihany, was strategically seated near the front of Remi, his upscale midtown restaurant in New York. He eyed every customer who walked in and occasionally popped up from his seat, sometimes in mid-sentence, to shake a hand if he knew the patron.

"Hotels today have strong personality, with features that you'd never have at your house -- your wife wouldn't let you. It's about fantasy, about properties with a distinct personality."

Tihany knows a thing or two about creating atmosphere with personality. He's arguably the world's preeminent restaurant designer. He gave New York the ambiance of Le Cirque 2000, Jean Georges, One cps at the Plaza, the Sea Grill at Rockefeller Center and, at the Waldorf-Astoria, both Inagiku and Oscar's. He's a player in Las Vegas, too, with restaurants open or opening at the Bellagio, Mandalay Bay, Caesars Palace, the Venetian, the MGM Grand and the Mirage.

So why is he talking about hotel strategies? Tihany is quickly building a reputation as an influential hotel designer, too. He remodeled the King David Hotel in Jerusalem and five major projects for the progressive Italian Boscolo Group. He's responsible for the Time hotel in New York and will be redoing the public spaces in the Mandarin's new 110-room boutique in Hong Kong.

And he's not kidding when he says he thinks hotels should be about fantasy and have a distinct personality. Take the Boscolo's Aleph boutique hotel in the heart of Rome, which opened this year.

"I'm a believer in site-specific design, and any concept must be rooted in the local culture. Rome, for instance, is the Eternal City. How does one represent that? Nothing is more eternal than the afterlife, heaven and hell.

"We decided that in this case, heaven would be below and hell above. So when you walk into the lobby, you walk into an inferno. Not literal heat, but you'll see an aggressive use of the color red. In fact, the restaurant, Sin, serves only red food: tomato sauces, carpaccio, red wine, watermelon, berries.

"Heaven, on the other hand, is reserved for hotel guests: In order to enter, you must wear the white robe provided in your room. Everything is white. It's a spa, but not a health spa. It's for indulgence. You can get a reclining massage while smoking a cigar and eating grapes."

(Fantasy? Well, I don't know about Tihany, but that sounds a lot like my home. I'll admit there are a few differences -- I've got young children, so it's likely the white robes will be spotted with the tomato sauce.)

I was curious to know what kind of advice someone who creates one-of-a-kind hotels could offer to hoteliers who might not be able to afford his renovation fee. He came up with a short list:

• Be aware that men and women want different things in a hotel room, e.g., women need different lighting in the bathroom than men. He also recommends his-and-her safes in the closet rather than just one to share.

• Noise reduction should be a top priority. "When I was a kid, I stayed in the Beverly Hills Hotel, and I loved to listen through the walls to hear what was going on in the next room," he said. "But not any more. I don't want to hear the alarm clock of the guy who gets up at 4:30 a.m. to catch a flight. I don't want to hear newspapers dropping to the floor outside each door. This can be addressed by both construction and the doors used."

• Put an impressive restaurant in the lobby. "It's not necessary that it be a big money-maker, but it must generate press. No one will write about the great faucets you put on bathroom sinks, but everyone will write about a great restaurant or a celebrity chef. People actually will stay at a hotel if they think it'll help them get reservations at the popular restaurant in the lobby. It's a very economical way to create attention -- much cheaper than renovating rooms."

All of the above suggestions cost some money, but he gave one last suggestion that costs nothing to implement. "The industry is called hospitality, and you need to have a full understanding of what that word means. If you want to be in this business, you'd better be hospitable.

"When guests walk into the lobby at 11 p.m. after a long flight, loaded down with bags, what are they looking for? A smiling face, a warm greeting, good water pressure in the shower and a comfortable bed. The walls can be pink or green or yellow -- it doesn't matter. People will be happy in a dump if they're treated by people who care and who make them feel like they're their guest. It's fundamental, but it's surprising how many hotels never get this right."

And as he finished saying this, Tihany rose from his seat to give a warm handshake to a patron who had just walked into the restaurant, demonstrating why he is having no trouble making the transition from restaurateur to hotelier.

To see photos of the Boscolo Aleph Hotel in Rome, go to and click the "Hotel Photo Tour."


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