Wright On: Ohio Marriott takes flight

The motto of Dayton, OH, is the “Birthplace of Aviation.” It’s where residents Orville and Wilbur Wright set up shop to develop the first engined aircrafts following their initial flight in Kitty Hawk, NC.

It’s no wonder, then, that Richmond, VA-based Thomas Hamilton & Associates P.C. (THA) sprinkled Wright brothers and aviation elements throughout the newly renovated Marriott at the University of Dayton here. The firm did that while adhering to the new Marriott full-service design objective to give its hotels a more millennial feel.

“After researching the local and regional history, we focused on the Birthplace of Aviation with the Wright brothers, incorporating elements of flight like the airfoil shape of aircraft reflecting the rolling hills of Ohio,” said Leann Hendrix, senior interior designer for THA.

Flight was not the only inspiration culled from the hotel’s location, situated less than a mile from its namesake university. “Elements from early settlers of Scandinavian and German descent were incorporated into a design concept displaying a wintry palette to reflect the plains of Ohio,” she explained. “Nordic fabric textures and soft, natural colors are juxtaposed with the shapes and angles of wings in flight across the rolling hills of central Ohio. The public space concept is an invitation to experience the new Marriott set in tree-lined, snow-covered grasslands found in the plains of Ohio.”

Carl Hren, VP of architecture & construction for Concord Hospitality Enterprises Company, which co-owns the property with the university and manages it as well, was impressed at how THA was able to add the inspirations into the Marriott plan. “The ability for THA to incorporate those themes, but also have the overall vibe meet the look and feel of the new Marriott full-service design direction was a tough bull’s-eye to hit,” he said.

Hren pointed out that one of the highlights of the renovation was the construction of the lobby along with the new restaurant and bar into a great room, one of the main features of the new concept.

“The area is a huge departure from the old hotel that had very separate bar and restaurant areas,” he said.  “The new great room was done the right way and has had an immediate impact on the hotel. You can feel the new vibe as soon as you walk in. Concord has a strong belief that when you enter our hotels, we want the customer to immediately connect with the energy and activity coming from the bar and public areas.”

Hendrix noted that THA’s focus was to brighten the entire area. “The interiors were entirely redesigned and opened up to lighten up the spaces, which involved reorienting the bar toward the lobby entry and also modifying the spaces to bring in more light,” she said. “Both spaces carried through with the early Wright brothers’ Flyer theme using aeronautical shapes and a lustrous mirrored backdrop on the back bar. Metal canopies and taut wires over seating arrangements add a light, vertical element to the dining experience.”

She also pointed out that during the initial site and building investigations, a large enclosed void above the lobby space was discovered. “It was determined that it could be opened up to incorporate a new, dynamic ceiling area, and led to an investigation of how to create a ceiling that would begin at a low entry point, and move upward to a higher vaulted space over the front desk,” she said. “Alvar Aalto, the Finnish architect, and his house, Maison Louis Carré, became an inspiration for this curved entry ceiling in the lobby area.”

Hendrix added that the great room also includes a library, which contains a communal table; the front desk; a “chill area” of lobby seating; the lobby gift shop; and the bell stand. “Also opening up into the lobby is the glass-walled River Park meeting room, which allows guests to see that small, convenient meeting rooms are available in the hotel,” she said.

Before guests make it through the doors to the lobby, they can walk through a porte cochere that was also inspired by flight. “We redesigned the hotel’s porte cochere to resemble an airfoil, one of the fundamental shapes of both historic and modern aviation,” said Hendrix. “This wing-like shape allows the aerodynamic theme to begin on the exterior and carry through to the interior. The exterior facade was repainted in new, crisp, contemporary neutral tones with a touch of red. The theme continues with soaring undulations of the ceiling in the lobby leading guests to their front desk destination.”

Guestrooms were constructed to adhere to Marriott’s concept, but THA was able to insert the two inspirational themes. “The guestrooms were designed per the new ‘Marriott Modern’ style, implementing an open closet unit, and with an overall intention of creating spaces that are more architecturally focused,” said Hendrix. “For example, wall and ceiling elements were designed to frame out the window area to draw the eye in that direction. Again, elements of the Wright Flyer aircraft appear within guestroom wall murals depicting wing-like shapes and struts, along with Scandinavian textural patterns based on Nordic fabrics. Our palette consists of neutral, light/dark contrasting tones with an occasional pop of color in decorative pillows and accent pieces. Clean, crisp, light, sleek and very modern describe the overall feel of these new rooms.”

Hren pointed out that among the changes to guestrooms were that 75% of the bathrooms were converted to showers from tubs, and that the air-conditioning units in every room went from PTACs to VTACs.  “We also put these units outside the existing footprint of the building and built new exterior closets for them,” he said. “This also created a new and enhanced architectural look to the building.”

The indoor and outdoor spaces were similarly refreshed, said Hendrix. “All new finishes, custom carpeting and lighting were selected for the meeting and ballroom spaces,” she said. “In the large ballroom, sizeable chandeliers were designed to reflect the distinctive lines and shapes of the Wright brothers’ early aircraft. The carpet was designed with geometric patterns and angles once again reminiscent of early flight. The River Park Boardroom off the lobby displays vintage propellers mounted on a wood-paneled backdrop wall. To top it off, eye-catching white lighting fixtures illuminate the space.”

She continued, “The outdoor courtyard space was updated with new seating and walkways, and the grounds were re-terraced to make the venue more inviting to guests. Stone accents and greenery created a transition to the surrounding landscape.”

The project was recently honored with the Renovation Excellence Award, which is given by Marriott International at the Full Service Owners Conference. HB

To see content in magazine format, click here.