Top Five: Arty Hotels

As summer winds to a close, we dream of jet setting off and staying in a fabulous art-centric accommodation like the Surrey Hotel on New York's Upper East side. But alas, if you're as strapped for cash as we are, you might consider "staycationing" in one of Houston's luxurious options. These modern boutiques set the bar with authentic and daring design. Escape from the ordinary just minutes from your own backyard in one of these artistically inspired getaways.

5. Hotel Indigo

The Hotel Indigo is appropriately named after its splashy blue interior and is located uptown near the Galleria. It's an upscale boutique of the Intercontinental Hotels Group brand. These are the same people that bring us Holiday Inn, but the Indigo is not formulaic or low budget. "The Houston property was one of our first in the high-end brand. We opened the Indigo in 2006 and it was conceived as an urban oasis," said Caroline Counihan, public relations senior manager of IHG. "Each unique hotel in our upscale brand reflects the local neighborhood in design." Though the Indigo is backed by a large brand, the goal is to have a unique, local experience as a guest.

The calm, homey rooms with wooden floors are reminiscent of a quaint beach home and contrast nicely with the palatial exterior and contemporary front lobby.

Reflecting Houston, the guest rooms and public spaces have large murals inspired by the nearby Gerald D. Hines Waterwall Park. The Hotel Indigo also works with artists in another unique way. "We feature rotating art exhibits in the hotel. Currently, the featured artist is Larry Crawford. His images are on view and available for sale," said Counihan.

Though the Indigo does not typically share guest names, they recently hosted Holly Williams for their "Artist in the Spotlight" event. Rachel Ray and her production team stayed at the Indigo while hosting a benefit wedding event as well.

4. The Alden Hotel Downtown, the Alden Hotel was originally opened as the Sam Houston Hotel in 1924 and transformed into the Alden in 2002 after sitting vacant for 25 years. This boutique hotel has a balance of historic and modern. The interior is rich and textural without being overly lavish.

We spoke with Dora Rodriguez, director of sales for the Alden. The hotel is currently redesigning to get back to its roots, which Rodriguez describes as "Texas upscale contemporary. We wanted more flair, more 'Texas.' We're incorporating leather pieces, lots of couches and chairs made from animal hides."

The Alden has even renamed its bar the "Sam Bar"--the original 1924 name.

The staff keeps guests names confidential, but Rodriquez did say the hotel hosts celebrities and entertainers frequently.

3. Hotel Sorella CityCentre

The Valencia Group opened Hotel Sorella last year in the mixed-use CityCentre located on the west side within the Memorial area. The ultra-modern hotel has 244 rooms and 22 luxury penthouse residencies.

"As with all Valencia Group hotels, 'cookie cutter' prototypes will never be our pursuit," said Jodi Doughty, director of sales and marketing. "Our designs strive to capture the essence of the local community while offering a distinctive and unique blend of class and sophistication."

Valencia Group calls the specific design of the building "Italian loft" in style. It embraces natural light and open-air spaces. The sleek interior is keenly infused with many repeating patterns and motifs, while remaining warm with domestic touches.

The most striking element is the boxy, polished-wood grand staircase, an unusual and stunning piece. "The design of the stair was a collaboration between interior designer Peter Remedios, of Remedios Siembieda Inc., and Gensler. The floating stair sits within a glass 'jewel box' and appears to be carved from a single block of wood. The exterior is clad in oak veneer and the treads and risers are solid oak," said Doughty.

The Memorial/west side part of town was seen as a "perfect fit-and-need area of a new luxury hotel." We love the mixed-use space of shopping, entertainment and lodging. We are also huge fans of any development making town-and-city centers destinations within Houston. You can preview the hotel by attending a weekend event or concert or grabbing a drink at the posh Monnlisa bar.

The Sorella would not divulge special names in regards to guests.

2. Modern B & B

If you're looking for something on a more intimate scale, Modern B & B is located in the heart of Montrose on Hazard Street near the Menil Collection and The Rothko Chapel.

Lisa Thompson, owner and operator of Modern B & B, designed and built the modest four-story bed and breakfast in 2001, originally as townhomes. In 2004, she made the decision to repurpose it. She wanted a design that was "in-your-face modern" yet quality-built.

Modern B & B has a charming array of rooms for singles and families. Our favorite is the fourth-floor room, nestled above the treetops with a perfect view of downtown. The rooms all connect to a contemporary and comfortable shared living room and kitchen.

Thompson is an avid collector and figure within the arts scene. Some of her favorite pieces were done by Houston architect and artist David Guthrie. The living room features a huge overhead freeway photograph--definitively Houston. She also features photo montages by Scott Mutter that seamlessly combine opposing landscapes and city scenes.

She is constantly on the lookout for unexpected art as well. A vibrant figurative painting hangs above her oval kitchen table next to a tall, red structural sculpture. "The painting is actually a tabletop I spotted at Blue Bird Circle. They wouldn't let me buy the top by itself, so I had to buy the chairs as well. Fortunately, I had a guest at the time who commented on how much she liked the chairs, so I sent them home with her when she left. The sculpture was student work left out for trash. I had to have it, so I painted it red and it's been in that space ever since."

Thompson lives on the property and boasts that it's an easy job "when you're doing something you love." She enjoys getting to know her guests and introducing them to Houston. Her business is primarily word-of-mouth, but it's far reaching. "About 20 percent of my business is international. We get a lot of Australians and recently we had a group of businessmen from Uzbekistan." Thompson also hosts quite a lot of New York artists and artists in general. Sarah Oppenheimer most recently stayed at Modern B & B during her installation of "D-17" at Rice Gallery.

1. Hotel ZaZa

The playful combination of animal patterns and over-the-top glamour makes Hotel ZaZa a unique stay in Houston. Anyone that's been to ZaZa can attest there's nothing quite like it. Located just behind the Museum of Fine Arts and the Contemporary Arts Museum, the building began as the The Warwick Hotel in 1925.

Benjy Homsey, President of Z Resorts Management & Development LLC, and his team conceptualized the Hotel ZaZa brand by building the first ZaZa in Dallas. "The Dallas hotel was a completely new construction from the ground up. It's a mix of French Chateau, modern design and some Asian elements," said Homsey in a recent interview with Art Attack.

"After the Dallas ZaZa, we were looking to expand into the Houston market. Initially, the current location was not our first choice," Homsey said. After being contacted by the owners of the Warwick, Homsey visited the old hotel and immediately fell in love with the location. "We thought it would be a perfect complement to the Hotel ZaZa in Dallas. It had such beautiful bones," said Homsey.

The art and design of ZaZa is credited to Homsey, Charlie Givens (principal owner of the hotel), and Kimberly Miller, the designer. "Our artwork is very fashion oriented and we feature a lot of fashion photography. Lifestyle images really drive the design as well," said Homsey. There is no definitive theme to the artwork; Homsey and his team admit the basic formula is "things we like."

"Charlie, our owner, travels extensively and picks up pieces from galleries across the United States including New York, Aspen, Sante Fe, and Dallas," said Homsey. "If it works, it works."

As for the eclectic furniture and many of the interior designs, a favorite artist is Reg Land, artist/owner of LandCo Designs, based out of Dallas. Land hand-paints, upholsters, and distresses each piece to order. His furnishings are funky, sleek, and rustic all at once.

Another truly distinctive aspect is the hotel's "Concept Suites." These original themes range from "Houston We Have a Problem," complete with life-size spaceman, to the "Geisha House" with Japanese accents. If ultimate luxury is what you desire, Hotel ZaZa boasts the "Magnificent Seven Suites", an epitome of excess, with themed rooms including the Texas-inspired "Tycoon Suite," "Rock Star" with mirrored walls, and "Fatal Charms" where you can indulge in the George Costanza fantasy of wrapping yourself in velvet.

In the evenings, the Monarch Urban Bistro & Lounge attracts Houston's cougars (not the University kind) to lounge on zebra-print couches and sip martinis at the decadent bar. If white polyester pants and olive brine aren't your taste, the patio has an excellent view of the Mecom Fountain and Main Street.

Hotel ZaZa is the place to stay among celebrities. Guests of note include Zac Posen, Monique Lhullier, Mark Badgley and James Mischka, Claire Danes, Victoria Beckham, The Killers, Black Eyed Peas, Amy Adams, Jessica Simpson, Pat Benatar, Michelle Williams and Lauren Conrad.

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Kaylan Tannahill