The great American road trip has always held allure for travelers, tempting them with promises of open roads, majestic natural beauty, and all sorts of quirky pit stops. For many years, road trips were facilitated by the iconic motel, which offered affordable roadside accommodation to customers who were perpetually on the move. In recent decades, however, the traditional motel concept has fallen into decline, with many older ones closing, rapidly deteriorating, or just lying there abandoned along the highway. Luckily, a new trend is bringing the motel back to life.
Over the past year or so, design magazines have been awash with retro motel overhauls, showcasing buildings that have been brought into the 21st century and regained their long-lost appeal. This has in large part been facilitated by social media, where influencers are able to spread images of the motels they stay in at a viral level. It has also been spurred on by a resurgence in the popularity of “Americana” culture and the undertaking of lengthy journeys in vans (usually accompanied on Instagram by the hashtag #vanlife).
At the AHEAD Americas Awards in June 2018 — an event that honors excellence in the fields of hospitality experience and design — motels were celebrated as the hottest new trend in the industry. At this year’s ceremony, one of the biggest winners in the judges’ eyes was the Calistoga Motor Lodge and Spa in California, which was deemed to have “shown restraint” and “done more with less.” The judges also said that the motel was “young and fresh,” highlighting the success of the spa area’s design in particular. The project went on to win the Hotel of the Year, Visual Identity of the Year, Hotel Renovation and Restoration, and Spa and Wellness awards.
A few other motel renovations have been making headlines over the last couple of years, including The Drifter Hotel in New Orleans and The Anvil Hotel in Jackson, Wyoming. The Drifter draws inspiration from the Beat generation and the spirit of post-war America, employing bold floral murals, retro modernism, and contrasting materials like rough-troweled concrete, decorative tiles, and wood paneling to create a contemporary yet nostalgic tone.
The Anvil Hotel, set against the backdrop of Wyoming’s stunning mountain ranges, invokes the rustic chic of mountain life, consisting of equal parts brawn and brilliance and taking its cues from the old-timey general stores that were once scattered around the more rural parts of the US. The lobby serves as the motel’s focal point, inviting tourists and residents alike to come and sit around the cast-iron stove and warm themselves in the evening before heading to a bar run by New York’s Death & Company.
The colors inside The Anvil are sometimes dark and moody, sometimes deep and lively, with a complementary palette of dark greens, burnt oranges, and midnight blues being used throughout. Wood paneling gives the motel a saloon-like feel, while patterned glass, parquet flooring, and painted timber siding all work to complement simple furnishings like wrought-iron beds and classic orb light fixtures.
Which motels are on your summer road trip list?