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Flashback: The Return of the Motel
American Way Magazine
July 2008



Photo Caption:
Left: Hotel Valley Ho
Right: The Roxbury’s Dazzling Shimmer Spa

Sure, the word “motel” may cause you to break out in a cold sweat and prompt less-than-fond childhood memories of pulling in for the night at a nondescript roadside motor inn after riding for hours in the family station wagon. But things have changed. Many formerly drab cookie-cutter motels have been reinvented in 1950s style with retro decor, fabulous pools, and hotel-quality amenities.

The epicenter of mid-century design is Palm Springs, California, a hangout for the likes of Sinatra and the Rat Pack back in the day. In keeping with the lounge spirit, the nine-room ORBIT IN (from $169, is a tonic for the harried L.A. crowd, with funky furnishings like lava lamps and Eames fiberglass chairs, and a fun social aspect -- there’s a free Orbitini poolside cocktail hour, and guests can play games like Monopoly and Uno. You’ll be channeling Dino in no time.

Another desert oasis that’s been turned into a retro hipster hangout is the HOTEL VALLEY HO (from $159, in downtown Scottsdale, Arizona. This 1956 classic with a Frank Lloyd Wright–inspired facade now boasts glass-walled rooms with vivid color schemes like orange drapes and aqua platform beds, private patios facing the always-buzzing circular pool, and Café ZuZu, which serves updated versions of comfort foods like meatloaf and just-baked apple pie.

THE ROXBURY (from $125, is shaking up the Catskills in rural upstate New York, about a three-hour drive from Manhattan, with its whimsically decorated motel rooms that sport tongue-in-cheek names like the Shagadellic and Genie’s Bottle. After a day of hiking mountain trails or antiquing, chill out in the Shimmer Spa or by the groovy high-tech outdoor gas fire pit.

L.A. style guru Kelly Wearstler has transformed the former Beverly Carlton motel into the AVALON HOTEL (from $289,, a mid-century-modernist hideaway with snazzy George Nelson lamps, Noguchi tables, and Eames-inspired chairs. The place to be (especially during Thursday’s happy hour) is Blue on Blue, the restaurant beside the hour-glass-shaped pool, where lime-green-walled cabanas fairly scream California cool.

Even the standard economy motel chains are getting in on the action: Motel 6 recently announced plans for a new brand called Phoenix, which will showcase a more stylish, contemporary decor. -- Jill Fergus

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