Every morning I was dropped off at school, I received two important instructions for the day: “Throw away those smiles” and “Live a little!” The Live a Little column is reserved for my entries on hotels, those spaces so beloved by me that they needed their own room.
I grew up in and around a small sprinkling of hotels along the Gulf Coast that are part of my family’s business and even before I wanted to be Nancy Drew, Elizabeth Bennet or Dagny Taggart, I felt a kinship with Eloise, the precocious little girl who lived at The Plaza and the heroine of my first favorite book. My mother took me to stay there in New York around the time I was the same age as Eloise, and that was that. Years later, I still enjoy spending as much time researching where to stay as I do where to go. Probably more. Mom also got to see her favorite actress in The Palm Court during tea, so I’d say it was a good time had by all.
Before I decided to take the leap and leave for my version of the Grand Tour, I was helping real estate clients raise capital and build projection models while looking for my next placement in hotel finance. During this process, I was fortunate enough to sit down one evening with hotelier Sean MacPherson in Café Gitane at The Jane Hotel, one of his remarkable creations in New York City. After stumbling across an interview Macpherson did for Papermag where he stated there’s a romance to hotels, “…a civility, a formality, and a history”, I was looking forward to the meeting, as it seemed he was able to put into words what grabs me about these homes away from home. Listening to him expand on his love for the design and creation process, I realized what I hadn’t been able to define succinctly…
Hotels are just my favorite kind of art. Design, hospitality and commerce intersect to provide a space at the pinnacle of form and function. You can be tempted with frivolities you would never allow yourself at home or depend on necessities you may have left there. You can choose to be social or solitary, your best self or someone else entirely. You can experience a physical simulation of the past, gain a brief harbor for the present or plan a meeting that changes your future. Their considerable structure can anchor a memory or provide a refuge – The Grand Hotel in downtown Pensacola is actually a converted old train station entrenched in the history of the city as well as where we evacuated to while Hurricane Ivan stole our house! Besides, coming across exceptional hospitality is a blessing when I’m homesick for the South, and hell, it is nice to be somewhere where my ‘yes m’am’s’ and ‘yes sir’s’ are not only received well but also returned.
I left The Jane comforted by this revelation and amused that I had gone to meet a businessman and left knowing I had met an artist. I guess I do like modern art after all.
This column is dedicated to my grandfather Mr. Charles Putnam Woodbury who first told my mother to “live a little”, who then told it to me. His story inspires me to work hard and reminds me to pay it forward. You started it all Bampa, and we miss you everyday.