1 Hotels: Urban Hospitality At the Forefront of Design and Sustainability

At 1 Hotels, nature is a luxury that speaks to the beauty in eco-hospitality. From South Beach to Brooklyn, the brand has grown within the past five years to create experiences with impact, rooted in innovative sustainability.

In 2012, Chairman and CEO of Starwood Capital Group’s Barry Sternlicht had a vision to change the hotel industry. “That’s what hooked me and has sustained me,” says the company’s Senior Vice President of Design, Kemper Hyers. “Committing to a brand whose central premise is sustainability.”

At a time when sustainable travel is more prevalent than ever, Starwood’s 1 Hotels realized an opportunity to deep dive into the trend to make an impact on its properties nationwide–soon to be worldwide with scheduled openings in Sanya, China (2018) and Cabo San Lucas, Mexico (2019). With two of the properties located in New York City, Hyers along with Vice President of Sustainability, Amanda DeSantis teamed up to implement a new way of urban hospitality with actual nature amidst a concrete jungle.

“I am the type of person who is all in or I’m not in at all,” says DeSantis on joining the Starwood team last year. “I saw that sustainability was all-in here. It’s really throughout everything we do, from our design process, to the things that our guests and the public can feel, and touch, and see.”

A stay at 1 Hotels starts on approach to the property’s exterior–complete walls of greenery that stand out from the greys and blacks of downtown office buildings, changing with the season and welcoming you to a new kind of oasis.

“One of the things I insist on is that the landscape designer is hired right at the very beginning,” explains Hyers who notes that in a typical design process the architect comes first, then the interior designer, then eventually the landscape. “I like it at the beginning. It’s a subtle thing but it’s why people walk into our hotels and feel the onset of nature so strongly.”

The experience of intertwining nature throughout a stay at 1 Hotels continues with a wooden key, hemp sheets and the natural fixings that replace art on the walls. “Nature is in everything you touch, see and feel. We want to encourage people to pause in our spaces and reflect,” says DeSantis on the brand’s hope to strengthen the relationship between people and nature; a connection that becomes a natural byproduct of guests breathing, eating and sleeping amidst nature. “We used pine beams from the former Domino’s sugar factory, walnut from the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, and pine flooring that came from the Old Crow Distillery in Kentucky,” says DeSantis on a handful of the property’s accents that bring guests closer to nature.

Even the standard art fixtures have been replaced with nature, as Hyers explains, “Wherever you would put art to feel the impulse to make a statement, we put nature. Whether it’s a grain of wood, a textured rock, something alive; it’s a signature to our brand and we won’t walk away from that.”

The 1 Hotels brand also emphasizes its ability to further hone the relationship between people and nature by extending beyond green walls and accents, to actually include green practices throughout the hotels’ service chains, from check-in to turn down.

Energy efficient cooling and lighting systems, as well as rooms stocked with glassware to use in accordance with the filtered water throughout the hotels, equate to no plastic cups or bottles. In fact, the frivolous items we typically expect stocked in our hotel rooms–pens, paper, shampoo, conditioner, plastic-wrapped personal care kits–these are all disposable items that the brand has disposed of; large dispensers replace mini plastic product bottles and chalkboards replace notepads.

“If I go to a hotel and they have those little plastic bottles of shampoo, or, if there’s a bottle of water next to the bed, it physically upsets me. It’s astounding what [the hospitality industry] goes through,” says Hyers.

The application of the extremes are very much influenced by both DeSantis and Hyers’ backgrounds in pushing boundaries within their respective fields–DeSantis from innovative strategies in tech startups, to sustainability with self driving cars at Uber, and Hyers from creative and local design to conservative hospitality. Whilst the intrigue for such sustainable concepts are an influence rooted in the duo’s personal experience of connecting with nature.

“The only reason I was able to stay in New York for 35 years was because I had this little garden. I always had that sanctuary,” shares Hyers. “It’s imprinted on me. Contact with nature changes everything, in every space.”

DeSantis concurs by acknowledging the perspective she’s been able to weave into the 1 Hotels brand, “We have such an innate connection to nature, and what is more beautiful than nature?”

By positioning nature as its luxury, the 1 Hotels brand continues to innovate and evolutionize in order to lead the sustainable hospitality movement–something they aren’t afraid of competitors emulating–only hoping to inspire the industry to reconsider their social and environmental responsibility. “We’re being a laboratory that we hope everyone will pay attention to,” concludes Hyers. “We’re not hiding anything, we’re happy to tell you what we’re doing because this is where travel is going.”

Photo Credit: 1Hotels

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