Boutique Design - June 2017 - 22
HOTEL SALEM, MASSACHUSETTS
THE START-UP: In 2003, late twentysomething Robert Blood jumped into the
hospitality industry when he moved into the basement apartment of a small
inn on Nantucket Island. That dive into the hotel world became the platform
for a new kind of inn for travelers who want unique experiences delivered in a
fresh, design-led package that's tightly integrated with the real (not postcard)
locale, focused on a modern approach to service and unapologetically playful.
Collaborating with Dawn Hagin, who had developed marketing strategies for
more than 50 lodging businesses (and would become the company's chief
inspiration officer), Blood launched Lark Hotels in 2012. Five years later, this
company is involved with the ownership and/or management of 20 hotels and
four restaurants in the northeastern U.S. and California, with 12 projects in
various stages of development. Next up is the opening of The Hotel Salem in
Massachusetts this summer.
Why the world needed another hotel company: "Traditional hotels sell a
commodity-a bed, an alarm clock, a coffee maker-all things that fit into a
brand standards document. These products do not create an experience. Big
box brands are starting to understand this, and are frantically rolling out new
brands (read: products) to generate a coolness factor that simply isn't in their
DNA. However, you cannot create an organic experience, rooted in all that is
local, by crunching data."
What makes him-and Lark-major influencers: "Our creative process
allows the people in our company to be involved. When we're creating a new
identity story, the process can be brutal, but it always leads to interesting new
ideas. I have a million thoughts in a day. I am lucky to have people to whom I
can send a text to get an objective check on the lunacy of the idea."
How he knows what guests want-and will pay for: "We ask them! As an
example, we just purchased a restaurant and hotel on Cape Cod. I have found
boutiquedesign.com JUNE 2017
the best way to get the pulse on what guests want is to sit at the bar and listen.
We also learn from past projects. We get better every time and use existing
properties as 'test kitchens' for future hotels."
How Lark changed design and how design changed Lark: "We are not
trying to create perfect hotel rooms; we are trying to create great spaces that
make people feel good. In our view, hotels are still too institutional. Because we
often choose adaptive reuse projects, the architecture feels more residential.
We play on this by using layers of texture and pattern, great fabrics and
comfortable materials to create inviting spaces. Function is important in this
space, but form carries equal weight."
How far, how fast, how much: "I would open 20 hotels a year if it was up to
me, but I have a core team of people that can provide the antidote for my
sometimes-blind ambition. In the next couple years, we are interested in
expanding into the Mid-Atlantic, Southeast and Pacific Northwest, and adding
to our presence in California. In 2012 we set a goal of having a 40-hotel portfolio within 10 years. That's still the target."
What inspires him: "When I travel, I get ideas about what to do, and what
to avoid! On a recent trip I arrived at 1:30 AM and my only choice was a Courtyard by Marriott. I left feeling like the designer's goal was to be as neutral as
possible. I could have been sleeping anywhere. I contrast that with a stay I had
at the ACE Hotel in LA. That place reeked of authenticity. Ultimately though,
it's the people I work with that inspire me most"
Why he's a risk taker: "Most of the deals we do are in 'risky' seasonal
secondary markets where acquisition price is lower, competition is not as
prolific and inventory is dated. In this space we develop properties that speak
to modern travelers while maintaining a sense of place. By nature I think hoteliers need to be open to risk.
COUR TE S Y OF L ARK HOTEL S (SALEM); JOE FERR ARO (BLOOD)
ROBERT BLOOD | FOUNDER AND CEO | LARK HOTELS | AMESBURY, MASSACHUSETTS