Two deer walk by a stream in winter. A few trees stand in a field of faded pastel tulips. Random circles and foils mix in a reasonable facsimile of the late 1980s.
These are the prints that decorate our budget hotel rooms, pulled right off the walls of Super 8s located around the country. Yesterday, amidst the height of New York’s art season, Super 8 gave 100 of these framed prints away at a pop-up show, in a very self-aware stunt recognizing the silliness of its aging decor.
"We would be happy for it to find a new home," says Mike Mueller, SVP of Brand at Super 8 Hotels. "It’s not that the art is bad. It’s dated for our hotel rooms, and it’s not how we want to present Super 8 going forward."
When asked about the lineage of these pieces, Mueller admits that records are tough to come by. Since the company launched in 1974, all of Super 8’s locations have been entirely franchisee-owned. Many were built from from reclaimed apartments or other hotels, and decorated with relatively loose brand standards—which is why Super 8s tend to look so different from town to town. Art choices were largely an extension of this hodge-podge, in which owners may have sourced prints from who knows where.
"We’ve had a water color painting of sailboats on a quiet lake in one of our guest rooms now for a good while—more than decade," says Joie Boeckmann, General Manager of the Super 8 Cresco in Cresco, Iowa. "It’s always struck me as odd. Cresco isn’t a town that’s known for its waterfront property …"
Indeed, if hotel art—like hospital art—is known for anything, it’s for its supreme genericness; it's art-for-saying-we-have-art's-sake. Now, Super 8 is amidst an overhaul on its art program. The company's new room design, which is already installed at 1,000 of the 1,800 Super 8 locations in the U.S., feature a novel combination of headboard and large-scale, black and white photographic prints.
"We want something so timeless and classic that it’s not immediately outdated with the next trend that comes around," Mueller says. Black and white photography fit the bill, and by working with a photo licensing company, Super 8 can provide its franchisees with hyper-local prints for each room. The images can be of nearby natural wonders or urban hotspots, and Mueller hopes that just by seeing these images in their rooms, Super 8 visitors will strike up a conversation with the front desk managers, asking where they should visit while they’re in town.
The new headboard prints also offer a few other advantages compared to more typical hotel art. By building the photos into the headboard, Mueller estimates there’s actually a slight cost savings, versus forcing franchisees to buy the art and headboard separately. The photographs have been coated with a protective surface that can be wiped clean of hair products, sharpies, or anything else that might end up on them, given their close proximity to the bed. And finally, in their position over the beds, Mueller argues that that there’s a better organizational logic to how the new rooms can flow.
"Often times economy hotel rooms are quite small. When you try to fit two pieces of art in the average guest room, they’re put in places they probably shouldn't be from an aesthetics standpoint," Mueller says. "We wanted to declutter the Super 8 hotel."
In the meantime, we can’t help but wonder if Super 8 completely mistimed this initiative. Because looking at the butch-kitsch nostalgia adopted by hotels like the Ace, it seems like a faded portrait of two deer walking by a stream in winter is exactly what Super 8s should be hanging to entice the young, hip travelers of today.
All Photos: courtesy Super 8