Waking up in a generic, chain hotel might be comfortable and functional, but it’s also often utilitarian and uninspiring. Often, you could be anywhere in the world, surrounded by a blank canvas that has little to do with the soul of the place where the hotel is located.
That’s not the case at hotels conceptualized and designed by Elder & Ash, a full-service, boutique design firm that creates bespoke hotel experiences that immerse travelers in their destinations with a carefully honed and deeply understood sense of place.
“We believe that the hotel stay is as important a part of a travel experience as everything you’re doing on your trip,” says Rob Blood, who is co-principal and co-owner of Elder & Ash along with his wife, Megan Kennedy. “Rather than just providing a bed for people to sleep in…we want to be part of an immersive experience, and you can’t really create an immersive experience without being part of the location you’re in.”
It’s thanks to that thoughtful and creative vision that the Amesbury-based creative design studio was named 2023 Design Firm of the Year by Boutique Design Magazine.
“By tying our design to location—sometimes in unexpected ways and sometimes in overt ways—we allow people to experience twenty-four hours a day in the place that they’re traveling to,” Blood says. “Our hope is that people choose to come to the locations where we are because we have hotels there, that they make that a cornerstone of their choice.”
Blood and Kennedy know the ins and outs of thoughtful, immersive hospitality firsthand: They are hoteliers themselves. In addition to helming Elder & Ash, they’re also the creative team behind Lark Hotels, where Blood is founder and president and Kennedy is creative director. It’s that experience working in hotels together that led them to start Elder & Ash seven years ago.
Elder & Ash is more than just an interior design firm, though. It’s a full, creative studio that help to shape hotel concepts and experiences in nearly every way, from the interior design, to menus, music, lighting, programming, and people. That extensive, hands-on service is really important for clients, especially those who might just be starting out in the hospitality business.
“It’s a full, immersive experience that we provide,” Kennedy says. “We know what it takes to operate a hotel.”
In 2023 alone, Elder & Ash debuted several properties, including the Bluebird Cady Hill Lodge in Stowe, Vermont, and two new locations of Blind Tiger properties in Burlington, Vermont, and Asheville, North Carolina, which are part of the Lark Hotels family.
Elder & Ash’s immersive approach doesn’t only apply to the services that it provides to the hotels that it works with. It’s also evident in the guest experience, too. Blood, Kennedy, and their team spend significant time in the places where they work to be sure they’re incorporating the true atmosphere and character of a destination into the hotel’s design.
For instance, Kennedy notes that Asheville, North Carolina, has an “incredible arts community, but is also very, very nature-focused and outdoorsy,” and that’s reflected in the interior design for that Blind Tiger property.
“The mantra was ‘art that is nature, and nature that is art.’” she says. The team imagined how a local who loved art and nature would want to live and what pieces they’d surround themselves with, from wood stump tables, sculptural-looking wood furniture, and wallpapers that express the street art that’s so prominent in the city.
There’s a totally different atmosphere and experience at Bluebird Lake Placid in New York, located in the Adirondack Mountains. There, the team used Scandinavian and Japanese design influences to “tell the story of a hotel in the heart of an Alpine village” while differentiating it from other hotels in the area, which lean heavily into the heavier, darker and more traditional Adirondack lodge look, Blood says.
“By keeping the rooms minimal, we were able to highlight the best feature of the property which is the amazing views of Mirror Lake,” Blood says.
They also drew upon Adirondack tradition and built a two-story great room-style lobby that highlights the views and the region’s natural materials, with wood-clad walls and ceilings, wood and fieldstone flooring, and fire elements incorporated throughout the public spaces.
In 2024, Elder & Ash will open AWOL Stowe in Vermont and reveal full property redesigns at three additional Lark Hotels: 76 Main in Nantucket, and The Hotel Portsmouth and Ale House Inn, both in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
The Hotel Portsmouth, for instance, will be renovated throughout the winter as a “modern Americana retreat” that draws on Portsmouth’s history and takes inspiration from the iconic American designers Ralph Lauren and Jonathan Adler, with bold reds and blues, plaids, and geometric patterns.
Whether it’s working with hoteliers or deeply immersing travelers in a location, Elder & Ash provides the same service.
“People come to us when they want a very bespoke experience,” Kennedy says.