No heartbreak hotel
A new 450-room hotel in Memphis with suites overseen by Priscilla Presley taps the design trend of retro detailing
"I took off my shoe and put it on the table. I said, 'It needs to be that kind of red,'" says Priscilla Presley, describing how she explained to a group of designers the shade to be used in a suite at the Graceland Guest House modelled on Elvis's bedroom.
The 450-room hotel opened in October 2016 as part of a $137-million (U.S.) investment in the Whitehaven area – the biggest hospitality project Memphis has seen in over 90 years. Presley, an actor and businessperson, who was married to Elvis from 1967 to 1973, had a consulting role in the project and oversaw the design of 20 signature suites, which are considered the jewel in the four-star-hotel's crown.
Working alongside Memphis-based DreamCatcher Hotels, the development company managing the design and construction, and architecture and interiors firm HBG Design, Presley weighed in on everything from materials to palettes. "She would collaborate on the colours and the patterns and tell us what Elvis would have liked," says Mark Weaver, HBG principal architect and lead designer for the property. "Elvis was certainly an innovator in terms of fashion and so she was able to communicate that to us, with him not being here, of course."
Engaging Presley in the design process provides the Guest House at Graceland with an authentic connection to the history of the area, something many companies are striving for. "When hotel designers choose to incorporate details that hearken back to another era or speak to that location or specific roots, it makes the overall hotel and the overall guest stay that much more unique and more memorable," says Deanna Ting, hospitality editor at travel industry research firm Skift. She adds that increased vintage detailing speaks to travellers' growing desires for unique experiences and the stories that come with them.
Since the early days of boutique hotels in the late 1990s, such as the Standard in Los Angeles, there has been a romanticizing of vintage design. But today, modernizing that retro aesthetic is a key ambition for independent hotels, which strive to differentiate themselves from chains – and not just in major cities. Another great example of this, says Ting, is the Dwell Hotel in Chattanooga, Tenn., which has stellar Mad Men-style vignettes dotted throughout.
That perfect shade of red that Presley was after – a rich, rosy crimson – is most visible in the 1,600-square-feet King's Suite 1, which is inspired by Elvis's Memphis bedroom. As a group, the suites are referred to as the Upstairs, a reference to the private living quarters at next door's Graceland, an area that remains off limits to visitors today. "They are inspired by homes that Elvis and I lived in," says Presley, who had a hand in decorating many of their dwellings.
In King's Suite 1, four vibrant red easy chairs create a focal point in the sitting-room area. The colour is echoed in plush velvet curtains flanking the giant bed and creating a canopy above it, in the centre of which is a flatscreen TV.
"Back in Graceland, in his bedroom Elvis had a TV mounted over his bed, but it was a tube television," says Weaver. "People couldn't believe that's what he had, but he was very into the latest technology."
Other modern twists are prevalent throughout the suite. Take the white, graphic light hanging above the bar: It's inspired by the fireplace the couple had in their California residence. "The Palm Springs house was very eccentric, modern and the fireplace had this hour-glass shape, so we took that and made a light fixture with it," says Weaver. There was a careful mandate to not exactly replicate Elvis's previous abodes or to overshadow Graceland, he says, adding, "The research was the fun part – reinterpreting what Elvis would have done today." Popularity of today's retro reimagining aside, it's unsurprising a property like the Guest House at Graceland in Memphis would enlist the design influence of Priscilla Presley, says Ting. "It's part of telling the story of Graceland and it just adds to the overall experience in a way that's hard to replicate, well, anywhere else.
Travel and accommodation for Alex Laws was provided by Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Guest House at Graceland. The companies did not review or approve this article prior to publication.
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