Alterations on a Theme
For more than 20 years, Canadian hotelier Group Germain Hotels has worked with LemayMichaud Architecture & Design, building 17 hotels under the two distinct brands of Le Germain and Alt Hotels. Through this long-standing partnership, a high level of consistency has evolved in the design of their brands, while leaving room for nods to the locale of each hotel.
Opened in November 2018, The Alt Hotel Calgary East Village is the ninth Alt Hotel in Canada and boasts views of the Bow River and downtown Calgary. Set in a historically industrial part of the city, the black, boxy volume of the hotel evokes memories of this past through square, factory-like window mullions and minimalist exterior aesthetic. Coincidentally, the hotel itself was factory-built in Poland as fully finished and furnished prefabricated modules. These modules were then shipped to Canada and transported to Calgary, before being assembled onsite.
As with all Alt Hotels, the interior is a constrained yet eclectic ultramodern design. It keeps strictly to a neutral, monochromatic palette of black, grey, white and wood, interrupted only by carefully placed bursts of colour. Images of the city compose a pixilated mosaic art piece on the walls, colour-blocked to mimic the brand’s logo, and quirky birdhouse clocks offset the smooth, polished concrete floors. There is a play of contrast and cohesion, as the warm tones of the wood and bright pops of colour juxtapose the more stark elements of the design.
This attention to detail and concept continues in the guest rooms, which are self-admittedly small, and almost identical in all Alt Hotels, save for local art. To counterbalance the modest floorplate, exaggerated, near floor-to-ceiling and wall-to-wall windows give the sense of floating, and that the rooms are much larger than they really are. It’s a clever move that is in keeping with the effective use of space that is a trademark to the hotel, with custom furniture designed with efficiency and function in mind.
The bathroom is trendy with wood paneling, floating countertop and triangular, inset lights in the multiple mirrors, which help to enlarge the space. The headboard also serves dual function as its floor to ceiling upholstery creates soundproofing and reduces echoes in the room. “All inches are so well occupied and thought [out that it’s a] small template but you don’t feel it,” explains project designer Louise DuPont. “Everything was set up to create this perfect fit in the room.” Yet a demand was sensed for a similar experience, with just a little more legroom.
A little bit extra
Enter the Alt+, whose first location, the Alt+ Dix30, opened in the Montréal suburb of Brossard, Québec in April 2018, is the newest product in the Group Germain line of hotels. “The name says it all; it was an Alt with a . A little bit more than what an Alt is,” explains DuPont.
Located in a commercial hub but surrounded by the agricultural Montérégie region, the design is in keeping with the strict Alt brand while incorporating both retail and rural undertones, such as pops of cornfield-yellow and apple-orchard-red. A broken chevron motif, meant to imitate tractor tracks, is also present in the lobby, where living moss and green-tinted mirrored parallelograms cascade.
Project architect Pierre Mierski summarizes the design concept of the Alt+, and its relation to the Alt brand simply: “We kept the very contemporary and pure design of the Alt Hotels, but with a little more air. That’s the only thing we added!”
The lobby itself is a large, double height space, with a mezzanine open to below. This is the social hub of the hotel, and includes what have been dubbed “birdhouses”; semi-enclosed alcoves just big enough for two chairs, a small table, and lamp to fit comfortably. These intimate nooks have been carved out of the larger space, and allow for quiet conversations amidst the hustle of the foyer.
This “little bit more” also includes other spacious rooms and conveniences such as a small food prep space and separated sink from the toilet and shower, making the rooms more flexible for longer stays. Open concept, wireframe racks with sleek wood shelves, in lieu of a traditional closet, also allude to the retail context of the hotel and add to the overall spaciousness of the room.
And as the projects have evolved, so have the teams developing them (Mierski first worked on a Germain Group project 20 years ago, but is now a partner in the firm and working with the Germain’s founding children). But design consistency and local context remain integral to the brand.
“We really get inspired by the place where the hotel is located,” DuPont continues. “So we’re trying to find an angle not to be too obvious… We are trying to feel where it is and what’s very cool and different about this city.” It is this careful mix that provides branding without becoming banal for the Alt and Alt+ Hotels.
Photography courtesy of Groupe Germain Hotels / LemayMichaud Architecture Design / Julian Parkinson