Saskatoon may evoke miles of monotonous farmland, but there’s nothing dull or primitive about the guestrooms at The James Hotel. The luxury boutique hotel — the first of its kind in Saskatoon — opened to rave reviews in 2012. “There’s been a change in the city generally, and more specifically in our industry,” says Peter Leier, the hotel’s owner. “We’re seeing a more affluent traveller in Saskatoon, whether it’s companies with employees visiting or people who are coming through for tourism; the desire is for a more premium product.”

Converted from an apartment building by local firm Shugarman Architecture + Design, the 12-storey James Hotel boasts 59 rooms, with the feel of a high-end condominium. Awash in a classic grey-and-white palette, rooms feature solid walnut furniture to echo the floors, plush mohair sofas and substantial beds with 600-thread-count Monarch linens. Bathrooms, meanwhile, are blanketed in Carrara marble and feature soaker tubs. There are also iPod docking stations, curvy Art Deco desks for a decidedly glamorous touch and an in-room safe that finally fits more than a loaf of bread — this one holds a laptop.

“It was indeed a spare-no-expenses” conversion, says Leier. “We felt we would spend whatever we needed to ensure the hotel would be received by our target audience.” Though exact renovation figures are not available, Leier notes the rooms are extremely comfortable and that 43 of them are larger suites that range from 484 sq. ft. to 1,600 sq. ft. (for the penthouse with balconies).

The idea to build bigger suites wasn’t an accident. “[When we did our research], we noticed hotels that were well-received throughout North America — and particularly in Western Canada — were ones that had larger suites,” he says. He notes that his hotel’s generous rooms and the residential feel have resulted in outstanding guest reviews. “We wanted people to feel like they were arriving at home, even if that meant spending more on materials and finishes, such as the upholstery or the lacquered case goods that most commercial hotels would not put in place because they wouldn’t last.”

Additionally, the furnishings were crafted locally as opposed to being mass-produced offshore. But, using lavish materials such as onyx and marble throughout the hotel came with an added expense. “We actually have to bring in specialists to do a lot of the maintenance to properly buff and reseal the natural stone surfaces,” says Leier. “But there aren’t any specialists in Saskatchewan that we’re aware of, so we source people from outside the province.” Tile tradespeople fly in from Toronto, he says, while those taking care of case goods are from Calgary.

Another hotel project that required the shilling out of large sums of money on design is Montreal’s Hôtel La Ferme. Located in the nature-rich Baie-Saint-Paul’s De Charlevoix region, the expansive $300-million 145-room resort (with a ski-skate-spa-eat ethos) is made up of five pavilions inspired by old-world farm buildings, centred on an outdoor courtyard. The project’s breathtaking architecture and design by Montreal-based Lemay Michaud, whose team calls it “the most contemporary of country hotels,” has garnered numerous awards for its rural/urban aesthetic.

Most of the rooms are whimsical (the project is, after all, the brainchild of Daniel Gauthier, the co-founder of Cirque du Soleil), and reflect Hôtel La Ferme’s region, says Katrine Beaudry, the project’s lead designer. And each building has its own distinct vibe. “The 39-room Le Clos, for example, has a square shape that recalls a cloister with minimalist, nearly monochromatic decor and invites patrons to meditate, contemplate and rest,” she says. The high-ceiled rooms recall a contemporary chalet due to slatted white painted wood walls and dramatic canopy beds. A half wall hides a charming Victorian-era standalone tub with gooseneck fixtures. But, the design is also functional. “The floors in the bathroom are ceramic and were developed with a local company, Mirage.” They imitate wood to match the other side of the room to keep it seamless, she says, noting the emphasis on local talent.

The 12 dormitory-style rooms in the main building’s train station (where guests often arrive or leave the hotel) feature patchwork carpet to reflect the history of quilt-making in Quebec. There are also cute storage benches and stylish lockable Murphy beds, giving a whole new meaning to budget travel. Rooms inside the La Berge building, on the other spectrum, were modelled after a boat. “The bed sits on a platform like a dock,” says Beaudry. “So we used a rocking chair, rope lights and a round mirror like a porthole. The flooring has a black chalkboard quality to reflect the river in Quebec, which is filled with that type of rock.” It was a dream project, adds Beaudry of the two-year enterprise. He laughs: “Daniel Gauthier is a nice dreamer, because he actually realizes projects.”

It turns out guest expectation for a better-designed guestroom — and hotel in general — is not restricted to the luxury segment. The newly renovated Comfort Inn hotel in Cambridge, Ont., sports a modern revamp in its lobby, breakfast area and guestrooms. “With the mid-level … hotel market, people expect to find good value, but not a sophisticated approach to the design,” says Xavier Icardo, regional director of Operations for Westmont Hospitality Group. “The renovation focuses on warmer, earthy colours such as browns and blacks for a soothing homey feel.” The detail-focused decor also includes a larger variety of light fixtures with integrated plugs to charge laptops and cellphones and ergonomic chairs for corporate travellers who tend to work in their rooms. They may as well [go] barefoot, because the carpets have a raised, swirled design “that feels nice underfoot,” says Icardo.

But Icardo is particularly pleased with the artwork. “Most hotel rooms at this level have basic pictures, but the ones in ours each depict the culture or the environment in which the hotel was built originally. There might be a lake or an original village,” he says. It invites the guests to think about the region, to promote local attractions, and, above all, to think about the budget hotel in a more favourable light — all through design. 


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