When the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art opened in 2011, it put the town of Bentonville, Arkansas, on the map for art lovers. Now, a new boutique hotel by Deborah Berke Partners promises to further boost the town’s cultural cachet.
Intended to be a destination in its own right, the 21c Museum Hotel Bentonville opened in February 2013, just a quarter-mile from the Moshe Safdie–designed museum. In addition to its 104 guest rooms, the hotel doubles as an art gallery, offering 12,000 square feet of exhibition space.
Berke’s restrained architecture serves as a suitable backdrop for exuberant artwork, from psychedelic wallpaper by Brooklyn’s Chris Doyle to life-size, green plastic penguins by the Cracking Art Group. “I really loved making spaces for the work,” said firm founder Deborah Berke, noting that she graduated from RISD and has long been involved with artists. “Doing a hotel where the arts play a key role is a very good fit for me.”
The Arkansas outpost marks the third 21c hotel, all designed by Berke. The hospitality company emerged in 2006, when two art collectors in Kentucky—Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson—commissioned Berke to convert old warehouses in Louisville into a hotel and museum filled with 21st-century art (hence the name 21c). The project was a hit and led to a similar venture in Cincinnati.
The Bentonville location was the first to entail ground-up construction. For the flat, open site, Berke created a simple composition of two distinct, rectilinear volumes. A one-story volume fronts the street and houses public functions (a lobby, restaurant, and exhibition space); behind it, a four-story volume—the town’s tallest building—contains the guest rooms.
White walls and polished concrete floors characterize a series of stripped-down galleries, which are open to the public 24 hours a day. The atmosphere is warmer inside The Hive, a casual restaurant where guests sip coffee by day and cocktails by night. “We really wanted an active bar and restaurant area,” said Berke. A 125-seat dining room contains wooden tables and chairs and soft banquettes. In the lounge, the bar is faced in white brick and topped with indigenous limestone.
The guest rooms are “simple and gracious,” said Berke. Featuring a neutral color palette with dashes of color, the rooms are outfitted with tasteful modern furnishings and original artwork. Co-owner Brown even contributed her own creations, such as photographs of farm animals screen-printed on throw pillows.
Berke emphasized that the hotel’s art program is not some contrived branding experiment. “It’s true to the soul of who these people are,” she said of the owners. “They’re smart, inventive, and delightful to work with, and they believe in what they’re doing.” That passion seems to be paying off. Berke is currently designing 21c Museum Hotels for Lexington, Kentucky, Oklahoma City, and Durham, North Carolina—promising to put more American cities on the cultural map.