The storied past of the historic Blackstone Hotel in Omaha, Neb., reads like a movie script, each era building excitement and anticipation for the property’s next act. The Blackstone Hotel opened in 1916 and by the 1920s it had become the preferred travel destination for elite circles of Hollywood A-listers, cinema stars and presidents alike—a status it enjoyed until it was shuttered in 1976. Then, from 1984 to 2017, the beloved property was repurposed as office space. Today, it is restored to its original grandeur, once again operating as a boutique hotel in Omaha’s thriving Blackstone District in midtown.
As with any exceptional performance, a cast of characters worked collaboratively to reinvent what’s now called the Kimpton Cottonwood Hotel. DLR Group led interior design and experience programming and, as architect of record, LEO A DALY provided architectural and engineering design services. Owned in partnership by local Blackstone District developers Clarity Development and GreenSlate Management, the Kimpton-branded property is operated by Pivot Hotels & Resorts, a division of Davidson Hospitality Group.
Renewed Spirit and Legacy
In an age when each hotel owner is seeking a unique differentiator, those of us on the design team tuned our minds to the original legacy of this historic property. Free from demands to create an aesthetic foreign to the hotel’s origin, the design is honest and authentic—feeling like a dream vacation of other worldly locations, yet in Omaha’s backyard. At the onset of the design process, we chose to not recreate but rather celebrate the spirit and heritage of the original Blackstone Hotel by blending old with new and fashioning a guest experience like no other in the community.
One of the biggest challenges we faced was suitably reintroducing a formal lobby into the hotel. The original design encompassed a series of distinctly connected rooms, which is the opposite of the open social landscape we have become accustomed to in hospitality design. To remedy this condition, we pulled from modern artists and film inspirations to design a feeling for guests as they move through the lobby area.
The lobby itself is bright and ethereal because of its ambient capture of sunlight. It acts as connective tissue: a white, frothy network of meandering paths of restored historical elements. The adjoined Garden Tea Lounge, full of fresh plantings, is a jewel box taking the place of what was originally an outdoor courtyard. New, modern, black accented glass walls and skylights create another connected, yet separate social zone seen from arrival. Peering through the glass reveals additional explorations, such as the coffee and macaroon morning shop, meeting rooms and garden terrace. The lobby’s final touches are the commissioned pieces of art, all by local artists. Each piece was hand curated and placed to tell the story of Omaha’s unique art community. In total, public areas of the hotel feature 71 pieces of artwork by 20 artists in the collection curated by Watie White, a painter, printmaker and public artist based in Omaha. Guestroom artwork is provided by Soho Myriad.
Transitioning from public to private spaces, the inspiration behind our guestroom concept is a calmness brought on by the reflective lawns of the original hotel. Travelers enter their guestrooms to find restrained and serene finishes symbolic of the indigenous Nebraska prairie, features that offer a respite from the energetic main-floor amenities.
A crowning moment, the headboard harkens back to the original Blackstone Hotel guestroom beds with wood frame and lace canopies. The arched silhouette of the new headboards is a contemporary take on its predecessor while the scene within blends iconic Parisian design with a monochromatic naturistic tableau. Custom wallcoverings in the guest baths are reflective of Midwestern prairie illustrations and reminiscent of the hotel’s early days when wallpaper and cheerful patterns were plentiful.
Drink and Dine
Visitors can choose from a variety of eateries on the premises. In addition to the Garden Tea Lounge, the once thriving Orleans Room makes its return to the hotel’s lobby. One of Omaha’s premier restaurants, the Orleans Room is best known by sandwich enthusiasts as the birthplace of the Schimmel Reuben. Another dining venue making a comeback is Petit Orleans, a hidden destination tucked away off the Orleans Room. Petit Orleans’ bright and airy design with comfortable mint-green seating and Parisian-styled marble bistro tables is understatedly refreshing. The floor of original terra-cotta tile remains while the space above is reinvented with new, arched, bleached-oak millwork and vintage touches. The new menu is a sampling of a modern, Midwestern take on classic Parisian cuisine.
Patrons once again have the option to sip a cocktail in the Cottonwood Room bar. A re-creation of the original speakeasy cocktail bar in the basement, the Cottonwood Room features a historically accurate circular feature bar, canopied by a shimmering metallic cottonwood tree, all set against a restored translucent photo mural of the Missouri River. The Committee Chophouse—a nod to the roaring ’20s with poker, drinks and lively nightlife—is steps away from the Cottonwood Room.