The Little Nell Gets a Big Makeover | Drapery Connection

Designer Holly Hunt replaces everything from lamps to ice buckets to 'get the country out'

It was just about 20 years ago that Ms. Hunt, now 63, opened her first showroom in Chicago's Merchandise Mart in 1984. Her big moment came in 1993, when she signed an exclusive licensing agreement to produce and market Christian Liaigre designs in North America, kicking off the popularity of leather sofas, dark woods and gray walls. Ms. Hunt's company made about $150 million in revenue last year, half of which came from her own product lines. Her clients include such celebrities as Brad Pitt and Ellen DeGeneres.

Mr. Speers estimates the hotel will pay some 35% more for the project using Ms. Hunt than it would if it were using a top hotel-design firm. And a hotel that's shut for months during construction means additional lost revenue. Already the hotel has seen a drop of 12% in guests over the past year because of the recession. "It was a pretty high-risk decision, but we thought it was essential," says Paula Crown, a member of Chicago's Crown family, which owns the Little Nell. She adds that the renovation helps make the hotel more environmentally sustainable by installing systems that shut off the lights, switch off the fireplace and lower the temperature when no one is occupying the room, and LED lighting.

The hotel, which says 65% of its guests are repeat visitors, says it chose Ms. Hunt because it wanted a residential rather than a commercial feel ”and because many of its guests recognize her name and own her furniture. (Ms. Hunt, who has a townhouse at the base of Snowmass, is a well-known local.) Located at the base of Aspen's gondola, the Little Nell is front and center in Aspen's see-and-be-seen scene. Room rates average $1,200 a night in high season.

Initially, the hotel says Ms. Hunt's first stab pushed the new look too far. Guests who stayed in the first model room, finished last year, complained it was too gray, slick and urban. The streamlined leather armchairs with exposed nail heads weren't comfortable and the draperies were too dark. They wanted more color, more of an Aspen connection.


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