Motel 6 gets chic

By Nancy Trejos
Washington Post staff writer
Friday, November 5, 2010; 11:24 AM

From the outside, the Linthicum Heights Motel 6 near Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport doesn't look much different from any other Motel 6. When I checked in for a night recently, the clerk was standing behind a window, and a barefoot man nearby was contemplating the vending machine options. Not the height of chic, exactly.

But then chic is a word that has never immediately sprung to my mind in connection with the budget motel chain. Until I got to my room.

The bed stood against a bright orange accent wall that gave the room a dash of pep. Gone were the cringe-inducing polyester floral comforter and bleak carpeting that once defined the low-cost-motel look. In their place were crisp white sheets with a taupe-colored coverlet and faux wood flooring.

The BWI Motel 6 is one of almost 70 properties that Accor North America, the chain's parent company, has redesigned with "European boutique-style flair." Accor plans to bring its Phoenix design, named after the mythical bird symbolizing rebirth and renewal, to the rest of its more than 1,000 locations across the United States and Canada over the next three to five years, said Laura Rojo-Eddy, director of corporate communications for the company. What won't change is the price of a room; the national average is about $55.

"We wanted to add price value but modernize the look while being true to our loyal customers and attracting new" ones, she said.

Other budget hotel chains are joining Motel 6 in refreshing their properties. Red Roof Inn has introduced its Next Generation redesign, with rainfall shower heads and granite countertops in the bathrooms. Holiday Inn is sporting a much sleeker logo plus comfier bedding and nicer lobbies.

The new Motel 6 design, by London firm Priestmangoode, includes furnishings intended to maximize space, a nice feature considering that my room was so small. A platform bed provided enough room underneath it for stowing luggage. Orange cubbyholes in the bathroom held towels. Beneath the 32-inch wall-mounted flat-screen TV was a multimedia panel for MP3 players, CD players and laptop computers and another cubbyhole for personal items such as cellphones.

A small table with two chairs made it easy to dine on the food I ordered in, which was my only option if I didn't want to walk to McDonald's or drive into Baltimore. Each guest gets a room service menu, or rather a delivery service menu from a nearby Italian restaurant.

Rojo-Eddy said the company is hoping to attract business travelers as well as a younger clientele. Hence the WiFi capability. Too bad it's not free, but the $2.99 price tag is less than what many other hotels charge. And I was happy that my room came with not one, but two HBO channels.

Double doors opened into the bathroom, which seemed massive compared with the bedroom. A large vanity area featured black granite countertops and a raised sink. You still won't get a bathtub in a Motel 6, but the walk-in shower looked big enough for two. Bring your own shampoo and conditioner, and don't expect big fluffy towels. This is still a budget hotel.

And you can still count on a few other Motel 6 traditions: Affixed to my fancy new vanity was a bottle opener.

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