A biweekly staff review of East Coast and regional lodgings.
Something looked strikingly familiar about the photos on Page 242 of “Home by Novogratz,” the fashionable coffee-table tome about the HGTV design couple. Studying the images, I felt as if I’d seen that rug before: black-and-white with interlocking gender symbols. And that bed: custom-made platform with built-in side tables and a single-stripe blanket draped over your 10 little piggies. And that wall art: a handcrafted flag of Jamaica, a puckish twist on patriotism.
Wait a minute: That’s my room. The space that I was reading about was the same one that I was currently inhabiting. Reality TV, are you filming this meta-moment?
The Bungalow Hotel, in Long Branch, N.J., is the first commercial property conjured by Cortney and Robert Novogratz, the celebrity husband-and-wife team who blend the hip of Andy Warhol with the hop of Alice in Wonderland’s White Rabbit. The 24-room property, open since 2009, resides in Pier Village, a Clarendon-style development on the Atlantic. But don’t judge a hotel by its outdoor-mall cover; the interior is an art house of fun and fantasy.
The main vibe is laid-back surfer, but the dude appears to have an advanced degree in contemporary art. Photographs of surfers — more “Endless Summer” than giggly “Gidget” — hang on the lobby walls. Near the front entrance, a vintage blue-felt billiard table sits amid a small forest of birch trees and a chunk of a trunk. Overhead, a fixture dangles like a dandelion drunk on a cocktail of Rogaine and steroids. Light boxes by Heidi Cody spell out the hotel’s name in a pop-goes-the-logo style.
In the lounge area, a sofa purchased on eBay and reupholstered in faux moo backs up against a giant postage stamp of Queen Elizabeth. British artist Ann Carrington, who created the Royal Jubilee banner for the queen’s diamond jubilee celebration, used pearl buttons to define the monarchical profile. Carrington also crafted the two dozen flags, including a U.S. pennant cobbled together from denim scraps.
When I arrived at the hotel, I was sandy and dripping — a staff member later erected “watch your step” signs around my puddles — but no one treated me like a stray wet dog. Despite the art gallery veneer, these floors (high-gloss white engineered wood, according to “Home”) were made for flip-flops. The hotel is within walking distance of the Long Branch beach and sells $25 pool passes to the private Le Club, where the water comes unsalted.
The property describes itself as a “boutique luxury lifestyle hotel.” Based on my surroundings, I surmised that the Bungalow lifestyle includes a love of plants that will never die (Exhibit A: a giant tulip sculpture beside the elevators), a dependence on takeout (no bowls or cutlery in the kitchenette) and a diet of water and wine (bottled water and wine glasses with opener included). The peepsters who populate this world, I gathered, also cuddle around the fireplace year-round and can’t spit out their toothpaste in the same sink. And so I followed suit, cranking up the electric flames despite the summer heat and rinsing in both His and Her sinks.
The hotel offers five types of accommodations that transport the guest from the Jersey Shore to Hawaii’s North Shore: From small to large, there’s the Aloha room (465 square feet), the Hang Loose junior suite (575), the Lil’ Pipeline one-bedroom suite (785), and the Pipeline (1,010) and Kahuna (1,170) two-bedroom suites.
Despite the size differences, a similar decor flows through each space. For example, all have floating bathroom mirrors that cleverly divide the dead zone between bed and bath. In addition, every room is painted white, creating the sensation that you’re sleeping inside a clamshell.
The night of my stay, the hotel was mouse-quiet, a tranquil prelude to an incoming wedding party. After drinking water by the fire, I decided to go exploring. I left myself a friendly note and drawing on the chalkboard that I would appreciate upon my return.
In the lobby, a couple sat at the corner bar, deep in conversation with the bartender. The couches on the patio begged for warm bodies, but none appeared. I browsed through the flea-market trinkets on the shelves and pondered a game of backgammon, but I already knew that I would win. I buffed my fingernails on the billiard table.
My field trip complete, I returned to my version of the Bungalow lifestyle. I flipped on the fire, sank into the lipstick-red couch and cracked open “Home.”
Now, where was I? Oh, yes, Page 242. Room 403, my room.
50 Laird St.
Long Branch, N.J.
Rates from $189 in the off-season; from $473 in-season.