In Rhode Island, boutique is not dead — it’s just in exile.
NYLO Providence/Warwick, a marriage of Philippe Starck and the Industrial Revolution, is secreted away like a witness protectee near the Warwick Mall, a few miles from the Providence airport. The property adds a cheeky wink to the straight face of a commercial strip.
The exterior facade doesn’t spill the internal secrets. To keep up with the Joneses, the 163-room hotel copycats its neighbor, an abandoned Fruit of the Loom factory bordering the Pawtuxet River. The brick building blocks and tall ironwork windows are as workaday and pragmatic as white bloomers. But don’t judge a hotel by its outerwear.
NYLO P/W is part of a chain that includes three hotels in Texas — two in Dallas, one in Plano — and one on the way in New York. The family shares the same first name (inspired by New York Loft) and aesthetic (Pee Wee’s Upmarket Playhouse). However, each kid asserts its uniqueness through regional details. For instance, in the Loft restaurant and bar, off the lobby, transparent lucite tables contain a wave’s toss of shells and sponges. Guests sit in canvas captain’s chairs, beneath chandeliers inspired by a branch coral garden. To capture the feeling of swimming in the Atlantic, hold your breath till your New England clam chowder arrives.
In the ground-level lounge, striped eyeball-shaped chairs descend from the ceiling, a swing set for ophthalmologists. From the cornea, I pumped my legs for greater velocity, glancing at the authors (Tom Wolfe, Zadie Smith, Ken Follett) on the bookshelf between swings. Board games rested on tables resembling giant silver cleats. Pylon-style stools awaited live seat covers. The maritime-themed furniture could have come in handy in March 2010, when heavy rains and snow melt caused the river to flood, filling the lobby with five feet of water. The hotel could have provided guests with rafts; instead, it closed for nearly a year and a half.
When I checked in, the front desk attendant informed me, with a wide smile, of the property’s other hardships. The sauna, she explained, was temporarily closed because of a fire (the culprit: a guest), and the restaurant was dark that night (Sunday, but it is open seven days a week March through November). However, there was a silver lining: The gym was operating, and the shuttle driver could drop me off at a supermarket and pick me up like a good soccer mom. I ended up with a workout and a picnic dinner in my suite, a fortuitous upgrade.
I had reserved a standard loft-style room with river views, but when I opened the door, I discovered that someone had been sleeping in my bed. The front desk employee, apologetic about the mistake, bumped me up a floor and a room category.
Wrapped in a concrete shell, the two-room abode was industrial cold, but the warm decor thawed the chill. Pleated white curtains dressed the windows like togas, and paintings of modernist landscapes and lamps in sunset shades added a crackle of color. To avoid the frostiness of the floor, I hopped from the tatami-style beige rugs to the cocoa-brown velveteen couch, covering my feet in a tent of pillows. Come bedtime, I buried myself deep in the snowdrift of white linens, the ghost of a steaming-hot shower watching over me.
From the bed, which levitated on a wood frame, I could see the shower, a bulging structure made of frosted glass. For two guests, the bathing feature was a tease; for one, it was a conundrum. You know the riddle involving a falling tree and no one around to hear it? Now replace it with a peek-a-boo shower and no one around to see the other person inside.
When my family stopped by the hotel the next day, I coaxed them inside the shower. My niece transformed into a shadowy figure in a flouncy skirt. Fortunately, no mischievous elf turned on the rain shower head, or she’d have been a drenched phantom and I’d have been a scorned aunt.
Before checking out, my nephew tried out the eyeball chair and Kate flung herself onto a thronelike couch as soft and blue as Cookie Monster. The kids treated the hotel like a giant playground, albeit one with boutique equipment.
400 Knight St.
Rooms from $79 a night.
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