Let’s talk art: Lebanon’s guesthouses and boutique hotels

Let’s talk art: Lebanon’s guesthouses and boutique hotels

Considered the art hub of the Middle East, Beirut — a city that has witnessed immense challenges over the past few years — has been upping its game in the boutique hotel world to offer guests something a little different. Yara Moukarzel, director of operations of L’Hôte Libanais, takes a closer look at how hotels in the capital and around Lebanon are using this powerful medium to their advantage.

Since the early 19th century, hotel chains and boutique hotels have constantly evolved to meet the needs of their customers. Most recently, hotels are focusing on aesthetics, making art a key element in their design and visual character.

In today’s hospitality world, where Instagram-savvy travelers are on the lookout for the perfect story, hotels need to stand out by upping their game in the presentation stakes and offering a unique value proposition. After all, hotels should aspire to provide a memorable stay to each and every guest.

Of course, a fancy mattress and high-end amenities matter, but equally important is the visual and emotional experience that sets the tone. Whether it is the wallpaper, furniture or art, refined and unique aesthetic elements create a mood and experience that resonate with guests well after they have departed.

Why art matters
Incorporating art in a hotel can take different forms, largely depending on the brand identity and positioning. So whether it’s a luxury hotel chain in Dubai or a small guesthouse in Lebanon’s rural mountains, it is always possible to integrate art into a space, thus upgrading the experience from something simple to a journey of cultural immersion.

Art hotels
These are establishments with art in their DNA. They have integrated artsy spaces and touches in their interior design, making visual appeal a priority. Indeed, it is an essential consideration from the outset, rather than an afterthought. Take Villa Chamoun, for example. The newly opened guesthouse in Hasroun, North Lebanon, features customized wallpaper painted by Owen Grant Innes. This unusual and unique design element was inspired by the Roman Gods of Baalbek, one of the country’s most treasured ancient sites.

Curator hotels
Hotels in this category aim to provide spaces for curators and/or artists to showcase their artworks in a way that blends in and feels homogeneous with the hotel decor. Indeed, artworks can be displayed in the lobby, in the outlets or even in guests’ rooms.
At the Smallville Hotel in Beirut, local emerging artists, like “WAFF,” are showcasing their art. Guests even have the option of purchasing items they like. This provides the hotel with “free” art and a commission on items that are sold.
Furthermore, there are hotel owners who are showcasing their private art collections across their guesthouses and boutique hotels. This has been beautifully executed at Villa Chamoun, where the owner, Roni Zibara, has distributed many of his personal art pieces around the premises.

Dedicated space for art
These hotels have dedicated a space for the sole purpose of exposing, promoting and selling art.
This format offers ideal exposure for artists, who are given an additional platform where they can shine. This can be seen at The Silk Valley guesthouse, where Albert Aoun, the owner, has exhibited his private collection of ten artworks by Raouf Rifai. In the same space, there are also two regional artists: Issa Halloum and Tatiana Boulos. In total, there are 40 paintings available for sale.
Another example is Arthaus, situated in an artsy neighborhood of Beirut, which has a 180-square-meter space dedicated to temporary art exhibitions. This space is frequently offered to established artists to exhibit their work, allowing the artists to also meet the hotel’s guests and visitors, ultimately make a sale on site.

The power of art
There are a number of reasons why showcasing art in a hotel makes sense. Here are just a few reasons why owners and operators are turning to art to add value to rooms and public areas:

Share and initiate conversations
It goes without saying that art is a way for people to connect with others and to their surroundings; it is definitely a conversation starter and a visual storytelling tool. For example, a painting in the lobby of a hotel can spark an exchange between two travelers, from their opinion on the colors to how this artwork reminds them of their childhood. This dialog may ignite long lasting memories associated with the hotel that displayed the artwork.

Redefining the art venue for wider accessibility
Visiting museums and art galleries is essential for some travelers, which is why more hotels are looking to bring that same experience into their spaces. In this way, museums are no longer necessarily the main go-to destination for those looking to be visually captivated and culturally inspired. Exposing various artworks within a hotel is an initiative that also helps promote both emerging and established artists, making their work more accessible to people in general and travelers in particular.
This reminds me of a lovely personal encounter in June 2022 with Missak Terzian at Arthaus.

Missak is a Lebanese-Armenian-American artist who was exhibiting for a few days. It was a special moment, as I got to chat with the artist himself, understand his background and inspirations, and immerse myself in his world of colorful abstracts.

Clearly, art is today more widely available and is no longer restricted to galleries and museums; it is now present in so many places and contexts that it can spark the interest of someone who may have been unaware they even liked it until it came to their attention.

Educate and inspire
Wanting to reflect the culture of their area, boutique hotels and guesthouses are often focusing on featuring the artworks of local artists, considered today as cultural ambassadors.

Having artwork displayed throughout the hotel space allows guests to engage with the country, learn more about the local culture and understand its people and history on a more personal level, while gaining a visual and genuine connection with the place they are visiting. It definitely ignites the curiosity of a first-time visitor.

In recent times, the hotel has become a space to showcase what the area has to offer, with the result that many properties are sourcing the work of thought-provoking local artists and designers — including unknown or emerging names — whose works powerfully portray the atmosphere and authenticity of the destination.

Changing the practice of art displays
For decades, museums were places where art was traditionally presented, while hotels were places where people slept.

Now that museums are renting out their spaces for events, such as weddings, premieres and music video clips, why shouldn’t hotels showcase art? I can’t think of a more powerful memory maker.


Yara Moukarzel,
director of operations
of L’Hôte Libanais

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