Getting from one lovely place to another is not always a pleasant experience while you’re actually in transit. This can be true at the scale of a journey between continents or a drive to the grocery store or even a walk from one end of a hotel to another. A lot of life is lived in in-between places and a lot of these places are not typically thought of as lovely – in-between cities, in-between jobs, in-between the window seat and the aisle seat. There’s a tendency not to invest too much effort in in-between places. Unfortunately that leads to a lot of unpleasant physical locations in the world that we all must pass through at one time or another, and we are all worse off for it.
An often overlooked element of a typical hotel experience is the in-between space, the transit rooms between amenities and bedrooms. The journey from check-in desk to hotel room is often a tedious business involving long low-ceilinged corridors with no natural light or maybe if you’re lucky one window by the elevator. Rarely you might even get an extra little seating nook at some odd point along the journey where they didn’t have enough space to fit an actual room.
It’s understandable that these in-between spaces are not often pleasant places to be in no matter how festive the hall carpeting. Exterior windows usually have more privileged jobs to do than to illuminate a hallway of numbered doors. These spaces are usually just for passing through and tend to emphasize the fact that if you’ve bought a night in a hotel room, you’re usually expected to be either stashed away behind your closed numbered door or deliberately out using “the amenities” during some approved block of time. Hanging out idly in the corridor outside your room will possibly get you arrested. Hallways have a tricky role to play in the artform of the hotel.
You’ll probably have a bland-to-ok experience in any average hotel hallway as long as you keep moving. But if you stop and look around for a moment and take a long sniff at the stale air you might feel a vague sense of dread. I think Stanley Kubrick knew this, and I think that’s why he spent so much time filming long tracking shots down empty hallways when he made The Shining. He knew that there’s nothing more terrifying than a poorly decorated, long, empty hallway. Garish orange carpeting certainly doesn’t make matters any less terrifying.
I made the pilgrimage from check-in desk to hotel room a number of times in a number of places on my recent adventures with Bekah through Peru and Ecuador. But because these were hotels where the total experience of the place mattered and where every last detail had been labored over I began to notice that even the hallways of these places felt hospitable and suitably atmospheric. They felt like worthwhile places in their own right. And as a result the total experience of these hotels felt seamless and ever-unfolding.
As an added grace a number of these hotels happened to occupy former monasteries with extraordinary courtyards and other nooks and crannies as part of the processional journey from check-in to bedroom. These surprising outdoor rooms are never just incidental rest stops between two runs of hallway but are actually often the signature gathering places for their respective hotels doing a double duty as both passageway and celebration space. It’s kind of the same technique as a mid-century American roadside motel where a parking court is surrounded by rooms opening out onto a shared balcony, except that in the hotels I’m documenting here the things happening in the courtyards are a lot more appealing than a bunch of parked cars.
The following photos document the myriad ways that connective in-between spaces can be orchestrated to deepen and intensify the experience of a hotel, and by extension, to deepen and intensify the experience of being alive. Many of these examples are indeed long straight empty corridors. But what I find fascinating are the few careful details that help to elevate these potentially monotonous spaces beyond the level of mere traveling routes from one point to another. If you stop walking and look around in the middle of one of these hallways you may actually feel the hotel welcoming you.
A perfect recessed skylight transports this antique hallway off to another world. James Turrell might enjoy this one.
And if you absolutely must do a hallway with no windows you can still make it stunning. Here it’s accomplished through a repeating sequence of wood and glowing thresholds. Fire separation doors are also on hold-open devices and detailed to recess cleanly into the walls so that they basically disappear.
If Liz Lambert ever renovated a Peruvian monastery into a retro-hip hotel it might be something like this. Strange Catholic paraphernalia leftover from the Spanish conquest and a door painted metallic silver are obviously what this hallway always needed.
Here glass has been set into each arch with silicone sealant and minimal steel clips holding it in place. The glass edges are scribed meticulously around the stone ornamentation to conform perfectly to the arch’s existing shape.
Bekah and I took these photographs of hallways and courtyards at the following hotels: