28 May A Nod to Mid-Century Modern with the Dwell Hotel

Channeling historic Chattanooga, the boutique Mid-Century Modern Dwell Hotel is bursting with personality through refreshing color combinations and uniquely vintage suites. We got the chance to interview hotel designer and owner, Seija Ojanpera, about the concept and history behind the Dwell Hotel.

Tell us more about the concept behind the hotel!
The entire mid-century direction began with a photo in the lobby of the hotel when I bought it.  It was of the building in the 1940’s, and the sign was red acrylic with white light-up letters – The Colonial Hotel. It was so art deco, and prompted me to look up photographs of Chattanooga during the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s.  I fell in love with the boomerang signs, neon letters, chrome diner stools, and colorful cars.  It set the direction, and I started collecting vintage goodies right away.  Chattanoogans love their history, and I had to assure them the 1909 building lived through all these decades.  I’m going to celebrate this part of its history instead of the earlier one.

Dwell Hotel is described as “a swanky take on mid-century modern, where luxury meets retro, and high class meets high comfort.” How was color used to create this atmosphere?
To me, “Retro” means color!  I can never get enough of the bold use of patterns and palettes in old photographs of hotels, offices, and homes from the middle of the century. Every lamp, rug, canvas, and curtain has a splash of color.  I took this direction but started with a peaceful background of white walls and black trim.  This along with luxurious white bedding and deep soaking tubs, bring a subtler tone to the wallpapers and art work choices.

How was color and pattern used to give each suite its own distinct personality?
The process of making each room have its own identity was a fun, yet chaotic one!  I created a giant map on the wall in my home office of each of the 16 rooms.  Then I moved tiny pictures of my vintage furniture and lamps around with wallpaper samples until things started to make sense.  When I decided to put a pair of green velvet slipper chairs in a room with orange and silver wallpaper, the mood was set.  I knew I needed to added my pair of monumental green lamps in front of the metallic wallpaper to tie in the bold chairs. And some orange throw pillows to make the wall work with the chairs.  Then, adding art was fun!  I had a huge amount of artwork, so adding pieces that would complement an orange and green color palette became the mission for that particular room.  This system was repeated with each suite, and it made for a VERY colorful hotel.

What story are you hoping to tell guests through the entire hotel’s design?
I want my guests to be transported.  I want them to walk in and find joy as they walk into each space and see an entirely new view.  Isn’t that what we want when we go out?  To get a sense of a new flavor or mind set or era or culture?  I want my guests to feel like they’ve stepped back in time.  To a place where you can dress up for afternoon cocktails for no reason at all.

The Dwell Hotel has a rich history, once used as Fort James, a protective space for Chattanoogans during the Civil War. What inspired the choice to keep some of its original architecture, such as the central staircase?
I’m not prejudice when it comes to old furniture and fixtures.  I love them all, from every era. Besides expanding the kitchen and updating all of the bathrooms, most of my changes were cosmetic.  I love the lime stone walls, and can almost feel the history seeping out of them.  I love the staircases and the tin tile ceiling in the lobby.  There are only a few parts of 1909 that remain, and I made sure to preserve them and showcase them.

How does the location in Chattanooga, Tennessee impact the styles of the hotel?
It’s interesting to watch as our city grows.  The new construction mixing with the boom in the late eighties to some of the historic gems, makes for a pretty eclectic landscape for our tiny down town.  I LOVE that my little building is situated behind a giant marble courthouse, and across from a massive marble post office and an art deco Times Free Press building.  We have a little alley behind the hotel, and our café patio is back there.  I always joke that it feels like we are in a “real” city when we sit there.  I think the location definitely set the tone for the hotel to be hip and feel like “downtown.”

What suite would you choose to stay in? Why?
This one is hard.  My first love is the Kite Suite because it was the first one I designed.  It is SO happy.  And the sun comes in through the windows in the best way.  Next up is the Mod Suite because it’s just really cool in there.  You can’t get more “retro” than the Mod.  And third place is the Flamingo suite.  The lighting and palette is just so good.  You can’t help but smile and say “ah” when you check in before the sun goes down.

What’s next for the Dwell Hotel? 
Oh, so much is next!  We want to get more and more involved with super fun packages and partnering with other businesses in town.  There are endless beautiful hikes and waterfalls.  There are great shows and entertainment.  I want out our concierge program to be next to none.  I am also opening a small shop next door to the hotel called Parlor Palm.  I hope to be open by fall of this year, and we’ll have great vintage furniture, artwork, and fixtures.  Now when guests say “I wish I could live here!”  we can send them next door so they can take a piece of the vibe home with them.


The Dwell Hotel


Dwell Hotel Lobby

The Mod Suite
The Rainbow Room Bar
The Solarium
Flower Chandeliers in the Solarium
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