As a person who was basically raised on the University of Connecticut campus, I am just about as “local” as you can get. My mom, who has worked at UConn for the past 20 years, enrolled me in the on-campus preschool as a toddler. Growing up, my babysitters were always undergrads and were enlisted to help me make snowmen on the Student Union Lawn when my mom was forced to bring my sister and me into the office. Even my high school was a mere ten steps from campus.
So, when the new Graduate Storrs hotel came around, boasting on their webpage that “Inspired by campus, Graduate Storrs is undeniably local,” I knew I had to go check it out.
When I think of campus I think of Horsebarn Hill sunsets, fiery fall-colored leaves and most of all a community of people of all ages and backgrounds. However, what I found in the Graduate Storrs hotel was not an elegant, inspiring, ode-to-Storrs design. What I saw instead was an insanely UConn-themed and bizarre interior that caters not to the community here, but to, as @austinrspence on Twitter put it, “boomers and genx who graduated 30+ years ago.”
Of course, anybody who has heard of UConn before knows that the basketball fandom is a huge aspect of the culture here. One of my first journalism professors here once told my class about how instead of writing about the actual women’s basketball team like always, he once wrote a whole article on their fandom.
But one has to wonder, is basing an entire interior design concept off of a basketball fandom a good decision? Just walk into the lobby of the Graduate for your answer. The lobby floor is made of a literal basketball court. A huge case of trophies shows guests how much winning gets done here. The floor by the bar is square, basketball-adorned tiles. One wall contains a gallery of hyper-realistic paintings of UConn basketball players. Some rooms even have framed pictures of the players repainted in Revolutionary War-era clothing and basketball-court-patterned pillows.
The message is very clear — basketball is a big deal here. But there has to be a better way to represent this. The basketball court floor makes the lobby feel like a middle school gymnasium. The huge case of random trophies just don’t make sense (they are for things like “4th Annual Twirl-A-Thon.”) The almost photograph-like painted basketball players are unsettling. Why not show off a local photographer’s images of the sport or, even better, of the fandom? Perhaps commissioning actual UConn students to create the art for the gallery wall would have shown a better reflection of the community.
A UConn-inspired interior and a UConn-themed interior are very different things. Consider this: if you want your living room to have a cozy coffeehouse type of mood, you shouldn’t decorate it with tacky coffee-themed furnishings. Instead think of the way a cozy coffeehouse makes you feel and surround your interior with decor that makes you feel that way. The designers at the Graduate clearly took the more literal approach. Instead of emanating the feel of campus, every little detail in the hotel is explicitly UConn. Custom-made rugs boast the UConn emblem. The wallpapers in the fitness centers are made of cartoon Huskies. And worst of all, the very first thing you see when you walk into the lobby — a plastic-looking husky statue that towers over your head.
Whitewashed wooden walls, plaid print as far as the eye can see and at least 50 vintage paintings of various “countrysides” all scream, “I was chosen by a middle-aged woman at T.J. Maxx for my farmhouse aesthetic living room.” The vibe is mid-western country-chic, but to the absolute maximum and done very poorly. The rural, small-town spirit of Storrs is totally lost in these tacky design choices.
Ben Weprin, founder and CEO of Graduate Hotels, claims in a video on the company’s webpage, “What we develop a hotel we really try to look at it through a local lens … it’s all about storytelling. Peeling back layers of the community and telling a story about what makes it really special.”
If the Graduate Storrs interior design team had done their research as Weprin says they do, maybe their artistic interpretation of the UConn community and environment wouldn’t be as shallow and out of touch as it is. It is as if the designers saw UConn as “rural” and “basketball” and realized those two concepts would be the money-makers for the boomer crowd, thus contradicting their claim that they are inspired by the multifaceted communities in which they reside. Their vision of my hometown was carried out in the utmost literal sense — and I find their execution to be less than inspiring.