Marriott International’s story begins almost a century ago when J. Willard Marriott and his wife Alice opened a root beer stand in Washington, DC in 1927. Soon after, the Marriotts branded the concept as Hot Shoppes and expanded to multiple outposts before pivoting to hotels in 1957.
Now, just shy of a century from its humble origins, the global hospitality behemoth is celebrating its roots with its 8,000th hotel, located in Bethesda, Maryland. For the landmark moment, nearly seven years in the making, the brand tapped Gensler as the architect of record for Marriott HQ, a sprawling campus seven miles northwest of Washington, DC, comprising a new 21-story headquarters and the 12-story Marriott Bethesda Downtown at Marriott HQ. “While being the 8,000th hotel in the company’s global portfolio is a milestone, the most important aspect is the connection to our headquarters and serving directionally for the Marriott Hotels,” says Aliya Khan, vice president of design, global design strategies.
Marriott enlisted architect, interior designer, and Rottet Studio founder Lauren Rottet, who has a storied history with the brand, for the hotel interiors. The first hotel Rottet ever designed was the Solana Marriott in Westlake, Texas, a project she pitched to the late Bill Marriott. And in 2017, Rottet collaborated with Marriott for the 204-room, art-centric Renaissance Atlanta Airport Gateway Hotel. This time around, Rottet thought about J. Willard and Alice and asked herself, “What is the best Marriott you could possibly create [that would be] their dream?”
Working with Marriott’s in-house team, Rottet’s process began with creating a story that she and the team used to “visualize the characters and scenes, then create the set design to carry out the script in detail,” she says. Researching the Marriott family, the brand’s influence, and Bethesda history led to layers of historical and geographic nods throughout. Learning that Bethesda’s name comes from a Hebrew word meaning “house of kindness” and that it’s an unincorporated municipality, the design team landed on the phrase “House of kindness with no boundaries” to guide the hotel’s design.
The phrase is most overtly captured in the airy lobby, anchored by a dramatic staircase and flooded with light via floor-to-ceiling windows that offer sightlines from the entryway to Seventh State Restaurant & Lounge (a tribute to Maryland’s entrance to the Union) and the courtyard. Upon entry, guests are welcomed into an area that draws inspiration from Bethesda’s quarries with a reception desk crafted from bluestone and a central emerald sofa, Rottet’s own design, that references Maryland’s marshes.
Root beer-colored walls divide the lobby from the members-only M Club Lounge, paying homage to Marriott’s origins. And at Seventh State, dichroic glass panels installed on the ceiling above the bar nod to the estuary waters nearby and the iridescence of the state’s plentiful crab shells.
Serene color palettes continue in the corridors leading to the 245 guestrooms, which are “calm and relaxing but not overdone,” says Rottet. Rendered in hues reminiscent of Bethesda in springtime, the idea of no boundaries is embodied by omitting harsh angles in favor of rounded walls hugged by curved sofas. “The guestrooms emphasize natural materials from the surrounding Mid-Atlantic landscape, such as the smoked walnut casegoods and dark oak wood floors, which are accented by restrained punches of deep burgundy and soft pink,” adds James Cull, Rottet Studio design director and associate principal. “These vibrant colors are imbibed with the soul of DC’s iconic cherry blossoms, so beloved and important to the region.”
Crowning the property is Hip Flask, Bethesda’s first high-rise rooftop bar, starring an outdoor terrace overlooking the city. “As a new-build, this hotel created dramatic architectural volumes that were softened and layered using uncommon materials and accentuated by dramatic lighting. The result is a series of spaces that transition from day to night with depth and feeling,” says Khan. Adds Rottet: “I wanted people to feel like they’ve come into the home of Marriott. Fast forward all these years to see what the Marriott brand turned into; it’s the epitome of J. Willard and Alice’s dream.”
This article originally appeared in HD’s April 2023 issue.