Meet Farmer’s Daughter Hotel
Spaceez sat down with the owners of Farmer’s Daughter Hotel, Ellen and Peter Picataggio. The boutique hotel is a haven of incredible modern art and eclectic design. All the way from its elaborately designed spaces to the small quaint details, lives the story of this ‘Farmer’s daughter’.
Please tell us about the Farmer’s Daughter Hotel and the history behind it; and how you came to acquire it?
FDH is a small boutique hotel that used to be a motel built in the 60-s in Fairfax village. My family bought it in 1997, and my husband Peter and I took over it in 1999. Peter came down from Silicon Valley and he was inspired by what was going on around the hotel and saw that it needed to be modernized. In a nutshell we took a roadside motel and renovated it. We did the first renovation in 2001 and did an update renovation that finished last year.
Did the motel always had an eclectic, artistic feel to it?
When we bought FDH, it was a ‘white-wall, run down motel’. It had block-like architecture design from that era. I think what makes it unique is the neighborhood, CBS is across the street, LACMA is a mile away. Then we have upper Fairfax, which is an upper Jewish Hasidic neighborhood, with their local stores and it being in Hollywood. It is a very vibrant and eclectic neighborhood with many stories to tell. Before the guests was a mix of are older starlets, that were leaving there on a week by week basis. There were some women of ill-repute come by. We had tourists from all over who would go to shows at CBS. It was an interesting group of clients we have had. It was also very inexpensive back in the day.
To continue the cultural essence of the place, when we renovated, we focused on a curated experience, that resonated with the people who prefer a more creative and art driven surroundings. Now we get a mix of creative corporate, that means a lot of people in fashion, music or people that work around the music industry, we get writers, entertainment industry people and tourists.
Was it the needs of space that pushed towards this type of design or was it something that came from your insight.
Firstly, we were very inspired by the name of the hotel. “Farmer’s Daughter Hotel, which was the name when we bought it. Then we took the idea of a farmer’s daughter and created a whole story around it. And with that the first renovation was completely farm themed. We had a farm color pallet, chicken wall-paper, wood head board, Demin coverlids, wood floors, wake-up calls that were roosters, we went all the way with that. And then this time, as my husband and I both love art, we had our community of artists come in and contribute a lot of art, we also met new artists along the way that we commissioned or purchased art from. There is art in every nook and cranny of the hotel. But this recent re-design has become more sophisticated and a bit of a different interpretation of a farm, leaving it more bucolic and calm.
Tell us about the motivation behind the timeless look and its designer?
We had two designers for our current remodel. After interviewing countless people, we chose an amazing story-teller. She wasn’t afraid to think outside the box while staying within a budget. Since we are a small hotel and owner operated, we did not have a huge design budget. She was great at working within that and not afraid to work in a conceptual design and not watering it down to a mainstream design. That time was the beginning, where commercial design and residential interior design started to merge. She was really at the forefront of that for us. Hence, the first design was unique and surprising to the public.
Our current designer is the opposite. She is very subtle and all about incredible luxurious textures and materials that are used in contrast to enhance both their subtlety and richness. With a limited footprint I thought she was good with how to use the space that we had in the most modern way possible. She also does a combination of high end residential and commercial projects, as this time around we wanted to bring in luxury in our interpretation of the farm theme. I do work with a team. It’s usually an interior designer and a custom furniture maker, because we never buy anything, all our pieces are custom made.
How did the modern art and eclectic design come together?
In our community we have a lot of musicians and artists and I have always hated the bland homogenous hotel art, that you would always see in hotels. I thought, why not just have people from our own community of artists make art for the walls. It started with my friend Jessie, whom we asked to do two or three paintings of funny farm art work for each room. They were a huge hit, they were original. We didn’t treat them as precious, they were approachable. People knew literally that they were hand painted. Which was a new thing in a hotel or motel to do. Hanging original art. When that became a hit, some people would steal it, then we put more art. People were buying them and associating as one of our brand qualities. Taking that idea forward here we are today. Now we do art events as fund raisers and every single room has its own installation of art. Instead of having bunch of art on the wall, we have art shadow boxes in each room that various artists have done. And we also have Jessie’s and other artists’ work in different areas around the hotel.
What role did your backgrounds play in helping with your business and design approach?
I grew up with my parents running a hotel business and at the same time learn along the way. Our whole family worked at the hotel, from cleaning the rooms to making reservations to accounting/book keeping, being an immigrant family, we did everything. I graduated college as an art history major, which was my first real training about art. After graduating I got a job in fashion (production and operation), so I learned in the field. By the time I got to working at this property to help my parents. Pete also came to help. When we got married, my parents formally asked us to take over. I had a background but didn’t know how to apply it to hospitality. It was just really, it was the timing, with the right time, Pete and I were the right combination. My husband, coming from the tech, he insisted on our presence on the internet. His background in tech, and business development, meant always pushing ideas forward. These were all the things that pushed us to really solidify us to be a boutique hotel. We were also lucky to meet a design team that believed in those conceptual ideas and help us realize them.
What are your absolute favorite things about the hotel? Is there anything that is often missed by visitors and you would like us to see or talk about?
We have stayed true to the name “farmer’s daughter hotel” and we brought it to the present. There is a story the guests experience as soon as they step in. From the check-in and getting a key is the beginning of the story. Then you go walk into the elevator, the hall ways, the room, while the story continues. One of my favorite thing which is often over looked the most, is in the back alley, where we have these short green poles that protect building from vehicular traffic. One each pole are the lyrics from a John Denver song called “Country roads take me home”. As you drive away, a faint memory of the song remains in your memory. Sadly, only one customer has mentioned this detail.
Some pointers you would like to share with us about the motel from a business owner’s perspective. (The do-s and don’t-s one should think about. What in your opinion makes for a good motel design?)
Most importantly, quality is often over looked when designing a hotel. Our belief is to never compromise on quality. We appreciate our designers using such materials that ages well and complements the design. Secondly, a lot of hotels post photos that are highly enhanced or false views from their windows. I believe in showing the guests exactly what they will be getting. Be upfront of about what your product is and isn’t, setting the expectation. If you overshoot, then you are going to end up having an unhappy customer. Represent your marketing by being authentic. Don’t try to make it glossy.