It’s easy to get jaded about the experience industry, what with the faux museums and installations built for nothing more than a perfect selfie op or Instagram post. To me, they’re the equivalent of reducing a Michelin Starred restaurant to the sophistication of an Applebee’s. I’m pretty sure my heavy disdain for pop-ups has become a known personality trait among my friends. So, you can imagine the irony when I learned of Kimpton Hotel’s new experience initiative and decided to investigate.
The hotel, located on the border of the Los Feliz and Hollywood neighborhoods in Los Angeles, boasts a temporary social experiment in understanding human connection. The project — titled “Room 301” — is a single room in the Kimpton Everly Hotel, that will be open for reservations through November, based around the notion “that commonalities and connections exist between all people – no matter their background or life story.”
That’s a pretty damn lofty endeavor, though commendable given today’s social and political climate. Guests who choose to stay in Room 301 are prompted to engage with three or four carefully thought out in-room activities, such as writing your deepest confessions on the wall or leaving a video diary on a shared iPad. The hotel, at the end of the three months, will use the stories and behaviors as insight into the relationships between complete strangers whose only interaction is a shared experience of a space.
Immersive experiences and pop-ups have a become a bonafide phenomenon, from 29Rooms to the more recent Pizza Museum. In fact, the notion of “experience over things” has become a full-blown economy (you’ll hear it spoken about at literally every travel conference on earth). The optimistic view of this is that people value actual experiences over stuff; the more jaded perspective is that this was all created solely in response to selfie culture. Room 301 conveniently blurs these lines — landing somewhere between pop-up stunt and a much-needed investigation into human connection.
Upon entering, the room feels modest — except for its perfect views of the Hollywood sign and a piece of art above the bed commissioned from one of LA’s most recognizable artists, Colette Miller. Miller’s signature angel wings frequently grace your Instagram feed, especially if you live in LA. Such a strategically placed piece of art and a nearby neon sign glowing with the campaign hashtag #StayHuman would normally feel like obvious selfie bait, but they manage to give way to the room’s concept of connection. In fact, there is no direct invitation to share, like, or comment, just to engage honestly and authentically.
The room’s first activity, or “experiment in human emotion,” is a framed section of wall across from the bed, which serves as a space for guests to write confessions, a la Post Secret. The room has been open for about a month, so the frame has filled with catharsis — ranging from the necessary anthem, “Black Lives Matter” to the deeply personal, “Sometimes, I don’t like my children.” Seeing these, I felt, for a moment, the weight of honesty from dozens of strangers. In the process, I was rendered temporarily naive to the fact that I was basically experiencing a marketing campaign.
As part of the experiment, guests are invited to engage in three or four activities that appeal to them — as a clue into guest behavior and what actually resonates with people (because it couldn’t be 2018 without a little mineable data, right?). I personally felt drawn to the guest book, which builds on the concept of the wall and is equally refreshing. Instead of simply signing your name and putting down your email address, the guest book is a series of prompts. “What advice would you give the next person?” “If you could quit your job and become anything, what would it be?” and “Write two lines of a poem, and build off the previous lines.”
The answers are sincere, raw, funny, and completely anonymous. Suddenly, a mundane object now feels like a hotel essential.
Another stand out station is a nostalgic polaroid camera meant solely for capturing your mood. Guests are encouraged to take photos of themselves with the camera as their moods change, even from moment to moment. Though technically a selfie, instead of being shared the photo will go in a wooden box to later be analyzed. Similarly, the iPad station serves two purposes: an ongoing Spotify playlist that guests can add to during their stay and a video diary. Like the confession wall, though much more exposed, the video diary is meant to be cathartic. It’s a place where people can record themselves answering personal questions such as, “When was the last time you laughed or cried intensely, and why?”
I’m told the video has been the least popular of choices amongst guests. Presumably, because it’s the most vulnerable.
Which activities you partake in are at your discretion and the evidence is only known to those who come after you and the Kimpton study committee. There’s also a cocktail menu based on the 7 Deadly Sins, and an opportunity to keep 10,000 hotel points or pay that sum forward to the next guest. Regardless of what you choose to do, the room remains unassuming — never invading the escapism we seek in hospitality while also kindly reminding guests that we are not alone or isolated in this world.
Experiences are born from the fundamental need to feel connected to ourselves and humanity. We post photos to nurture a sense of belonging. So it’s logical a Museum of Ice Cream or Pizza could exist, appealing to our very need to be validated and to feel like we are participating in something greater than ourselves. But when something is built with no purpose other than a good Instagram post, we lose the fulfillment that drives us to experience anything at all.
Room 301 is certainly a product of the pop-up fad, but, unlike its counterparts, it manages to capture the sincerity of experiences. For that alone, it’s worth more than just your hashtags, it’s worth your time.