First-Ever Plant Pop-Up Hotel Grows in Chicago

Author: David McMillin       

plant hotel

The Kimpton Gray in Chicago became a plant pop-up hotel Oct. 18-20, with five rooms — like The Fern Room above — decked out with plants. (Photos by Marcin Cymmer/The Kimpton Gray)

As hoteliers embrace voice recognition, facial recognition, and a range of other high-tech touches (extreme example: robotic staff), one might assume that today’s travelers are looking for a scene from a science-fiction movie when they step into their rooms. However, recent research from Orbitz revealed the item at the top of the wish lists for millennial travelers is rooted in something that does not involve a charging cable or a Wi-Fi signal. In a survey of more than 1,000 travelers, 63 percent of millennials said the amenity that they would most like to see in their rooms is plants.

To bring more natural life to life in a hotel environment, Orbitz teamed up with the Garfield Park Conservatory and The Kimpton Gray in Chicago for the first-ever plant pop-up hotel from Oct. 18–20. The concept included five room types for guests seeking greenery: The Fern Room, Palm House, Sugar from the Sun, The Desert House, and Aroid House. Anyone who booked one of the rooms, which started at $368 per night, scored some extra goodies including plant-themed socks, embroidered robes, and a custom trail mix designed on a platter to mimic an actual trail. While a limited number of guests were able to reserve one of the rooms, Dina Fenili, director of sales and marketing at The Gray, told Convene that the property wanted to be able to give everyone on the property a plant atmosphere to enjoy.

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Even the bathroom of the Desert House was decorated with succulents.

“We created an open-air greenhouse in the lobby that included hundreds of plants,” Fenili said. “One of the walls was dedicated to herbs. We invited everyone to our nightly social hour and let them pick their own herbs to infuse a custom cocktail.”

The herb wall was inspired by an event that the property had hosted after Lollapalooza that featured a chef making ceviche with a green wall behind the cooking station. “It made it more interactive,” Fenili said, “with attendees watching the cook turn around and chop herbs for the dish.”

Whether guests are eating herbs in an event space or simply enjoying looking at plants in their rooms, Fenili said that the Orbitz research was “so telling about what’s important to people” when they’re away from home. “It can be sort of a schlep to be on the road constantly,” she said, “so it’s nice to have some simple comfort that can come from nature.”

Fenili said that bringing so many plants to the property involved “a lot of moving parts” and additional work from staff at The Gray. They each got to take some of that simple comfort home. In addition to donating plants to the men’s and women’s shelters of Breakthrough Urban Ministries after the weekend, the workers at The Gray were able to bring some extra beauty to their living rooms. “We brought it back to our employee relations and let each of our staffers take home a plant,” Fenili said. “You would have thought it was Christmas. Everyone lined up.”

Fenili waited in line, too. As the winter turns colder in Chicago (there’s snow in the forecast for Halloween), she will be warmed by the cactus sitting on her desk.

David McMillin is an associate editor at Convene.

More Photos From the Plant Pop-up

plant hotel

The Kimpton Gray Hotel dubbed this room Sugar from the Sun.

plant hotel

Prices for the plant pop-up rooms, like the Palm House, started at $368 per night.

plant hotel

Other plant-themed amenities in the rooms included relaxation kits (above), a well as plant-themed socks, embroidered robes, and a custom trail mix designed on a platter to mimic an actual trail.

plant hotel

The Desert House was filled with cacti, of course.

plant hotel

Plants, including cacti like these in the Desert House, also found their way into an open-air greenhouse in the lobby of The Kimpton Gray.

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Plants change the feel of the entryway of the Palm House.

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Plants from the Aroid House and other pop-up rooms were donated to local shelters after the pop-up ended.


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