Kenmore digs makes Forbes.com ‘Best of’ list
By David J. Craig
Enter the front lobby of Kenmore Square’s Hotel Commonwealth and you might feel as if you’ve stepped back in time 150 years, into a stately residence out of Boston’s Brahman past.
With its dark wood furnishings, patterned scarlet carpets, and plasterwork ceiling, the space feels more like a 19th-century living room — albeit with such modern flourishes as Art Nouveau decor — than the lobby of a typical commercial hotel.
“I want our guests to feel like they’ve entered an oasis, a special environment,” says Tim Kirwan, general manager of the upscale hotel owned partly by Boston University. “I want them to let out a sigh of relief when they
walk in because they’re out of the urban fray, out of the noise and bustle.”
Since opening in May 2003, Hotel Commonwealth has impressed BU parents visiting campus, jet-setting world travelers, and ordinary vacationers alike.
Its has also wowed the experts: Forbes.com last year named it one of the 10 best new business hotels in the world, and recently it qualified to join the elite international consortium Small Luxury Hotels of the World. In addition, the hotel earned an AAA four-diamond rating in August.
“All these accolades validate that we’ve accomplished what we set out to do: create a full-service luxury hotel that offers the best available product at the best value,” says Kirwan. “So far, business is good.”
The hotel is almost completely booked through the end of September, in fact, and has been attracting a wide cross section of clientele. “We’re very pleased with the number of experienced world travelers who have discovered our hotel, and who in the past may typically have stayed at the Four Seasons or the Ritz-Carlton when in Boston,” Kirwan says. “But we also have a lot of younger couples taking a special weekend, baseball fans going to Fenway Park, BU parents and other members of the University community, and people who are not necessarily accustomed to staying in luxury hotels but who want to try something new, for the experience.”
An experience it is: guests at Hotel Commonwealth can expect the best of the best. The hotel’s 150 rooms, most overlooking either Commonwealth Avenue or Fenway Park, feature Frette Italian linens, Peacock Alley blankets, large writing desks, marble bathrooms, L’Occitane toiletries for pampering, high-speed Internet access and dual-line wireless phones, digital cable, and a CD/DVD player, and a DVD lending library is available. Rooms are priced between $250 and $350.
“For members of the BU family, the reasons to stay with us are obvious,” says Kirwan. “You walk out our front door and you’re within walking distance of the entire Charles River Campus, as well as all of Boston’s major cultural attractions.”
The property distinguishes itself from other luxury hotels most obviously, Kirwan says, by an interior design scheme that combines a wide variety of influences.
“The vision of our designer, Kevin Schopfre, was to link together a series of different design elements throughout the hotel so that every space contains a different experience,” Kirwan says. “From the time you walk in the front door, enter the lobby, go through the living space, come off the guest elevators, and finally enter your room, you’re going to experience at least five or six distinct interior designs. That’s different from the chain luxury hotels, which tend to have the same feeling in every space.”
Kirwan, a 30-year veteran of luxury hotel management in Boston, says Hotel Commonwealth also sets itself apart from competitors by offering a unique level of customer service. “Being an independent hotel, we can be much more service-driven and proactive in meeting guests’ needs than can the chains, because I never have to go through a corporate office to make improvements,” he says. “If I want to change the wine sold by the glass, I can do it in time for dinner.”
The hotel’s Kenmore Square neighbors appreciate the establishment as well, for having boosted a business revitalization project that’s been building momentum in the square for several years. The hotel planted 87 trees and improved lighting in front of the blocklong Commonwealth Avenue property. The premises also is home to several independently owned boutique retail shops that opened recently, including Persona, a handmade jewelry shop, and Commonwealth Books, which specializes in vintage and rare titles. Great Bay, a seafood restaurant owned by well-known Boston restaurateur Christopher Myers and chef Michael Schlow, is a destination as well as a hotel amenity; a brasserie-style restaurant will open next March.
“The retail shops are a wonderful use of space because it allows members of the community to interact with the hotel, creating a lot of life and activity,” says Pam Beale, president of the Kenmore Square Association, a local business group. “And the hotel in general is the cornerstone of Kenmore Square’s reinvention as a gateway to the city. It’s a great compliment to the University, and it helps bridge BU to the Newbury Street and Back Bay areas.”