Renaissance Allentown Hotel: Industrial but glam

Date: Jan 23, 2015

The look is part art gallery, part New York City loft.

In every hallway and corner, there's an interesting piece by a Lehigh Valley artist waiting for you to discover. Rolled steel affixed with rivets, colors such as charcoal, slate, ebony and rust, funky furniture pieces — all combine for an industrial vibe that would be at home in a modern New York hotel. But this hotel is in downtown Allentown.

"We want this to be the hippest hotel in Pennsylvania," says Scott Bullock, general manager of the newly opened Renaissance Allentown Hotel.

Jane Heft, creative and design director of City Center, stands next to a photo mural near the entrance to one of the bathrooms in the Renaissance Allentown Hotel. (Harry Fisher, THE MORNING CALL)


The eight-story $65 million hotel opened last week. It's billed as the only full-service, upscale hotel in Lehigh County. The hotel is part of the Marriott chain and stands connected to PPL Center, smack in the middle of the city's surging redevelopment. Renaissance boasts that the design of each hotel is different, drawing inspiration from the community and local history. The brand takes the approach that your visit should be part an experience of discovering new things and new places.

Discovery is at the core of the interior design of the hotel, which was built around the bones of the nearly century-old Dime Savings and Trust building. Around every corner, there's an interesting object or cool piece of art with a local flavor, created by a Valley artist or with a bit of local history. A metal fireplace screen gleams in the mezzanine lounge. The screen was crafted from a railing that had been salvaged from the Dime bank. The lounge also surprises with hip steampunk items and a large steampunk image that dominates one wall. (Steampunk is a genre that blends the Victorian past and the present with a fantasy and sci-fi edge.)

Steering all the choices is Jane Heft, creative and design director for City Center. "It's modern industrial chic," says Heft of her design. Black-rolled steel with rivets surrounds the doorways and entrances. Dark brown wood floors, steel gray ceramic tile or custom-made carpet in a range of patterns line the hallways. Wallpaper is used throughout much of the hotel, creating a modern textured look. Charcoal, rust, smoke, black and cream are colors seen uniformly through the hotel with a splash of pale aqua from time to time.


Custom fixtures using nostalgic Edison-style light bulbs give the rooms visual interest. You'll see iron-pipe door handles and pocket or sliding doors (which also save space when compared to those that swing out). Reclaimed wood is used as accents on walls. Lounge furniture is functional, simple and sleek; some made of leather, some with soft fabric but all with the same industrial color theme.

But while the subdued colors are seen through the hotel, it's anything but dark and dreary. Bathrooms feature back-lit mirrors, perfect for female guests looking to touch up their faces before they paint the town. Floor-to-ceiling windows fill the hotel's ballroom with natural light. The lobby of the hotel is built around a section of the Dime bank, featuring the grand (and restored) arched windows that were once part of the bank.

Heft wanted a heavy dose of style in this hotel. "I wanted to bring the glamour back," Heft says. "We were glamorous once."

Despite its decidedly New York look, the hotel has many locally influenced design pieces. There's the plaster lion head that once hung high above in the former Dime bank. Bullock stumbled across it when searching for antiques on Craigslist. Just a few steps away is a front end from a 1980s-era Mack Truck Superliner. It belonged to Heft's father, Jack Brown. "It's been sitting in my parents' basement for years and I kept telling him I'd have a good use for it some day," Heft says.

Bethlehem Steel beams are the bases of half the tables in The Dime restaurant and in the hotel's board room.

In each hotel room there's a black and white Crayola image, which pays tribute to the company's local impact. (Every great artist starts with a crayon, too, so it ties in the hotel's artistic vibe). In the bathrooms, there's a large X-ray style image of the Liberty Bell, a nod to Allentown's role in protecting the American symbol during the Revolutionary War.

Images of dimes are throughout the hotel, in particular a massive one that greets you in the hotel lobby behind the front desk. It's all part of discovering the hotel. "I tried to create an experience," Heft says.

The Renaissance is the first hotel to be built in Allentown since 1980. Its 170 rooms, starting at $179 a night, offers all the bells and whistles today's technology-obsessed guests need including iPads in every room, ready to help guests find nearby attractions and restaurants, and free high-speed Internet.

Guests can also dine at the second-floor The Dime restaurant. Diners can peruse menus on iPads and click to see photos of dishes they'd like to try.

Allentown is one of three Renaissance hotel sites in Pennsylvania and 160 in the United States.

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•Amenities: Fitness center, business center, The Dime restaurant


•Where: Seventh and Hamilton streets, attached to PPL Center

•Number of rooms: 170 including 15 suites

•Rates: $179 weeknights