A modern take on vintage motor inns

Themes of North Carolina meld with mid-century modern in the highly anticipated Longleaf Hotel

RALEIGH — Few design movements cultivate the feelings of comfort and clarity in such a way that the mid-century modern one does. Textbook mid-century mod design is clean, efficient and puts equal emphasis on the function and form of a piece. Simplicity, striking color and connection to nature are some of the biggest goals, and design of this nature allows the artist to utilize aspects of the visual aesthetic — color, texture, pattern — while also highlighting the function of a piece. Think a sleek coffee table with a pop of color to draw attention. Less excess, more function.

The new Longleaf Hotel embraces a slightly warmer, “Grandpa Joe” tone of mid-century modern. A warm color palette, terrazzo counters and period décor are among the enticing elements of mid-century mod for guests to enjoy in an atmosphere of revitalized comfort within every space of the hotel.

Originally built as a travel lodge in 1964, the building was acquired by Loden Properties in 2019 and updated to give modern amenities to the motor inn experience. Loden’s vision for the property was providing an inviting and comfortable space interlaced with North Carolina aesthetics encapsulated in a mid-century modern, vintage motor inn vibe. With a location at the northern entrance to downtown Raleigh, the site was perfect for a project with this goal to harken visitors to a simpler time and provide guests with a relaxing and memorable experience.

Christine McDonald, creative director at Loden, dove deeper into the vision for the Longleaf Hotel. She met with the North State Journal to discuss the distinct design of the mid-century mod movement that has been incorporated into the design of the hotel.

NSJ: Was the vintage motor inn theme something Loden had always conceptualized for a building or did the theme originate with this particular building?

McDonald: “It was very particular to this building, but it was absolutely in line with the kinds of things that interest us. We are interested in adaptive reuse, looking at existing properties and ways to breathe new life into them. We had done some research, and there is a trend across the United States to take old mid-century mod motor inns and breathe new life into them.

“This property, in particular, stood out to us because of the location. It’s an incredibly visible location as the ‘gateway’ into downtown as you’re coming from the north heading south. So, it was an amazing opportunity to have an impact on the city and make a statement.”

NSJ: The mid-century mod theme is clearly present through various facets of the design, such as a distinguished color palette and period décor on display. Is the furniture of the time period refurbished? Recreated?

McDonald: “None of the furniture is original because the nature of the hotel as a hospitality suite setting. We wanted the furniture to stand the test of time. When you think of mid-century modern, everyone immediately thinks about that Sputnik, a very specific mid-century mod look. We wanted things that were a little more understated. That more lived-in mid-century look with the wood paneling and the leather and things that were about form and function. So, we weren’t going for the super retro look.

“I think that’s why folks really respond to it. Because it feels good. It feels right. It’s really comfortable.”

NSJ: What are some other mid-century mod aesthetics that have been incorporated into the form of the hotel?

McDonald: “You’ll see lines throughout in the pieces we’ve used, and in the wood flooring and paneling that was really important to us. We touched on the colors of the time period, the materials, bringing in terrazzo … because those things are super important to that era. And then there was the idea of combining the mid-century aesthetic with North Carolina.”

NSJ: Longleaf’s website highlights the NC-native longleaf pine as the inspiration for the form and atmosphere of the hotel. What are the ‘North Carolina’ touches around the hotel?

McDonald: “Throughout the hotel, most of the snacks we are carrying in the rooms are manufactured in North Carolina. We have Carolina Kettle Chips, Videri chocolate. It was important to us to work with local. Local, in this case, isn’t just necessarily Raleigh or the Triangle, but North Carolina as a whole. We’ve used artisans throughout the state to help create this environment. Liz Kelly Pottery has done a special line for us, and Rise & Ramble created for us custom-dyed throw pillows and robes. Bull City Designs did our headboards and working units in the rooms. So, yeah, keeping it local was really important for us.

“And actually, now that you mention it, all of the beer that we carry is local as well. Matt Fern (who is running Delicatessen, the hotel’s restaurant) is responsible for that. It’s funny, on his menu it’s all these North Carolina beers and then he’s got the out-of-town guest beer section which has the beer from Asheville. Which I thought was kind of cute.”

NSJ: It’s early in its opening, but what have you been hearing from guests of the Longleaf Hotel so far?

McDonald: “We’ve gotten some really great responses, and almost all positive. Everyone is saying that they were super surprised at the quality of the stay. The quality of the comfort of the rooms, the little details. We very much want the lounge to be a place that’s not only for out-of-town guests but for locals to enjoy also. So, we’re also starting to see people coming into the lounge and hanging out.”

NSJ: The hotel as a gathering place for locals is a consistent theme being highlighted involving the function of Longleaf. Could you see a hotel and lounge like this changing the get-together culture in downtown Raleigh?

McDonald: “I definitely could, and we would love that. We would love for this to become one of those sort of local hangouts. We are already seeing it become a popular coffee spot with people, particularly in state government, having meetings here in the morning. And, again, we haven’t done a ton of advertisement and promoting yet, so it’s great that it’s on people’s radar.”   

NSJ: Do you foresee any future hotels like this one, or is this motor inn theme going to be specific to Longleaf?

McDonald: “Longleaf will be totally unique. Loden Properties develops hospitality — this is what we do. But we don’t see opportunities like this too much in this market because there usually isn’t as stable as this kind of place is. When you think about Raleigh or Durham, there aren’t a lot of examples of these kinds of mid-century properties that are out there. We’ve looked at some in other markets, but this was a super fun project that took us a year to complete — which was pretty short.”

NSJ: What else should potential guests know about a stay at the Longleaf or other interesting facts about the hotel?

McDonald: “We talked about the longleaf pine as a symbol of North Carolina and as inspiration for the hotel. It’s an endangered species that’s native to the Southeast. Our notion is to team with the Triangle Land Conservancy, which acquires and owns large tracts of land for their amazing mission. There is a piece of land that we’ve talked with them about regarding actually transplanting longleaf pines from the hotel to that property when they are too big for us to maintain. So that’s a fun little thing we are doing.

“Another thing, I’m not sure if it was mentioned, but we are interested in being environmentally responsible. I know people say that all the time, but we are trying to stay away from single-use plastic. In the showers, there are no disposable mini shampoo bottles, and instead, there are actually refillable containers in the showers. We also have cisterns throughout the property that collect all of the rainwater, which is a really responsible way to help with stormwater management. That rainwater can also be used for irrigation throughout the property for all of the landscaping, and then whatever is extra can slowly be channeled away to avoid creating major stormwater runoff issues that some of these urban settings have.”

NSJ: Is there a target demographic behind the mid-century mod concept? Perhaps an aging population that wants to reminisce?

McDonald: “No, not at all. It’s interesting — because of our location, we felt like there will be a lot of government. But we wanted to really speak to not just people who are looking to reminisce because, again, this isn’t overly mid-century. We wanted to keep the bones of the structure, and we wanted to be clearly of this time. Certain things harken to the mid-century, but generally, this is a modern hotel with modern amenities.

“We really felt like people who were looking for a different experience would be interested in this concept. Whether that be a millennial, a Gen X, boomer, it’s for someone who’s looking for something that’s different from what you would expect from a branded hotel experience.”

The Longleaf Hotel is located at 300 N. Dawson St. in Raleigh, and bookings are now available.

Images courtesy of Loden.