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The Keating debuts in San Diego

SAN DIEGO— The Keating Hotel is the type of property that’s likely to have hoteliers seeing red, both literally and figuratively.
To start, they may see red when they realize Edward Kaen, principal of The Keating Hotel Group, is the first person persuasive enough to convince noted Italian design firm Pininfarina Group— the design force behind luxury sports cars Ferrari and Maserati— to tackle a hotel, notably his first hotel. Then, through its interior/product design division, Pininfarina Extra, the company, in turn, has created a bold design statement for the property by highlighting it with a signature red color palette that plays throughout the 35-room urban boutique hotel. Add to that the fact that the property, open less than two months, is already getting rates in the $400s and strong occupancy— and it’s apparent why its likely to cause a stir.
“Pininfarina had been approached in the past about doing 200- and 300-room hotels and they’d also been approached about doing one room,” said Kaen, explaining how he was able to snag the noted firm. “They’d never done a hotel, so they didn’t really have a canvas or a set of specifications of what would make a Pininfarina hotel.” The firm also didn’t want to do a single, signature room, said Kaen. “They hold their name very sacred and there’s a lot of trademark issues in how you can use their name…they don’t want to do one room and then [have the hotel] tell everyone this is a Pininfarina-designed hotel.”
The Italian firm also liked that it would be dealing with individuals and not a huge corporation. Kaen noted Paolo Pininfarina, president/CEO of Pininfarina Extra, saw that quality meant a lot to the fledgling hotelier, who has set his sights on service levels at The Keating to be on par with a five-star property.
In terms of a design concept, Kaen said he wanted something he would like and would want to stay at himself. “I travel a lot and stay at boutique hotels. I went out there to see what was missing at those properties,” he said.
The hotel is an adaptive reuse of a former office and bank building originally constructed in 1890 in the Romanesque Revival style at the corner of 5th Ave. and F St. in the city’s Gaslamp Quarter. Interestingly, the architect/builders at the time, the Reid Brothers, are the same duo that built San Diego’s historic Hotel del Coronado.
In its current iteration, The Keating juxtaposes modern Italian design with historic elements such as exposed brick walls, cherry wood moldings, original brasses and vintage banisters.
“Our goal in the design of The Keating is to evoke emotion from our guests. We want them to feel as if they are taking part in an exciting, new experience, but one that has a familiar, comforting feel derived from pleasing colors and textures that create a sense of relaxation,” said Paolo Pininfarina.
Even the Keating’s square logo has significance. “It’s what the Italians call ‘the portal.’ You walk through from the old to the new,” said Kaen. Indeed, when guests walk into The Keating, they don’t check in at the front desk. Instead, a personal concierge brings them to their room, along with their luggage, where they are checked in by swiping their credit card through the in-room computer.
Pininfarina designed the guestrooms— or stanzas in Italian— without interior walls, taking away the traditional division between the bedroom and bathroom. The rooms, which have vaulted, 15-foot ceilings, feature custom mahogany furniture, 12-foot closets that pull out from the wall, stainless-steel accents and entertainment components, including, a 37-inch, high-definition, wall-mounted, plasma-screen television and a radio/CD player. The bed is covered in luxurious Italian linens as well as a duvet, pillows and a feather bed. The comforter is done in the hotel’s signature red, as are the room’s chairs. The bed itself offers drawer space from underneath and at the foot of the bed more storage space is available.
To mimic the usually cloudless San Diego skies, the guest bathroom incorporates a blue palette along with fixtures that include a rain shower, a cutting-edge Morphosis Jacuzzi, stainless-steel vanities with resin sinks, floors and shower walls.
Pininfarina also brought in battleship gray resin floors to pay tribute to the city’s rich history as a major U.S. Navy port. “When people first see it, they might think it’s cold. It’s concrete, but when you put your foot on it, it’s warm. Pininfarina did research and it’s much more hygienic to have a hard floor than a carpet,” said Kaen.
Another facet of the hotel design is The Keating’s subterranean lounge, Minus One. The predominant color here remains red and serves as a counterpoint to the high-tech aluminium and steel bar. Guests get to see a bit of the hotel’s heritage through the original brick and stone that was used. Pininfarina designed the area to morph from day to night, utilizing lighting and curtains that unfurl from the ceiling. An actual vault, used when the building was occupied by the San Diego Trust and Savings Bank, also remains in place in the lounge.
Kaen stressed a great deal went into the entire design. “When you think boutique hotels, they typically have great public spaces— the lobby and bar are usually amazing; but when you get to the room there’s not really that [same] design. They have white sheets or a white room. The room’s not really designed…Here, everything went through that design process,” he said.
The Keating Group has signed a five-year exclusive contract with Pininfarina Extra to design any future hotels the Group may add to its portfolio as part of future expansion effort. Guest feedback has been “great,” said Kaen. “Everybody has been wowed.”