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Best of Liz Benston

Gaming Guru

Liz Benston

When Vegas hotels upgrade ... Florals, beige tones yield to whites, grays

17 October 2006

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- For decades, Las Vegas hotel rooms were intended for little more than power naps between gambling binges.

They were known for their whimsical themes, floral bedspreads, garish wallpaper and big, wooden furniture.

Then hotel rooms went mainstream - lighter on the theme and heavy on all things beige.

Now it's streamlined furniture, flat-screen TVs, hidden wiring and bolder accent colors offset by whites and grays.

Goodbye kitsch, hello chic.

Luxuriously appointed rooms are a big part of the attraction at the Strip's newest hotels, offering the latest in creature comforts for discriminating tourists and interior designs ripped from the pages of glossy magazines.

And now the older places are trying to catch up.

The renovations transcend the kind of remodeling efforts that hotels undertake every five to seven years to keep up with design trends and replace tired, stained carpeting and bedspreads.

The Flamingo Las Vegas, for instance, is undergoing nothing less than a midlife makeover.

In recent weeks, the center-Strip hotel has gutted more than 60 of its passe rooms, circa 2000, and replaced them with the kind of digs that celebrities, Generation Xers and their younger followers wouldn't be ashamed of.

Gone are the scratchy bedspreads of hotel rooms past, replaced by "triple-sheet" bedding that is easier to clean and a sleeker white.

Gone too is the big, boxy TV set in the armoire, replaced with two 42-inch, high-definition, flat-screen TVs as well as a third TV embedded in the bathroom mirror.

"This is the price of entry," Flamingo President Don Marrandino, pointing to one of the television sets, says of the property's bid to compete more aggressively with its deluxe neighbors on the Strip. Of the rooms' dramatic, modernist design, Marrandino says it "creates a sense of expectation."

Elsewhere in the Flamingo, customers will still see beige wallpaper, bamboo-print hallway carpet and industrial-looking restroom floor tile - a washed-out theme several years removed from the pearly whites, steely silvers and toenail-polish pink stripes strategically placed on the walls.

"The Flamingo was perceived as a dorm for the rest of the Strip for a long time," Marrandino said. "We thought, 'How do we do something a bit daring and a bit bold?' "

A slim desk is built in along one wall - just wide enough to hold a combination CD, DVD and MP3 player that can display one's iPod contents on a big screen and blare music through high-grade speakers and a nearby subwoofer. The sofa is chocolate brown with pink pillows. The upholstered white headboard is vinyl of the go-go boot variety. The easy chair is cantilevered metal. The bathroom walls are frosted glass.

It can cost tens of millions of dollars to make over a hotel's rooms - a necessary investment to compete for Las Vegas' ever-richer customer base. The Flamingo plans to make over all of its rooms - more than 3,500 - in a project that will last more than a year. It won't say how much it will cost.

Like most of the Strip's 21st-century executives, Marrandino is OK with guests lounging in their rooms. Not everyone wants to gamble, after all, and he's confident they will pay an additional $50 or so for the more tasteful rooms - and contentedly spend more money, as well, at the resort's shows, boutiques and other attractions.

Lee Cagney of the Las Vegas design firm Cagney & Tanner calls his work on the Flamingo rooms "repositioning" rather than interior designing, reflecting a broader, dramatic shift in Las Vegas toward younger, more discriminating customers with money to burn.

"With a younger demographic base, the customer we're attracting now seeks an authenticity of experience," he said. "We're still interested in making their gaming vacation feel fun and upbeat, but we're not doing that by making them feel like they're somewhere else" with contrived themes.

The new rooms' designs are a marriage of modern and retro chic - as in wireless Internet access alongside oversized, '50s-style lamps.

"We're reinterpreting all the elements that made the original Flamingo cool," Cagney said. "What we're trying to do is create a classic hotel room and make it more edgy and contemporary."

The Flamingo is doing what's necessary to compete with more deluxe neighbors, said Mary Herczog , author of Frommer's travel guides on Las Vegas and "Las Vegas for Dummies" editions.

Herczog, who has not stayed in the new rooms, said middle-market hotels across the country are introducing more high-end features such as pillowtop mattresses, deep tubs, flat-screen TVs and wireless Internet access to lure customers who are more comfort-conscious.

"Once you've stayed in the new hotel rooms, it's really hard to go back to the old-fashioned idea of what comfort was six years ago," she said.

And, she added, "in four to five years, they'll probably be redoing the rooms again."