Outside In

Detroit is as much of an icon as the brands that built it. When you think of Ford and Chevy, Motown or the Red Wings, you think of Detroit. Since the Seventies, it had been a city in steep decline, but lately it’s experienced a dramatic revitalization. Shinola is part of that resurgence. The Detroit watchmakers took another iconic brand that had fallen on hard times — the now-defunct Shinola shoe polish — and repurposed the name to be a symbol of rebirth and rejuvenation in the Motor City.

Now, they’ve opened a hotel, the Shinola. The design experts at Dwell check in to explain what makes it so special.

Our sense of self is largely dependent on our sense of place — where we were born, where our family is from, where we live and work, the space we call home, and the people we surround ourselves with. Yet when you embark on a journey to somewhere new, that sense of place, belonging, and familiarity can suddenly become disrupted — which, depending on your personality, might be incredibly liberating, or overwhelmingly daunting. Nevertheless, it’s the thrill of travel.

Of course, the more you travel, the more easily you assimilate to these changing conditions, as well as the unpredictable nature of travel itself. Both novice and seasoned travelers know that deciding where to stay is a key first step in shaping your entire experience.


At the Shinola Hotel in Detroit, the thoughtfully designed “living room” is not just a beautiful space for guests to hang out, but also the downtown community to gather.

An Immersive Experience

Nowadays, hotels are recognizing the great power they have to shape guests’ experiences and perceptions of a place. One example in particular that embodies this kind of experiential design is the new Shinola Hotel in Detroit, a partnership between the Made-in-America design brand and a local real-estate firm.

“Since establishing the brand in 2011, we always had the vision of designing a space that was an extension of Shinola,” explains creative director Daniel Caudill in a recent Dwell article. “We wanted people to be able to fully immerse themselves in the sight and smell of Shinola and felt the best way to accomplish this was through a hotel.” To help execute this vision, the Detroit-based retailer — widely known for its watches, bicycles, and lifestyle products — partnered with a number of outside firms, from Gachot Studios to Kraemer Design Group and New York’s Hospitality Group.


Living Room
Throughout the living room, guests can expand their knowledge of local and international art thanks to the eclectic assortment curated by the Detroit gallery Library Street Collective.

Nestled in a beautiful historic building downtown, the resulting 129-room hotel is much more than an extension of the brand. Through its primary collaboration with nearby artisans, makers, and entrepreneurs, the space provides guests with the opportunity to engage with the local community. This celebration of local culture through intentional, approachable design can recalibrate guests’ sense of place by making them feel welcomed, wanted, and that they belong.


One of the restaurants included in the hotel’s disparate collection of food and beverage establishments is the midcentury-inspired San Morello, pictured above.

At Home on the Road

Again, not only does this added layer of purposeful, well-designed hospitality breathe familiarity into what might be a new place, but the all-in-one lifestyle package Shinola is offering allows guests to feel more comfortable, more at home, and, in many ways, more like a local. As Gachot tells Dwell: “We wanted to get people out and walking around downtown Detroit. Connecting the property to the city in interesting ways will give guests a sense of discovery.”

To encourage this sense of exploration, the hotel has united and restored several historic structures to celebrate the city’s past and also serve as gathering spaces for both guests and community members. Its 16,000 square feet of dining, entertainment, and retail space attract people from near and far to meet and mingle.


A peek at one of the Shinola Hotel guest rooms. Laid out in over 50 different configurations for a personalized feel, they’re designed by Gachot with a muted palette and simplistic, airy aesthetic.

Taking the area’s rich historical heritage as the main inspiration, the Shinola–inspired spaces creatively pay homage to the city’s manufacturing heyday while also providing visitors with an unconventional and memorable stay.


In each room, guests will find a handful of Shinola products woven into the hotel’s design, such as the Runwell turntable above.

What seem like the tiniest details that have been intentionally woven throughout the Shinola Hotel will be what you ultimately remember. And this extends to all levels of design. The rooms, the lighting, the mood — design matters in all of this because it’s how you feel in a place that determines the richness and resonance of your journey.

Written by Kathryn McLamb, a contributor and former editor at Dwell, your guide to living with good design.