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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, August 1, 2004

Posh hotel furnishings hot new home decor

Orange County (Calif.) Register

Carla Kallen enjoyed her stays at the Ritz-Carlton so much that she brought part of the experience home with her.

The mother of five shelled out $400 for a Ritz-Carlton goose-down blanket and two fluffy king-size pillows. And she's not a bit guilty over her investment in luxurious slumber.

"It's going to last a long time," said the San Juan Capistrano, Calif., resident. "I had to indulge. You spend a lot of time sleeping. You may as well make it nice."

Kallen has tapped into an emerging trend: hotels promoting the resort lifestyle in homes. Across the country, luxury hotels are transforming into minidepartment stores, selling furniture, 400-thread-count Egyptian cotton sheets, comforters, china and even mattresses.

At the Montage Resort & Spa in Laguna Beach, Calif., you can buy a Chenille throw for $85 or a king mattress and box spring for $1,699. At the St. Regis Resort and Spa in Monarch Beach, Calif., $1,200 will get you a eucalyptus night stand and $40 a mother of pearl wastebasket.

It's a relatively new but potentially lucrative enterprise. Experts say the hotel retail market could top $500 million a year, with average sales of $430 and the 529,000 luxury hotel rooms in North America.

"People are relating to a great moment or special service, and they are willing to pay for it," said Cary Schirmer, president of San Francisco-based Boxport.

The company — an offshoot of hotel supplier Higgins Purchasing Group — helps the St. Regis in Monarch Beach and other four- and five-star hotel chains in the United States and internationally run their retail arms thorough Web sites and catalogs.

"Where else do you get the opportunity to test drive a bed and sheets?" Schirmer said.

Experts say the shopping trend is a case of unintended consequences.

A few years ago, hotel chains upgraded their mattresses and bedding to enhance the sleep experience and court business travelers.

It's actually a bargain, said Jim Burke of the Collins School of Hospitality Management at California Poly-Pomona. The products are exclusive to the resorts and generally cheaper than similar goods in regular stores. "Hotels are buying things that are not only luxurious, but stand up to many washings," he said.

Bedding is the biggest seller among Boxport customers. But about 5 percent of customers want the total hotel experience, spending $20,000 to $25,000 to outfit an entire room St. Regis style — from rugs to end tables, bed frames to box springs, Schirmer said.

Nearly everything is for sale at the St. Regis, where rooms cost between $465 to $5,500 a night and feature Italian 440-thread-count duvets and shams, special Simmons mattresses and deep mahogany furniture with simple lines.

The hotel launched its online catalog in 2002.

"Right at the beginning there was a demand for the beds," said Kristi Plasso, hotel spokeswoman. She compared the mattresses to a "big white marshmallow that you sink into."

Goose-down pillows — at $140 a pop — are a big seller at the Montage, said Annie Salcedo, the hotel's retail director.

The resort — where rooms run $560 to $5,500 a night — racked up about $5,000 in sales weeks after putting their products on the Internet in April, she said.

Salcedo remembers a couple who walked out of the resort with 24 shopping bags stuffed with pillows, sheets, feather beds, duvet covers and bathroom linens for their Silicon Valley and San Francisco homes.

At the Laguna Niguel Ritz-Carlton — where rooms are $395 to $3,200 — the biggest sellers are the feather beds and sage green down throws.

The hotel recently launched a catalog that includes a $175 large-dog feather bed with the embroidered Ritz-Carlton logo.

Unlike the Montage and St. Regis, whose catalogs include furniture, the Ritz sells mostly luxury bedding.

Still, if the hotel can procure an item, such as a desk or armoire, they will — and often do, said Vince Yardum, retail buyer for the Ritz. It can be a challenge, however. Most of the hotel's furniture is antique — bought more than 20 years ago, Yardum said.

Carla Kallen isn't done adding Ritz-Carlton touches to her bedroom. A recent stay at the Pasadena, Calif., resort left her hankering for more.

"Now I want the feather bed," she said. The cost: $250 for a queen bed and $275 for a king.