New venture plans to break the hotel mold

Santa Barbara, CA—When the National Exchange Hotel Company was recently launched by designer Jordan Fife, the intent was to “break the mold” of what guests expect from boutique hotels.

“The National Exchange Hotel Company was born out of the transforming landscape of the hospitality business,” said Fife, the company’s managing partner. “After having previously been in uber-luxury properties, we have identified the needs of a new underserved traveler and what they find important. We wanted to provide a product that resonated with people that is design-centric with just the right amount of service, priced equitably so that consumers feel their needs are being met without paying a premium for services they will not be using. Our design and operational approach is kind of throwback, but also forward thinking.”

The company is planning 10 properties in its first five years. “Our plan is to roll out properties gradually as we identify markets our clients travel to and communities where we feel our brand can seamlessly integrate into,” said Fife. “We are very conscientious of how we fit into and contribute to a community. It is our impression that the more seamless the fit, the better the experience for our guests. While we plan to renovate historic or architecturally significant buildings, we are not ruling out ground-up builds in landscapes where no property exists. We aim to create unique guest experiences at each of our properties, and that means operating without a specific set of rules.”

The company’s first property will be the National Hotel in Nevada City, CA, with construction beginning this month. “The National Hotel was chosen to be first and the flagship because the property and the community of Nevada City are indicative of who we are as brand and product,” he said. “The hotel is a National Historic Landmark—important to not only California, but also this nation’s history…and Nevada City is a town that represents community and inclusiveness, a place where tourists from the San Francisco Bay area and other neighboring areas are accepted and integrated into the local landscape.”

For The National, built in 1852 and affectionately known as “The Nash” by locals, Fife’s mission with the renovation is to honor the past by looking forward to the future. “The intention is not to become a museum—which is what it had been—but to go back to its original designation and usage, to be the premier accommodation in the Sierras. The National was built to be one of the best hotels in the West. It reflected the best of service and design of its period,” he said. “We believe that to truly preserve and restore the building, we must cherish its flaws, not gloss over them, and, more importantly, we must bring the property back to the original intent of its first owners… to be one of the best in its class.”

He continued, “To think of preservation as just ‘keeping things the same’ is really not in keeping with the National’s original spirit of being a modern, forward-thinking and sophisticated destination, for both visitors and the local community. Additionally, if we apply that to how the world and tourism has changed and how consumers and society interacts with structures—we want to keep moving the building toward the future. I want to honor the building’s past by allowing it to thrive in the future, which is to say that my design style will reflect the juxtaposition between rustic antique and pops of modern or modernity.”

To build the brand and experience for guests, the company has assembled a group of collaborators from different walks of life. “To create the best amalgamation of ideas, we have been assembling some of the top artists from the tattoo industry, supermodels and jewelry designers to curate in-room experiences, as well as lifestyle brands such as Iron and Resin to create gift shops and on-property retail activations,” he said. “We are also working with world-class musicians to create the sound and feel in our bars and saloons, plus out-of-the-box hospitality and tourism professionals to craft our operational and guest procedures. We believe we know our clients and what story they are looking to experience. We are hoping to curate the perfect environment in which that experience can unfold. While we believe in certain ‘best practices,’ we will break the mold of how our clients experience and interact with ‘boutique hotels,’ and how that experience can apply to a larger-scale business model.”

In addition to collaborations for the look and feel of the hotels, the brand has also worked on a variety of marketing concepts, including a TV show about the renovation. “It was never our intention to launch the hotel in conjunction with at TV show, but wouldn’t that be great marketing?” asked Fife. “The idea is really slice-of-life mixed with design: as we go into a town, learn about it and the building’s history, and develop and design a hotel over the course of a season. We are very excited to show the world what we are doing.”

A pilot episode starring Fife and Josh Klinghoffer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers has been shot and is currently being edited and shopped to cable networks. “Josh has been coming to Nevada City for years, along with many other musicians and artists,” said Fife. “He was very familiar with the National and excited for the renovation, and he was generous enough to tell us some stories he has with the hotel. Josh didn’t leave empty-handed though; he bought two of our vintage pianos from the bar and will be recording some new music on them.” HB