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Retro renaissance

The words “themed hotel room” used to evoke images of afternoon affairs, bulletproof glass lobbies, and coin-operated beds. But as you may have seen on your Instagram feed, this has all changed with the emergence of vacation rentals.

Themed rooms, with their heart-shaped tubs and fantasy suites (jungle rooms! ice caves!) are back in vogue. A motel renaissance in places like Southern California’s Hicksville Pines has introduced a new generation to the upscale retro-tinged experience these spaces offer. Looking at images of these fantasy rooms places the viewer in a liminal space, caught between the present day and an era of bygone style. Part of the pleasure of creating a themed space is bringing back totems of a time before social media made heart-shaped tubs look so good on our phone screens.

In Canandaigua, Valerie and Dennis Calkins own Miami Motel, a  Hollywood-Regency-meets-seventies- glam experience. “Honestly, we were looking for a bed and breakfast when we stumbled onto this property,” says Valerie.“We wanted to get out of corporate America. We both had enough of putting out fires all day and then leaving at the end of day wondering what on earth we had accomplished that meant anything.”

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Photo by Greg Hollar

In a world of intangible output—typing and emailing into the void—home renovation is one of the few ways we can experience concrete, “look-what-I-did” results. Couple that feeling with an escapist theme, and it makes sense that these nostalgic remodeling projects have spiked over the last few years.

“This property was in serious need of rehab, upgrade, and reputation cleanup.We were up for the challenge, which took much longer than anticipated. We love mid-century properties,”Valerie says.

Themed rooms come in a bit of a spectrum these days, ranging from one tasteful flamingo-print wall and chic, tufted sofa to full-blown pink fur everywhere. It sort of depends on how important words like “luxury” and “modern” are to you. As Valerie and Dennis worked with the property’s original bones, they had to balance their appetite for kitsch with what they felt would be more palatable and authentic to the era it was built.

“Our guests are looking for something different, and we are definitely that. Most of our visitors say they seek out the independent mom-and-pop motels over the franchises because of the personal level of customer service. It makes them feel a part of the restoration process, a part of that unique experience in bringing back a property that was surely doomed and turning it into a fun and funky place to visit. Just as all guests have unique requirements, we are here to host a unique stay that won’t be forgotten any time soon because of our desire to create interesting, comfortable, kitschy rooms,” says Valerie.

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Photo by Greg Hollar

Want a little getaway this summer? Be sure to book one of the beautiful rooms at Miami Motel. Valerie suggests the Audrey Hepburn–themed room, which is her personal favorite.

Miami Motel is located at 4126 NY-5 & US-20, Canandaigua.


WORDS & STYLING: Tanvi Asher

MODEL: Kayla Simone 

MUA: Fernanda Fadigas 

HAIR: Brittnay Lane

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