The Education of a Brotelier

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Design is the key element of Graduates, and Mr. Weprin brought in as a chief creative officer Andrew Alford, a San Francisco designer who had created the look of the Hotel Lincoln. Mr. Alford has since been building visual narratives for each Graduate property, commissioning vintage-inspired pieces of art and furniture while haunting flea markets and stalking eBay.

“We want people to wake up and have a sense of place, and it should be secondary that they’re waking up at the Graduate Hotel,” Mr. Alford said.

For the new Graduate Hotel in Iowa City, home to the famed Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Mr. Weprin and his team commissioned a local author, Timothy Taranto, to write a novel with paint pens on surfaces throughout the lobby. The wallpaper in the guest room bathrooms is printed with corn cobs coming out of husks. Key cards feature such alumni as the actor Gene Wilder, the former basketball star B. J. Armstrong, and George Nissen, the gymnast and inventor of the trampoline.

These sort of details, and the overall business model, have impressed other successful hotel owners. Jonathan Tisch, the chairman and chief executive of Loews Hotels, met Mr. Weprin about six years ago, when Mr. Weprin was attending a Giants game with Eli Manning’s wife, Abby. (The Tisch family owns the Giants.)

The men, along with their wives, have become friends. (Mr. Tisch’s wife, Lizzie, persuaded Mr. Weprin to include her student ID photo on a key card for the Graduate in Ann Arbor, putting her in the company of Gilda Radner, Iggy Pop and Desmond Howard.) But the two have a professional connection as well.

“I have tremendous respect for him for finding a market that was not necessarily being filled and, having been in the business for 35 years myself and knowing the challenges, for having the ability to react to the white space and create a brand,” Mr. Tisch said.

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