A Chat With Vanessa Guilford About Designing Pod51 and Pod39, the Hip Budget Hotels

A red room at the new Pod 39.

In early 2011 I spent a night at the Pod Hotel on East 51st Street in one of the tiniest rooms on the planet. But what my little cell lacked in size it made up in style and smarts.

Like a sleek burr puzzle, everything fit meticulously – storage drawers tucked beneath the built-in double bed, a tissue holder perched under the stainless steel sink, a sliding door to afford privacy for the stall shower and toilet. With white walls, honey maple woodwork and splashes of red, the room was upbeat, contemporary and clean.  It looked like a blueprint for a smart budget hotel room.

Turns out it was. This summer a second Pod, Pod39, opened 12 blocks south in the century-old brick

Bunking at the new Pod.

tower that once housed the Allerton, a residential hotel for men.  Rooms are typically 10 by 8 feet (it’s the Pod, not the Pierre). But unlike the original where half the rooms use shared bathrooms down the hall, all Pod 39 rooms have private baths.

Rooms are also color coded, floor by floor, with white-walled rooms accented in red and honey maple “to energize,” according to the press release, blue and darker maple to sooth or teal and walnut for visual warmth.

Who dreamed up this look? And can space-starved apartment-dwellers try this look at home? I caught up with Vanessa Guilford, in-house design director for BD Hotels, who designed both Pods as well as the snug little cabins at The Maritime.


The original Pod concept came about because the owners wanted to keep the original room configuration at the Pickwick Arms, the tired 80-year-old hotel revived to become the Pod. It sounds like Pod 39 follows the same process down to the old building.

The building was originally the Allerton Hotel, which dates from the early 1900s and is a landmark building. It was for middle-class single men who wanted to look like more than they were, and it had a smoking room and a lounge. But this time we gutted the entire interior. There were two tiny elevators from years ago that were not conducive to the space, so we built a new elevator shaft on the building’s opposite side. We also reconfigured the rooms according to the windows to maximize the number. It’s great to rehabilitate these old buildings that don’t have cookie cutter layouts.

Agreed. I wish you’d take on the Hotel Carter. All the rooms at Pod 39 use the same colors at the original Pod, but this time you’ve got three different color schemes.

The idea was to make the hotel different from your basic budget property where everything is exactly alike. You’re paying for real estate, and since the spaces are small, the prices are low. But we tried to elevate the experience as much as we could with the different rooms colors, room types including rooms with bunk beds, and little luxuries, like dimmers on all the lights, rain showers in the bathroom and high definition TVs.  The hotel is in a set-back building so the room configurations change too as they get higher up.

The white walls in the rooms look great, but are they practical?

The owners thought I was crazy when I suggested white wallpaper, but it’s scrubbable and durable. And having white walls was really important to me. They look clean and fresh.

And they tie in with the mid-century vibe your designs have.

When I first got out of school [at the School of Visual Arts] I worked for a small design firm that did high-end residences and focused on 20th-century collectors. I learned about mid-century design. Form follows function. You’ve got to figure out what you need out of something, what it’s function is, then hone it after that in terms of esthetics.

Besides designing the furniture in the Pod rooms you used some unexpected materials.

On the bottom of the beds we used a material called phonelic, which is used for table tops in science labs. It’s really expensive, but if you have small rooms and high turnover you have to make sure your furniture is going to last. It’s a laminate but with a solid core that looks like a black line, which we made part of the design. It’s the most durable stuff. You can put a cigarette out on it, and you can wipe away the residue of the nicotine.

Do you like designing on a budget?

If I had an unlimited budget I’d go crazy. There are so many options. The Greenwich Hotel took nine years to build because the budget was as high as it could be. We had hand-woven silk rugs in the rooms. I like being curtailed in a way. You’re forced to design cleverly, to do things the way they need to be done.

What decorating ideas can someone living in a space-starved apartment steal from the Pod?

I like the idea of an open closet where you just have a nook in the wall instead of a room with a door. That saves space. I also like to use the space under the bed for storage. In the new Pod we have two cubbies under the bed – one with a drawer and one that’s open to store luggage.

What’s the most important element for you in a hotel room?

The bed. I like to see a bed in all white sheets or a duvet cover that I know has been washed since the last guest.  I also love the cubbies we have under the beds at the Pod. You know there’s nothing lurking underneath.




14 replies
    • Terry
      Terry says:

      Unlike line cruise ships, all the rooms have windows. And if quarters get too tight, there’s a big lobby and roof deck in both buildings, as well as restaurants. They do small in a smart way, in other words. Thanks, Lisa.


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