what makes a smith hotel?

words kate thorman

She is elegant and refined, with a whimsical sense of humor and an infectious enthusiasm for life, learning, and all things beautiful. Her clothes are all custom-made from the finest fabrics hand-picked from markets around the world, her jewelry carefully crafted by the best artisans in their trades. Her manners are impeccable and unpretentious, but, as soon as you meet, you feel as if you have been best friends forever, laughing over inside jokes and swapping stories of foreign adventures. And don’t even start on her skills as an entertainer – dinner at hers is a decadent culinary affair every time, and she somehow always greets you at the door with the exact cocktail or glass of wine you’ve been craving.

Okay, so maybe I’ve gotten a little carried away; I’m not actually talking about a person. Rather, this paragon of humanity is a Mr & Mrs Smith hotel – that it bears any resemblance to the kind of person I might like to be when I grow up is pure coincidence.

Founded in 2002 by now-husband-and-wife James Lohan and Tamara Heber-Percy, who discovered on a dud weekend away that ‘boutique’ hotels found online and in traditional guidebooks aren’t always as charming as advertised, Mr & Mrs Smith has made it our mission for the last 10 years to build the ultimate collection of stylish boutique hotels. Needless to say, everyone wants to know what makes a Smith hotel; the problem with that is that there is no one right answer.

We have a whole team dedicated to traveling the world to visit hotels, and they would be the first ones to tell you that a four-bedroom inn perched on the cliffs of Ithaca and run by a couple of designers from Athens is just as much a Smith hotel as the 26-villa private island resort off the coast of Belize and the six-story converted warehouse with a Michelin-starred restaurant in New York City.

Each hotel fits into the Smith collection in a distinctive way – a way that can only be discovered in at least two visits. First, the Hotel Partnerships team visits officially, to determine if the hotel belongs in our collection. Then, after the hotel has joined, we send an anonymous reviewer – sometimes a member of our team, but more often a stylish tastemaker (we’ve sent everyone from fashion designers to music producers) – who reports back on their undercover experience in the form of an 800-word review.

Both sets of guests – and the rest of us who somehow worm our way into the hotels on such flimsy excuses as ‘cocktail events’ and ‘site tours’ – are constantly gauging if each hotel offers a cohesive and appealing experience.

Because, let’s face it, we – me, you, the entire Smith team – travel for the experiences. We don’t travel for the freshly squeezed orange juice from the on-site orchard or the hand-woven alpaca throw on the fireside armchair – though both of those are awesome, don’t get me wrong – but rather for the experience that those create, and for the experiences that the hotel-as-home facilitates.

I want to stay at the kind of hotel whose concierge or knowledgeable owners will send me to that hidden alley in Buenos Aires where Jorge Luis Borges lived before he was famous, whose chef will take me to her grandmother’s for ‘the best pasta in Sicily,’ whose proprietor will personally take my Mr Smith and I out on his boat because we mentioned wanting to find a clear-water swimming hole. So maybe a hotel doesn’t have room service or a full-service spa – but each room bears exquisite hand-painted frescoes by an artist who lives in town or the underground club downstairs gives you free passes to every show, and that’s enough for me.

So, you see, there isn’t a formula for the perfect Smith hotel. There are just a lot of people with really good taste, a passion for adventure, and a severe case of wanderlust – and maybe a slightly odd compulsion to compare hotels to an idealized version of a person. But really, who wouldn’t want to be as well-dressed and cultured as their favorite boutique hotel?


A native San Franciscan, Kate lived in Los Angeles, DC, Paris, and Istanbul – and traveled around the world – before settling (for now) in New York City. Travel tales include: crashing motorbikes in Bali, falling in love over two days in Spain and eating Aristotle's favorite food in Turkey. Since coming to New York, she has written for publications such as Afar and Fodor's, become an editor at Mr & Mrs Smith, and co-founded Abbott & West Productions. She intends to win an Oscar someday and periodically tells stories on Chasing Hemingway.

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