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Palomar's lush shade of green

The Westside hotel is so careful to wrap its environmental message in comfortable, chic surroundings, you might miss it.

July 06, 2008|Valli Herman | Times Staff Writer

It USED to be a sign of quality if a hotel replaced your bath soap and sheets every day. But in this era of melting ice caps and dying oceans, the paradigm of luxury includes an element of social responsibility that makes those niceties seem wasteful.

With the debut of the Hotel Palomar Los Angeles Westwood, travelers to the Westside can soothe and indulge their road-weary souls and their social consciences.

The 268-room Palomar, from the Kimpton Hotel & Restaurant Group of San Francisco, opened for business in early May claiming to be the city's first eco-luxe hotel. That means heat-and-motion-sensing detectors can shut down heating or cooling systems in unoccupied guest rooms, cleaning products are environmentally friendly and guests can ask to reuse their linens.

Though the hotel also touts its water-efficient bath fixtures, in-room recycling bins and energy-efficient lighting, it is equally eager to appear committed to guest comfort.

Comfort still means high-thread-count Frette sheets, big LCD TVs, L'Occitane bath products, gourmet menus and upscale decor.

When I arrived for a two-night stay in late June, six weeks after the hotel opened, I was happy to find an energetic crew eager to spread their employer's environmental message.

Many seemed aware of the fine line that hotels walk when they embark on the green path. Green is often just a gimmick. And it's difficult to point out the resource-saving measures in a hotel when many guests expect to take long showers, crank down the air conditioning and have fresh sheets every day.

The Palomar has carefully encased its "reduce, reuse and recycle" message in an atmosphere of chic. A renovation that gutted the former occupant, a Doubletree Hotel, kept the guest room sizes modest, but also shows that reusing an existing building needn't sacrifice style or green principles.

Yet based on looks alone, you wouldn't know the hotel endorses conservation programs. The rooms include cards (on recycled paper) that outline the Kimpton EarthCare program that supports, among other things, the Trust for Public Land, a nonprofit conservation group.

The hotel interiors, by Cheryl Rowley Design of Beverly Hills, communicate the eco-theme with earth tones, natural fibers and animal prints. Rowley said this Palomar, her fifth, used no "green" fabrics or building materials in the redesign.

Nature is suggested in guest rooms featuring synthetic snakeskin-front dressers, faux-fur bed throws, white-on-white zebra duvet covers and snakeskin-pattern carpeting. She gave the rooms glamour with a red lacquer nightstand, mother-of-pearl-topped table, a turquoise bed bolster and a velour chaise longue worthy of a Hollywood boudoir.

After a while, I couldn't get the tag line for Irish Spring soap out of my head: "Manly, yes, but I like it too!" The room's deep browns, dark woods and muscular furnishings provided the testosterone, while the abstract female nude portrait and curvy woman's torso lamp gave it girlie sensuality.

Service didn't forget about women's needs. The check-in clerk didn't speak my room number aloud (it's a security thing), and the hotel's trademarked program, "Forgot it? We've Got It!" is a well-stocked wardrobe and grooming rescue kit with such invaluable items as fashion tape, lint rollers, hair spray and more available free or for a small fee.

And in the closet? Two sizes of camisole-and-shorts pajamas by Karen Neuburger, $30 a piece, plus a pair of $11 sleep socks, and cotton robes, one zebra print, one leopard, for sale through www.kimptonstyle .com for $120.

My 350-square-foot, deluxe-king room didn't seem cramped, although it was stuffed with a king-size bed, the chaise, an adjustable task chair, two nightstands and a 42-inch flat-screen TV atop a desk and dresser that ran the length of the bedroom.

I was glad to have discovered a $225-a-night grand opening special, a bargain, especially because I originally booked it for $379 a night and rack rates are $459. The top-priced 645-square-foot suites go for $659, rates that aim at its nearest luxury competitor, the W Los Angeles Westwood.

Yet for all its promises, the new hotel struggled to be efficient with the basics: Check-in and room service were slow and awkward, housekeeping left dirty glassware and overlooked the open ironing board, and the hotel offers no nightly turn-down service.

At 19 stories, the hotel offers excellent views of Westwood, Beverly Hills and the expanse along the Wilshire Corridor. I heard not a honk, vroom or roar of traffic from my 15th floor room; no, I got that from the not quite fine-tuned air conditioning, which failed on the ground floor during part of my stay.

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