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An eco-boutique that gets it

The Santa Monica inn balances conservation with a touch of luxe. Services are limited, but that's not all bad.

September 07, 2008|Valli Herman | Times Staff Writer

Today's traveler often sees red when a hotel promises to be green. No matter what you call it -- environmentally responsible, sustainable or ecologically correct -- being green still carries the taint of deprivation, particularly for hotel guests accustomed to indulgence.

Many travelers now accept the wisdom of reusing hotel towels, soap bars and bed linens during their stay, but they don't want to be inconvenienced, overcharged or shamed by their desire to live a little.

The Ambrose, a Santa Monica eco-boutique hotel, manages to balance comfort with conservation.

In the five years since it opened at 20th Street and Arizona Avenue, the 77-room hotel has amassed a noteworthy number of accolades for its green practices, including the latest: In July, the Ambrose became the first U.S. hotel to earn kudos for its environmentally conscious practices -- and it's not just because it offers free rides in a biodiesel-fueled London taxi.

It also has earned an LEED-EB certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. That recognizes applicants' efforts to earn points in six categories in the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, green-building rating system, including water efficiency, indoor environmental quality and design. As an existing building (EB), the hotel is measured less on its construction materials and more on its maintenance and systems.

Guests may not notice the hotel's recycling and water-conservation programs until they spot the recycling bin under the bathroom sink and a note that offers tips on eco-savvy travel: Allow bed linens to be laundered every third day; turn off lights, air conditioning and the TV when leaving the room; and refill a reusable bottle with the hotel's filtered tap water.

The hotel's newer-generation TVs are also more energy wise than some of the watt-hungry flat screens in vogue.

A two-night stay at the hotel in mid-August helped me rethink the role of hotels, particularly for first-time Southern California tourists. The Ambrose is a limited-service hotel, a model familiar to its many European guests. As a result, I toted my own bags, parked my own car and served my own breakfast without the aid of a bellman, valet or waiter. I didn't miss fumbling for tips every time I crossed a threshold, my own conservation measure.

Perhaps most travelers don't need, or need to pay for, all the bells and whistles common to full-service hotels. Perhaps a little more do-it-yourself service is greener.

The Ambrose is compact and smartly laid out, so it's no burden to roll a carry-on the few feet from your underground parking space to the nearby elevator that travels directly to guest floors. (If you drive an alternative-fuel vehicle, you get the best parking spot.)

Guest rooms, which start at $239 a night, are decorated in the same Craftsman style as the hotel exterior, an inspired choice given the design philosophy's roots as a reaction to Victorian excess and mass production.

My $249 premier-level guest room ($283.86 with 14% occupancy tax) sported signature Craftsman elements. The chunky TV armoire and wood headboard have the rectilinear furniture designs, the sage duvet cover has the typical forest tones, and the abstract floral upholstery has the nature motifs.

Though room sizes vary from 300 to 400 square feet, my room's king-size bed, writing desk and reading chair with ottoman nearly filled the open floor space. You'll want to head to the first-floor gym for your morning yoga.

A spacious bathroom included a standard tub with shower (low flow, of course), limestone countertop and bath products from green innovator Aveda. Though the Frette towels and robes aren't organic, the hotel uses bed linens from Los Angeles-based Matteo, which helps support local jobs and reduce transportation costs, Deirdre Wallace, the hotel's founder and president, said in a telephone interview after my stay.

She's also replacing worn carpeting with a nylon brand certified not to choke you with fumes and using organic produce in the free breakfast buffet.

Still, at $283 a night, even with the free amenities -- parking, breakfast and Wi-Fi -- I expected a little more than pretty furniture. The front-desk clerk at first didn't understand my request for nonallergenic pillows. ("Non-angelic?") Two stiff but plump pillows arrived 35 minutes after I called.

The hotel offers 24-hour room service, but it likely will appeal only to vegetarians and patient guests. A simple portabello panini and chips, $18.94 with tax and service fees, arrived in 45 minutes, 15 later than promised.

In about the same amount of time, you can walk to, order and consume a meal, as I did, at one of the four delicatessens in the neighborhood, including Fromin's and Izzy's.

The Ambrose may appeal to travelers who want only a semi-luxurious place to sleep and can snore through noise from a hospital across the street. Recreation is limited to renting the hotel's bicycles; the lodging has no pool, bar or restaurant.

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