New JB Duke Hotel offers shout outs to NC through art and design

Lobby of the JB Duke Hotel. Photos courtesy of the JB Duke Hotel.

There are hotels popping up all over the Triangle, including the AC Hotel at North Hills and Unscripted Durham Hotel in downtown. Both include an element of artwork from North Carolina-baed artists.

But there’s another fairly new hotel tucked inside the campus of Duke University that is also showing artists from NC a little love: the JB Duke Hotel, which opened in January.

The hotel wanted to work with locals as much as possible, starting with Steel City Services in Durham on structural design elements including the pergola at the entrance of the hotel. The group is also working on some decorative items to enhance one of the outdoor seating areas. Inside the 198 rooms, some of the artwork was curated by Kalisher, the Carrboro-based global hospitality group that works with hotels, resorts and commercial interiors.

Artists with NC ties include Isaiah Jones, a Savannah College of Art and Design (Atlanta) grad who grew up in the mountains of North Carolina. Her untitled monoprints draw viewers in with their detail. Across the lobby in the conference hallway, you can see artwork by Greensboro native John Beerman, whose landscape painting depicts a scene from an Alamance County sunset. His work is also in some of the 11 unique suits the hotel boasts.

[Related: Artist’s Spotlight: John Beerman]

We couldn’t take our eyes off a cast porcelain sculpture by Charlotte-based artist and professor Thomas Schmidt called “Sampled Spaces.” Located across from the welcome desk, the work is made up of 21 individual pieces placed together.

On a recent tour of the hotel, we chatted General Manager Gregg Hilker, who has managed properties at Duke for 15 years. Hilker discussed a little history, art and the Durham community.

Here are our six questions with the GM:

What’s the correlation between the Washington Duke Inn & Golf Club and the JB Duke hotel?

Gregg Hilker: Washington Duke Inn & Golf Club and JB Duke Hotel are “father and son” properties, owned by Duke University and managed by the same entity. JB Duke Hotel continues the lineage of unparalleled service, gracious staff and attention to detail set by its father property in its own contemporary style.

What’s the most impressive feature of the hotel?

GH: I love to look at a couple of features within the hotel that I believe are impressive. The one that stands out most is the glass “curtain” wall that flanks the lobby to the north facing trees. This is an impressive multi-story wall that provides visual interest as well as beautiful natural light. The wall connects the fourth floor, which is cantilevered more than 20 feet from the nearest column with the second floor, providing a light, airy feel to the lobby and meeting rooms below.

We discussed how you’ve seen Durham residents in the two dining/bar areas using the space along with guests. How important was if for you that Durham residents also feel welcome at the hotel?

GH: The connection to the Durham community is extremely important to us. We consider Duke integrated with Durham and, as someone who lives and works in Durham, I want the JB Duke Hotel to be a location that local residents desire to come for a drink or meal and enjoy the lobby or dining terrace. Our location is easy to access from major roadways and we offer complimentary parking.

Guest reception at the JB Duke Hotel.

There are several subtle shout outs to NC and Durham in some of the aesthetics, like the tobacco leaf outlines in the artwork at registration an in the carpet throughout the building. What are some others, and where did the idea come from?

GH: The JB Duke Hotel is inspired by the materials and colors of North Carolina’s natural surroundings combined with Duke University’s global sophistication in the world of business and academia. That includes the overall design to aesthetic touches.

As you stand in the lobby and gaze out the glass “curtain” making up the north wall of the building, you’re looking at the Duke Forest itself. Letting your eyes travel inside, you’ll quickly see the light shining through the forest’s trees is emulated in the fabric of the carpet. Even the lobby furniture has subtle shot outs, including pops of color in the pillows that match the flower of the popular Cape Myrtle tree, common throughout Durham.

Traveling from the ballroom, downstairs to the Forum Cafe full-service restaurant, there are more of these nods. A large artwork of the map of the world is a tribute to JB Duke Hotel’s connection to Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and its international MBA students. The wall traveling down the stairwell has a distinctive design that, upon further examination, you might recognize it as the design in Duke Stone.

In the rooms, there’s a feature on JB Duke looping on the televisions. Why is it important to let guests learn who JB Duke was?

GH: The namesake of the hotel is James Buchanan “J.B.” Duke, the son of Washington Duke for whom the university was named. In 1924, J.B. Duke established The Duke Endowment and transformed Durham’s Trinity College into Duke University, today one of the world’s leading institutions of higher education and health.

The JB Duke Hotel is not only owned by Duke University, but it also connects directly to Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. The hotel and its conference facilities are used by Duke’s MBA programs for working professionals and non-degree executive education courses hosted by the Fuqua School.

The JB Duke Hotel’s convenient location at the edge of Duke University’s West Campus within walking distance of athletic and academic facilities makes it the perfect post-game or post-class destination.

Simply put, without the foresight of J.B. Duke to establish The Duke Endowment, we would not be here today.

You’ve said the hotel is interested in locals hosting events. What types of activations do you think make sense at JB Duke?

GH: We designed the JB Duke Hotel to serve as an attractive option for a wide range of events, from professional and academic conferences to social gatherings and personal celebrations, such as weddings. From a Happy Hour gathering to a wedding with 500 people, we can work with you personally to create your event.

Forum Cafe is a full-service restaurant specializing in a la carte and conference dining. The JB Duke Hotel also features two full-service bars. The lobby bar is a main gathering space while the Forum Cafe Barista and Bar celebrates the surrounding athletic atmosphere and is located adjacent to the main dining room.

JB Duke Hotel features the Thomas Executive Conference Center, 25,000 square feet of meeting and event space designed with a focus on hospitality, flexible event set up and adherence to the quality standards set by the International Association of Conference Centers (IACC).

The facility offers a 5,450 square foot ballroom, several multi-purpose spaces, two state-of-the art boardrooms, two fixed-tiered classrooms seating 65 attendees, generous pre-function spaces and a business center. State-of-the-art systems in each room will assist its global and local clientele.


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