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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Style icon Ian Schrager, who helped define an era of New York nightlife with Studio 54 and went on to pioneer the boutique hotel concept, believes the lodging industry can learn a thing or two from IKEA and Apple Inc. (AAPL.O).
The Swedish home furnishings retailer and the iPod creator have shown that style and design appeal to the mainstream, rather than just the hip and trendy.
"Good design is good business," said Schrager in an interview this week at his Gramercy Park Hotel. "You get the premium for the distinctiveness."
The hotel industry has largely ignored style and design, focusing on concepts that it can quickly and cheaply replicate across hundreds of outlets, giving rise to anonymous "beige box" rooms.
That's slowly changing, however. Big hotel companies like InterContinental Hotels Plc (IHG.L) and Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc. HOT.N are developing their own brands of lifestyle boutique hotels.
Schrager, who helped create the concept of the boutique hotel with Morgans Hotel in 1984, has himself hooked up with Marriott International Inc. MAR.N to develop an as-yet unnamed hotel chain.
Despite the proliferation of new projects, Schrager believes the lifestyle hotel trend is just getting started.
"I don't even think we're at the beginning of this," he said. "I think it is a huge market."
Marriott has said it hopes to open 100 hotels under the new brand within 10 years, but Schrager himself is more ambitious and said he'd be "disappointed" with that number.
"The idea with Marriott was to get a bigger stage," said Schrager. "The impact that I had on the market is not commensurate with the amount of outlets that I have. And I would really like to have that."
Schrager's Marriott hotels, like the Gramercy Park Hotel -- which was developed with artist Julian Schnabel and contains numerous works from modern masters Andy Warhol and Damien Hirst -- will be high on design and likely contain a ground-floor bar for public socializing as well as a rooftop lounge for more private gatherings.
Schrager said he understands that his concepts for Marriott will have to have broader appeal than those at the Gramercy Park.
"I have to be more universal than my projects, but no less innovative," he said.