Local art adds pizzazz to the Inn at 500 Capitol, the swanky new boutique hotel in Downtown Boise

A small grove of art inhabits the corner of Myrtle Street and Capitol Boulevard, one of the busiest intersections in Downtown Boise and home to the new Inn at 500 Capitol.

The towering trio of sculptural trees gracefully arches above the sidewalk outside the tony boutique hotel, as its copper and gold “leaves” turn and glitter in the sunlight.

These 18-foot-tall steel and aluminum sculptures designed by Boise artist Ken McCall, with help from local artists Mark Baltes and Leslie Dixon, are positioned to become an artistic landmark in Downtown, much like “The River” sculpture on The Grove Hotel a couple of blocks away.

“I think this is a legacy piece,” says the hotel’s owner, Brian Obie. “It’s a cornerstone of the hotel. People will recognize it and say, ‘Let’s meet under the tree at 500.’ 

Obie is the Eugene, Ore., businessman and hotelier who built the $29 million, six-story boutique hotel that’s celebrating its grand opening this weekend.

It’s one of several new hotels and buildings opening in Downtown Boise in the coming months. Each is trying to distinguish itself from the crowd. The Inn at 500 Capitol, 500 S. Capitol Blvd., is doing so by featuring an array of locally created art in its lobby and throughout the hotel.

You walk through the front entry under a canopy of warmly lit glass chandeliers by Boise Art Glass owner and artist Filip Vogelpohl. He also installed more than 200 of his amber, red and yellow slumped glass sconces and other pieces throughout the hotel.

The central point of the hotel’s lobby is a large-scale landscape painting by Boise’s Jany Rae Seda. On the second floor, large-scale wallpaper photographs of the Idaho Statehouse fill the walls, and on other floors Seda created themed murals to reflect the character of the rooms, such as the Egyptian Theatre room, Zoo Boise rooms, Basque rooms, and Boise State and University of Idaho rooms.

There also is art on loan from the Boise Art Museum hanging in the lobby and a rotating local artist gallery on the first level for the Inn’s artist-in-residency program that leads off with Seda. BAM also is helping design two rooms in the hotel.

Obie is a longtime art lover and a painter. He used his love of art to create his first hotel project, the Inn at Fifth Market, a smaller inn inside the upscale Fifth Street Public Market shopping mall in Downtown Eugene that Obie also owns. He took what he learned about using art there and applied it on a larger scale in Boise.

When you enter a brand-new hotel, you see artwork that’s probably created in Mexico or China, Obie says. Many corporations use art to offer consistency, so customers know that no matter where they are, they’re in a Hyatt, or Marriott or Hilton.

“But you wouldn’t know if you were in Seattle or Boise when you wake up in the morning,” Obie says. “That’s just not who we are. We wanted to wrap the Boise community around our customers through art. It’s been a pleasure to find such a fine cadre of artists in Boise who could help us carry that idea through. We’ve just been blown away. The hotel is just a banquet of color and excitement.”

Obie also partnered with another Boise icon, chef Richard Langston, who opened his signature Richard’s restaurant at the Inn at 500 Capitol in January. And musician Kevin Kirk will be overseeing the music programming at the hotel, including a plaza deck lounge on the second floor.

Now Obie and his grandson and business partner Casey Barrett have folded this kind of arts component into their business model for developing other boutique hotels in cities in the future.

Sense of place

Art creates a sense of connection to a time and place. It’s an idea that developers, cities and other entities have adopted through a movement known as “placemaking.” The process helps a building, park or other site reflect its surrounding geography and culture through art, decor and aesthetics.

Other Boise developers also are using this idea to make their projects more grounded in Boise’s cultural topography. Some projects include CTA Architects’ offices in the Eighth and Main building. The company turned its hallways and conference rooms into a rotating gallery for the Treasure Valley’s fine artists that is open to the public on First Thursdays.

Also, Gardner Company worked with Capital City Development Corporation to infuse its City Center Plaza’s Main Street Station transit hub with public art by local artists.

Local Construct, a Los Angeles-based developer, remodeled The Owyhee in 2014 and has two more local projects in the works.

“Every project is an exercise in placemaking,” says Mike Brown, one of Local Construct’s principal partners. “We don’t want to come in to Boise from the outside and impose something. We want to have each place be its own, a new iteration or representation of Boise.”

The Owyhee features paintings by Boise artist William Lewis in its lobby and a relaxed, casual chic in its decor, a very different side of the local vibe created by Boise designer Kirsten Grove (related story, page 14).

Obie also turned to a local designer for his project geared to appeal to upscale travelers. Boise’s Barrie Connolly, who designed the interior for the Cottonwood Grille and other Idaho businesses and homes, created the look and style for the rooms, lobby and other hotel facilities with her casual Idaho elegance.

Obie met Connolly years ago through the Young Presidents’ Organization, a worldwide group for corporate leaders.

“Brian called, and he was very intent on using local artists,” Connolly says. “So I pulled in all my resources and started exploring.”

Connolly wandered into Vogelpohl’s Boise Art Glass at 11th and Front streets and was impressed with what she saw. She asked him to provide a chandelier for the groundbreaking ceremony. He did and installed a large glass piece in the center of a rented marquee as a gold jackhammer started the construction.

Vogelpohl has done commercial and residential work across the globe, but this is his first hotel. Now, he says, he has the resume to go after larger-scale jobs in the future.

Connolly learned about McCall, Baltes and Dixon while on vacation in Mexico. She met a couple from Bend, Ore., who worked for its Arts, Beautification & Culture Commission. The artist trio had recently won a call to do a piece for one of that city’s traffic roundabouts.

Hotel manager Aaron Black saw Seda’s work at Art in the Park and connected her with Connolly.

Bringing a touch of nature

Much of what Idaho artists do is bring a sense of the outdoors into their art and design.

“That’s such a huge part of the Boise experience,” Seda says. She walks on the Greenbelt from her home to her Downtown studio almost daily and used that as inspiration for her painting of an imagined Idaho landscape that pulls together the imagery from the peaks of the Sawtooth Mountains to the Boise River.

McCall’s tree sculpture design is inspired by the cottonwoods that grow along the river banks.

Even Vogelpohl’s free-form glass pieces have an organic feel and the colors of an Idaho sunrise.

Obie worked directly with each artist for more than a year to get the look he was after.

McCall, Baltes and Dixon each came up with an idea for the front of the hotel. Obie selected McCall’s, and the three of them collaborated on the piece.

“The trees represent an eternal feel with concentric circles that bring in elements of the city,” McCall says. “I really wanted to bring something from nature to the work. That’s such a big part of Boise.”

Obie asked Vogelpohl to base his glasswork on the glass pieces in Obie’s Eugene hotel.

“Brian wanted to keep that look, so the hardest part for me was to find my voice and make them my own,” Vogelpohl says.

He used a new technique for him — slumping — for this project. Vogelpohl created his own patterns and experimented with the process of firing and cooling the glass that takes about 60 hours for each piece. He added red to the color palette, learned new techniques and built hardware for the installation.

“I just did it, and Brian loved it,” he says. “And they’re also installed with my aesthetic, you know, how high or low, how they layer. So there are a lot of logistics that went into making these.”

For the artists, this is an amazing opportunity to get their work seen and to show they can work on this scale, Vogelpohl says.

“As an artist, trying to squeak out a living in any medium is rough,” Vogelpohl says. “It’s amazing that Brian put so much into creating this hotel for Boise and to stimulating the economy for local artists. It’s like when Barbacoa opened. (Roberto Castoro) came from California, but he used so much local art and helped stimulate the local economy. This says to people, especially Boiseans who support local, that this is for them, and they will support it back. It becomes a symbiotic relationship.”

Dana Oland is a former professional dancer and member of Actors Equity who writes about performing and visual arts for the Idaho Statesman and Treasure Magazine. Read more arts coverage in her blog at

About the Inn at 500 Capitol

500 S. Capitol Blvd., Boise.

Details: The inn’s 110 rooms run $250 to $500 a night, with penthouse suites going for $700 to $800 nightly. There are 57 theme rooms, a conference area and up to two event ballrooms. The Plaza, an outside patio and bar on the second floor, will be open to the public when the weather is nice, and Richard’s, a casual fine-dining restaurant from award-winning chef Richard Langston, inhabits the east side of the ground floor.

Grand opening weekend: 3 p.m. Friday, Feb. 10, ribbon cutting and “Burying of the Keys” ceremony, with an open house following in the second floor Capitol Room until 6 p.m. Guests can meet the Boise artists who created the hotel’s custom artwork, hors d’oeuvres, champagne, giveaways and hotel tours anytime. The celebration continues from 4 to 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 11, and 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 12, with music, appetizers and champagne in the lobby and guided tours anytime.

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