A Green Sanctuary at Element Times Square

by Mark Thompson
EDGE Style & Travel Editor
Thursday Oct 11, 2012

Back in the old days, when recycling was first introduced as a national objective, my mother eschewed holiday gift wrap and, instead, insisted that every member of her family wrap their gifts in newspaper. "Why not aluminum foil?" asked my brother. "Why not toilet paper?"

My mother would approve of Element by Westin, the eco-wise brand of hotels that is the only major hotel brand to mandate that all properties must pursue LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) designation. Founded in 2008, Element hotels are currently in ten US markets - and six of them have already received LEED certification, the nationally accepted benchmark for green buildings.

A recent in-town getaway to the new 411-room Element Times Square, which opened in 2010, confirmed that Element by Westin is not only "green" but also a refuge for restoring your balance while recharging your creative battery.

Sometimes you want to get away - from your own apartment - and maybe especially if you live in New York. Sometimes, living in New York City, you feel a little twinge of envy when you visit friends and family who have checked into a New York hotel. Sometimes you want to live New York like a tourist.

My mother had two friends, a mother and a daughter, who would check into a hotel in their hometown several weekends a year - merely to sit by a pool and chatter all weekend, without having to do anything related to their own homes.

Whether you’re in town for the week (or weekend) or escaping from your New York apartment, Element Times Square is perfectly located for living like a tourist (or a resident), with all the benefits of a Manhattan getaway.

Every signature "element" of the Element hotel brand is designed to insure that your life stays in balance, whether you’re at work or play. All rooms and suites at Element hotels include a fully-equipped kitchen, a spa-inspired bathroom, and, this being Westin, the Westin signature Heavenly bed.

From my room at Element Times Square, I gazed out onto a Manhattan nightscape that would have inspired photographer Alfred Stieglitz. Gloaming had come and gone, replaced by a cacophony of glittering lights.

The Renzo Piano-designed New York Times building sparkled in the foreground while a 45-story arc of white light rose and repeatedly split apart Arquitectonica’s Westin New York at Times Square. To the east was the Chrysler and to the south the Empire State Building, both of which were revealed in all their Art Deco fabulousness from the private rooftop terrace on the 40th floor of the hotel.

With a clutter-free design minimizing the use of useless paper inserts and brochures, the environmentally-friendly rooms at Element Times Square maximize space. Each of the hotel’s rooms or suites includes a large desk with open shelving and an ergonomic chair, ambient lighting, modular furniture, and custom-designed closets (with laundry hamper - because, yes, each Element hotel has a self-serve laundry facility, should you need to clean those stained pants immediately).

There’s also a swiveling 32" LCD flat-screen television, complete with DVD player, and ample power and data connections. Windows are dressed with both sheer and blackout shades, thereby insuring quiet and darkness when you’re ready to sleep.

In the morning, freshly revived from a restful sleep on Westin’s signature Heavenly bed, the choice is whether to partake of Rise, Element hotel’s complimentary breakfast buffet or to cook breakfast in your own in-room kitchen.

All kitchens at Element hotels are equipped with full-size, energy-efficient Energy Star-rated appliances such as dishwasher, refrigerator, microwave, and cooktop, and include cooking and serving tools, such as pots, pans, knives, utensils, dishes, cutlery, and crystal. The kitchen faucet is equipped with a filter for in-room filtered tap water. Feel like hosting a dinner party in your hotel room? You’re at the right hotel.

Bathrooms at Element hotels are spa-inspired, with a rain forest showerhead and dual-flush toilet. In keeping with Element’s eco-friendly philosophy, wasteful mini bottles of toiletries are replaced with shampoo and body wash dispensers in the shower.

All guest rooms include recycling bins for paper, plastic, and glass. Recycled materials have been utilized in the vinyl flooring (which is blissfully silent, meaning that you won’t hear your upstairs neighbor in her six-inch stilettos). Soy-based fabrics are utilized for armchairs and couches. The in-room art in soothing shades of green and brown is mounted on a base made of recycled rubber tires and the use of low VOC (volatile organic compounds) paint improves air quality for both guests and staff.

What you won’t find at Element hotels is any all-night bar/lounge/restaurant with a velvet rope, blockhead bouncers, and supercilious attitude. Instead, as soon as you enter Element Times Square, you’re greeted by a genial staff that appears to embody that often-elusive mind/body/soul balance.

The public spaces at Element hotels include a flowing lobby with double height ceilings and walls of windows. The open social areas with their modular seating combinations of couches and tables foster face-to-face conversations with friends or fellow guests.

Each Element hotel features a pantry called Restore, which is stocked with essentials for cooking in your own kitchen, as well as salads, pasta, artisanal meats and cheese, frozen foods and desserts, and beverages.

Maybe in midtown Manhattan, where bodegas, delis, and Dean & DeLuca line almost every street, the pantry is a little redundant - but it’s always good to have another late-night option.

Breakfasts at Element Times Square are akin to a cafeteria at the United Nations, where you overhear a variety of languages as you sip your blueberry smoothie shooter from the complimentary breakfast buffet.

Element Times Square is the first hotel in the nation to join a Community Sponsored Agriculture (CSA) program, which means that guests enjoy seasonal produce from Holton Farms, an eighth-generation Vermont farm.

In the evenings, all Element hotels host Relax, a complimentary happy hour with food and beverage pairings, along with an evening smoothie. The business/technology center is adjoined by the library, where you can read a newspaper while sipping fresh coffee from the complimentary coffee bar.

Should you feel motivated, the health club and fitness center features Life Fitness cardio equipment and is open 24/7 - and there is also a complimentary Bike-to-Borrow program. As one employee put it, "We provide the elements - and you configure them to your needs."

It’s not surprising to learn that the Element Times Square is an extended-stay brand, with a 4 - 7-night average stay. This a hotel for a healthy and active clientele and the Element brand works to provide the elements that business and leisure travelers desire and need for a work-life balance. With rooms and suites that are stylish, sustainable, and comfortable, Element Times Square offers its guests a veritable pied à terre in midtown Manhattan.

With five more Element hotels opening in Canada, Germany, and - get this - Oman in the Middle East, there’s hope yet for the greening of the worldwide hospitality industry.

As Element’s tagline asserts on their notepads, "Make a statement." And as my mother would argue, it’s up to each one of us to keep the planet healthy - and that includes the choices we make. Spend a weekend at an Element hotel and reconnect to well-being.


Element Hotels

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Phone: 1.877.element (353-6368)


A long-term New Yorker and a member of New York Travel Writers Association, Mark Thompson has also lived in San Francisco, Boston, Provincetown, D.C., Miami Beach and the south of France. The author of the novels WOLFCHILD and MY HAWAIIAN PENTHOUSE, he has a PhD in American Studies and is the recipient of fellowships at MacDowell, Yaddo, and Blue Mountain Center. His work has appeared in numerous publications.


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