PROVIDENCE -- Pity the maid who takes a job at Dolce Villa, the new boutique hotel smack in the middle of DePasquale Plaza.
It's not that the clients are particularly messy. No, the problem is that everything is white. Well, everything except a couple of stainless steel appliances in each suite's kitchen. White floors, white walls, white ceiling, white bedspread, white curtains, white furniture, white lights.
Only in the little lobby, in fact, does anything break the stark blank lines: a couple of nice green plants. In the rooms, though, there's nary a piece of art to draw the eye's attention from the vast nothingness that surrounds it.
In the right designer's hands, the concept could work beautifully. Lighting effects could cause ripples of shadow, or single bursts of strategically placed color could provide some visual pop. Not so at Dolce Villa, where what appears to be an attempt at South Beach-style hipness instead comes across as cheesy, with leather couches and bathroom-style tiles throughout.
The aesthetic puts guests inside big white cubes, and the effect can be more unsettling than relaxing.
As hard as it is to get past, however, the decor is not all Dolce Villa has to offer. The 14 suites are nice and big, the prices reasonable, and the location unbeatable, especially if you want to be in the middle of the action. The plaza is the center of Federal Hill, where Italian cafes, trattorias, and markets abound.
Of course, gentrification has meant that it's not all Italian anymore, but right across the street from Dolce Villa, between two sets of outdoor cafe tables, you can still pick out your own clucking, flapping chicken and wait while the folks at Antonelli's Poultry kill it for you.
Otherwise, Federal Hill is mostly about restaurants, and carloads of tourists and locals clog the streets to come to places like Mediterraneo and Pastiche. At DePasquale Plaza on a nice spring night, couples on dates, families, and groups of friends young and old sit outside and drink espresso or eat pizza. A young man snaps a picture with his cellphone of his date as she licks from a gelato cone while sitting at the fountain. A sixtysomething woman cries out at a cafe when the waitress spills some iced drinks and almost ruins the woman's handstitched, multicolored purse.
On weekend nights, a cover band blares out pretty bad covers of pretty bad dance music by Kool and the Gang or slow, sappy numbers like ''Over the Rainbow." All of which translates into: Pack your earplugs, especially if you plan on getting to bed early.
But this isn't a go-to-bed-early kind of neighborhood, or hotel. At Dolce Villa, the idea is that you can stream in and out of the lobby, or hang out on the balcony, if you have one, and since the place is so brightly lighted, all the nearby diners and drinkers can't help but take notice.
The hotel does offer some amenities to those who keep to their rooms. You can order room service from the cafe or pizza place also run by the hotel's owners, then take it with a glass of wine and soak in the Jacuzzi-style tub for awhile. If you want to cook up some pasta and sauce from a nearby market rather than order it, the kitchen has a complement of pots, pans, and utensils.
Best of all, when it's time for bed, the place has memory-foam mattresses. For anyone curious about whether they are all they're cracked up to be, Dolce Villa might be worth checking out just for the chance to try one. Be forewarned: It might be difficult to go back to your regular boxspring setup afterward. I sank in and didn't want to get out. Sleep came quickly and deeply, and when I awoke, the way the light streamed into the room made me feel as if I had awakened in a cloud. For once, the all-white decor wasn't an annoyance.
Then I got up and noticed a black smudge the size of a silver dollar on the fluffy rug next to the bed. Then I saw a streak of black ink on the white-leather headboard, with no pen in sight. And I was tempted to go get some bleach -- or a poster of a giant red rose.
Contact Joe Yonan at firstname.lastname@example.org.