retro-style dining area of The Wayback with patterned counters and blue bar stools
Breeze-blocks form the base of the bar, an extension of the reception desk.

This Retro-Modern Tennessee Hotel Stays True to Its Name

Transforming a former Days Inn into a vibrant, retro-modern oasis, Dryden Studio and hotel developer Aatmos looked back to the mid-century heyday of motor lodges, particularly those in Palm Springs, California. “We really wanted to raise the bar for lodging and hospitality in East Tennessee,” Aatmos CEO Mahavir Patel explains. “The region has a lot of inventory, but it’s all pretty mainstream.” To make a strong visual statement in the town—home to Dollywood and other flashy country music venues—the collaborators whitewashed the exterior of the 60,000-square-foot property. “We’re surrounded by all of these crazy buildings with flashing lights and colors, so painting the Wayback white allows it to stand out and be quiet at the same time,” Dryden lead designer Maria Meyer explains. 

Front entrance of The Wayback with a multicolored overhead
The porte cochere features vibrant painted stripes and LEDs.

Seeking to attract a more adult clientele to the area, the team paired serene, escape-y guest rooms with more amped-up public spaces. “We imagined the lobby area to be the den at a quirky aunt’s house—an intentional mix of plaids and tweeds and animal prints, high polish and bohemian accents,” Meyer continues. The pattern-on-pattern lobby transitions directly into a bar, outfitted with a long banquette and modular seating. The outdoor pool area is a highly social space with a converted Airstream bar, myriad lounging options, plus cozy cabanas. The property—Pigeon Forge’s first boutique hotel, part of Marriott’s Tribute Portfolio—is right near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and draws outdoorsy types and experience seekers alike. “People can go for a hike during the day,” Meyer notes, “and come back at night for some adult fun, including cocktails and good food.” And for decidedly grown-up, if young-at-heart, design. 

Explore The Wayback, a Hotel With Design Flair in Tennessee 

Lobby area with retro-style colors and artwork
Terrazzo clads the reception desk.
dining area with bright red patterned ceiling, booth and intimate seating
A wonky niche created by walls that couldn’t be moved was transformed into a three-table cocktail nook off the lobby.
outside camper bus with condiments set up on table
A modified Airstream serves drinks and light bites near the pool.
retro-style dining area of The Wayback with patterned counters and blue bar stools
Breeze-blocks form the base of the bar, an extension of the reception desk.
Portrait of Dryden designer Maria Meyer
Portrait of Dryden designer Maria Meyer. Photography by Quinn Ballard.
sitting area inside The Wayback room suite with bright blue walls and eclectic painting and furnishings
A custom banquette with artfully clashing upholstery patterns distinguishes the lobby of the Wayback, in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, by Dryden Studio.
cabana area of the Wayback with large swimming pool
A fence of woven-slat red oak, untreated to naturally weather, surrounds the cabana area and pool.
bedroom of The Wayback suite with bright artwork and patterned pillows
Artwork in a guest room and throughout was packaged by art consultant Local Language.

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