The Dwell Hotel

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The Original Seija Ojanpera

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Design Seija Ojanpera
The Original Seija Ojanpera

Seija Ojanpera

Designing a dream

International philanthropist, art and interior design enthusiast, and now hotelier, Seija Ojanpera’s ambitions may have taken her far afield but it’s the small city of Chattanooga that stole her heart.

Many little girls dream of living the life of a princess, dressed up in glamorous robes and living high up in a tower or palace, but Seija Ojanpera’s childhood ambition was a more down-to-Earth version of that—despite having equally lofty ambitions. As a child, Ojanpera collected hotel brochures and vintage dresses, and was always fascinated by interior spaces and art. She dreamed that one day, she too would live in her very own custom-designed “palace” and share her luxury life with friends and family. And as with all fairytales, her dream came true. Once she was all grown up, she created The Dwell Hotel in Chattanooga, Tennessee, USA.

I’m trying to rethink the wheel a little.

Seija Ojanpera

I’m trying to rethink the wheel a little.

Seija Ojanpera

“When I was young, I used to go on holiday a lot with my family, usually driving around the U.S., and I was always fascinated by the hotels and bed-and-breakfasts we stayed in,” explains the American-born Ojanpera, who has Finnish roots. “I was fascinated by how someone had created these interior spaces for others to enjoy. And I thought ‘I can design a space like that!’” Her travels and exposure to the hospitality world sparked a habitual propensity to rearrange her family home whenever her parents were out. “My parents would come back and think they had gone into the wrong house! I was only 75 pounds but I was dragging beds around, wardrobes, dressers, moving art around, et cetera. I have expressed my creativity through interior design for as long as I can remember.”


After school, Ojanpera pursued medicine and also experimented with the power of art. She traveled to Haiti and other underdeveloped countries while working for philanthropic organizations such as Beyond Borders, as well as with an agricultural group to bring non-GMO seeds to India. Although she traveled far afield in the name of altruism, it’s Ojanpera’s work on her own doorstep that has the most influence on the visual identity of The Dwell Hotel. What started off as an art project with the homeless community of Chattanooga eventually led to a director position in the creation of The H*Art Gallery, an art space that provides creative resources to the less fortunate and offers a platform for the artists to sell their work. “I have always appreciated the power of art as a common language. I was doing art projects for therapeutic reasons and to get people together.”

All the while, Ojanpera was immersed in hospitality in some way or another. “Growing up, I always waited tables, worked in kitchens, and tended bars to save money to travel the world. So by default I was in the service industry. I cleaned floors, carried beer kegs, and once spent a whole day peeling shrimp at a top restaurant in Alabama.”


Because of all the positions she’s held in the service industry, Ojanpera’s outlook is more grounded than the average hotelier. “With The Dwell, I’m trying to rethink the wheel a little. I’m learning every day because I listen to my staff and I understand that they know what they’re talking about.” For guests of The Dwell, Ojanpera’s holistic conception of hospitality is visible from the thoughtfully designed rooms to the culinary program and everything in between. “But,” she explains, “The Dwell is a stepping stone to my dream idea. I co-own some land that has two miles of cliffs overlooking the Cherokee National Forest, and my dream is to build a five-star resort there with the help of my lifelong friend and business partner, Allan Davis. It would have a minimalistic design and a top-of-the-line spa, a healing center, and verdant gardens. I visualize the kind of place where you can go to spend two weeks eating raw food and healing or drinking martinis and lounging by the pool, whichever you prefer!”

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