Design, as a force that marries the practical requirements of function with the more visually driven aspects of form, has been around since mankind first started shaping its surroundings. Throughout history, however, there have been times when prosperity allowed creativity to flow freely and produce the architectural and artistic masterpieces that still have such a powerful impact upon us today.
While large parts of the past hundred years will not exactly inspire future generations to the same extent, I am happy to say that we now live in a world where design is not only appreciated but plays an important role in our lives. From the funky new Mini and Beetle to the rather more austere, futuristic interior design of modern offices, shops, homes and indeed hotels, a pure notion of design has been revived that enlivens the senses and exposes beauty in its many diverse forms.
Designer brands have cashed in on our obsession with design and the desire to be surrounded by beautiful things, but a new generation of architects, interior and industrial designers, landscapers and hoteliers have collaborated to revolutionise the hotel industry too and offer today’s traveller a veritable smorgasbord of stylish options.
Often referred to as boutique hotels, they have emerged across the globe, acting in contrast to the uniformity of large urban chain hotels and attempting to blend into and celebrate their surroundings, both natural and cultural, as they offer visitors a very personal service within a stylish setting. From Soho and Sydney to Penang and Palermo, these individualistic venues are usually run by people who bring to their auberges not only a sense of décor but also a relaxing setting in which to contemplate the beauty that surrounds.
The styles vary as greatly as the locations, ranging from the ultra-cool and minimalist avant-garde austerity created within the functional constraints of a Bauhaus high-rise hotel to the psychedelically eclectic and masterfully pastiche riot of colour and form that can mark the interior of a renovated Georgian Townhouse or former dockside warehouse. Creating a practical, functioning hotel within such an environment requires a special touch, especially if the stylistic effect, be it modern, futuristic or retro, is not permitted to come at the expense of your comfort and enjoyment as a hotel guest.
Design Hotels™ is a Berlin-based company that offers a range of carefully selected luxury designer hotels from around the world the benefits of a large central marketing organisation while allowing visitors to enjoy the highly personalised styling, ambience and service of a true designer hotel. “Rather than serialise and standardise the hotel, we take unique hotels around the world and bind them together through a shared brand that derives its charm and identity exactly from this sense of uniqueness,” says Marie Wellmann, Public Relations Manager of Design Hotels™. The strength of this brand derives from the eye-catching design that marks each hotel as a unique experience and makes it a destination in its own right. The fact that only hotels with the highest standards of service, facilities and pampering are admitted to this elite collective is almost a given. “Design alone is not enough, the rest of the elements have to be of the same standing or else it would be like putting a twin-stroke engine in a Ferrari racing car.”
We’ve chosen the following four hotels as a tiny sample of the over 150 Design Hotels™ in 41 countries around the world…
The Rockwell, London
Situated in Earl’s Court on South Kensington’s Cromwell Road—just a short hop from Harrods—this intimate four-storey Victorian terrace is a study in understated luxury that is quite in keeping with the spirit of its surroundings. Tastefully renovated and redesigned by London architects Squire and Partners, The Rockwell exudes fine English style and breeding.
Wrought iron banisters, a Victorian mosaic floor and two grand sweeping staircases in stone form the counterbalance for the delightful splashes of contemporary design that make this hotel a jewel to behold. An English gentleman enjoys his home comforts, so expect to sink back into deep, soft armchairs in the cosy lounge, where an open fireplace, walnut bookshelves and lush Burgundy draperies create the ambience of an English study—or better yet, a private gentleman’s club of old.
Traditional English wallpaper has been used to great effect in One-Eight-One restaurant, whose minimalist styling is reflected in the strictly manicured forms of the garden and terrace. While the rooms each offer an individual interpretation of English chic, the bathrooms are uncompromisingly modern, featuring fittings by the likes of Philippe Starck. If you stay in one of the two-level mezzanine suites it really seems like you’re living the refined life of an English gentleman, rather than merely staying in a luxury hotel.
The Morgan, Dublin
Opened in its current form in November 1997, when it was very much a trendsetter, The Morgan is an icon of fashionable design in Dublin’s Temple Bar district. Given this, it is fitting that the hotel is situated in Dublin’s most vibrant and cosmopolitan area. Outside, the vibe is lively and colourful, but inside you’re in a temple dedicated to stylish minimalism, where underplayed elegance sets the tone for a modern interpretation of comfort and opulence.
Bright, light and devoid of primary colours, the hotel’s stark modernity is set against classic furniture by the likes of Le Corbusier and Eileen Gray. Designed for the stylish set, it’s an environment that has also become very popular with business travellers and weekenders—not to mention made it a destination within a destination.
Life Gallery, Athens
This hotel, in Athens’ sophisticated Ekali district, is a fine example of interior design that recaptures perfectly the spirit and times of the modern classic building in which it stands. Set within a lavish garden of lush lawns and scented Mediterranean pines, the structure contrasts beautifully with its surroundings in a manner that only early post-war architecture can achieve. As a building, the Life Gallery is a classic study in concrete and glass, held together with the functional rectangular geometry of 1950s architecture.
Much reviled in more recent times, this functional style is finding renewed vigour when combined with the imposing futuristic minimalism of our own times, creating in this case a luxury hotel that is at once stylishly modern and retro. As such this luxury design hotel, with its cool stone-clad walls, glass plated levels, designer bathrooms and sultry spa areas, captures the moment of the 1950s and 60s in a powerfully nostalgic feel that offers a sense of time travel combined with the wants and wishes of the 21st century.
La Coluccia, Sardinia
Perched beneath the azure skies of Sardinia, La Coluccia proves that highly stylised boutique hotels are not limited to the trendy urban surroundings of big cities. With its ingenious manipulation of volumes and stark contrasts of colour, this luxurious abode has brought a touch of fashion chic to the classic Mediterranean resort—a strangely mesmerizing cocktail of Paris-Milan Fashion Week in the middle of the Sardinian countryside.
Art and architecture merge and separate in successive waves as you step through the cool interior into starkly colonnaded courtyards and across dramatically shaped terraces to the classic combination of pool and garden. Here, however, nothing can be taken for granted, as the outdoors are as carefully sculpted and aligned as the interior, and walls, tiles, grass, water and indeed the views to the nearby Maddalena archipelago become pieces in a moving mosaic of visual delight.
Bookings can be made with Design Hotels™ through www.designhotels.com or by calling the free number appropriate to your country.
This article first appeared in Caché+ magazine October 2007.