A boutique hotel stay is a chance to try on a different life — to inhabit new spaces, explore new fantasies, and check yourself out against a new interior-design backdrop.
Hotels aren’t as simple as they used to be. No longer just places to sleep, the best have evolved into works of art — performance spaces that allow guests to star in their own sort of theatrical production. And nothing sets this scene like exceptional interior design, where every inch is carefully considered and each element works toward a theme that offers a thorough departure from the outside world. It’s a chance to try on a whole different life, and in this series we’ll examine hotels that provide the greatest escape.
PART 1: THE PAST OR THE FUTURE?
We start with the period pieces. Some designers are aces at turning back the clock and infusing their creations with the atmosphere of days gone by. These six hotels take you back to an idealized version of hospitality history, but with a present-day energy that ensures things don’t get stale.
When you enter The Beekman, you enter a different time and place. This is an 1881-vintage skyscraper from the days when a skyscraper meant nine stories of terraced red brick and a towering central atrium. It’s a sort of Wes Anderson version of prewar Manhattan, full of historical resonance but viewed through a contemporary lens.
The weight of history is similarly lightened at Soprarno Suites in Florence, too — the hoteliers stocked a 16th-century villa with contemporary designer furniture and modern art — and at Rome’s G-Rough, a 17th-century villa with just a slight patina of decay, freshened up with design-museum-quality furniture from the Thirties, Forties and Fifties.
No less devoted to its history is the decadent Maison Soquet in Paris. The Pigalle district’s “pleasure houses” were more or less exactly what they sound like, and this one, even after a makeover by Jacques Garcia, leans all the way in to the overt sexiness of its concept. It’s not hard to imagine the aristocratic debauchery that once took place here.
Though it’s not strictly a reconstruction of something historical, The Battery, in San Francisco, indulges in another somewhat nostalgic concept: the member’s club. Except this private hangout only requires you book a room to gain admission. And you’ll definitely want to — the vibe is dark, moody, and bohemian, with a sense of slightly old-fashioned decorum.
From here you’re guaranteed to be transported to the Old West. A one-time prospector’s camp, Dunton Hot Springs is a bit more upscale in its new incarnation — though it’s still possible to get some serious ghost-town vibes as you stroll from cabin to cabin, immersing yourself in the intensely cozy interiors.
Around the middle of the last century, design took on an added significance; no longer just ornament, it was an expression of the possibility of a better future. Now modernist design feels like something from an alternate universe — and these six hotels give you the chance to live there.
Though the seafaring vibe is an obvious overtone at The Maritime Hotel, it’s perhaps more reminiscent of the slightly utopian era of mid-20th-century modernism, when the new forms were replacing the old and it felt as though just about anything might be possible.
You’ll find a similar excitement at Villa La Coste, though it’s produced via very different means — if living on the grounds of a 17th-century Provençal farmhouse weren’t fantasy enough, you’ll find yourself surrounded by modernist furnishings and contemporary architecture by the likes of Frank Gehry, Oscar Niemeyer, and Tadao Ando.
Rising up on the shores of Lake Como, where stately old villas are the luxury norm, Il Sereno sets itself apart with striking interiors by the Milan-based designer Patricia Urquiola, and features a mix of minimalist chic and futuristic whimsy.
Also playing against type is Katamama, in Bali, a beach hotel built almost entirely by local artisans, whose traditional craftsmanship sets the stage for a lovely collection of historically significant modernist furniture.
Sometimes a place comes with so much history of its own, the best thing for a designer to do is to strike a contrasting note. The ancient stone walls at Downtown Mexico contrast as starkly as possible with its ultra-minimalist décor and furnishings, and in the space between those two extremes, something deeply memorable is created.
Meanwhile, the South Congress Hotel in Austin puts forth a version of Texas that’s almost futuristic, but no less warm or organic for it — a place where modernist design and architectural minimalism combine to reveal a more cosmopolitan version of life in the Lone Star State.
Next: Part 2 — find your fantasy with design that looks effortlessly inward — or impressively outward…