Readers of this column will know I am skeptical of “design” hotels. This is because design, in the hotel sense, too often means light switches that are impossible to locate, showers that either soak the bathroom floor or scald you (or both), drapes that would have Einstein scratching his head to open and close — and ugly, ugly buildings.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Design hotels worthy of the name need to be intuitive, ergonomic, aesthetically pleasing and uncomplicated. The rest is a bonus. Here are a few that fit the bill, or at least my bill.
The 1 Hotel in South Beach, Miami, is designed for total guest comfort, using only reclaimed and recycled materials. What’s amazing is that it works. It takes its green credentials seriously but never at the expense of comfort. This place is beautiful, sleek, hip, lavish and responsible — adjectives you would not normally expect to find attributed to the same noun — and it is, frankly, the place you want to be. (It’s packed, year-round.) Room keys or plastic cards don’t exist at the 1. Instead, you are issued a thin wooden disk on check-in. Like everything else here, from the refillable soap containers and filtered water taps, to the clothes hangers made of newspapers or recycled old maps, the key is biodegradable. As well as opening your room door it allows you access to all floors, as well as signing rights at any of the 1’s three pools, shops, Haybarn spa, gym (possibly the coolest and best equipped in all Miami), and, of course, four restaurants. Built on an entire city block of Collins Avenue, between 23rd and 24th streets, 1 Hotel demonstrates through exceptional design that you can have impeccable green credentials and still be oodles of fun.
Repurposing historic buildings is the forte of design-forward hoteliers the Sydell Group. Their hotel, the Line — set in a repurposed neoclassical church with 60-foot vaulted ceilings, bang in the heart of the multicultural Adams Morgan neighborhood in Washington, D.C. — is far and away the coolest hotel in D.C. Take all the adjectives associated with the nation’s capital — conservative (right), frustrating (and how) early-to-bed (you assume) and throw them out of the Line’s arched, milk-glass windows. All right, work if you must — there’s free Wi-Fi for visitors as well as guests, after all — but basically you’re at The Line to play. First, at Brothers and Sisters — Erik Bruner-Yang’s all-day restaurant, which takes up most of the hotel’s vast lobby and where they do an insanely good octopus hot dog with spicy yuzu kosho — and then at A Rake’s Progress, Spike Gjerde’s first-floor gallery restaurant, where the shtick is small birds, smoked and roasted over a stone hearth. There’s also a coffee shop, called, madly, The Cup We All Race 4, and a kind of Asian tapas bar called Spoken English, for food on the hoof.
That’s right: No one’s going hungry here, but once all the eating and drinking is done, the Line, like its London counterpart, The Ned (located in a former bank in the heart of the financial district), also delivers you a great night’s sleep. The hotel’s 220 guestrooms are handsome and well-proportioned, combining utilitarian chic with urban sophistication — parquet floors, custom brass bed frames, solid oak writing desks and lashings of plug sockets exactly where you want them. With its 1,100-square-foot fitness center, and even its own radio station, this brilliant D.C. newbie is attitude-free and apolitical, although you’ll be as likely to bump into President Donald J. Trump at the Line as you would be to meet celebrity vegans Beyoncé or Ariana Grande at your local steakhouse.
Across the Pond, design reigns but does not rule at the wonderful Das Stue Hotel in what was once the Danish embassy in Berlin. Designer Patricia Urquiola’s soft, tertiary-colored interiors combine freeform, amoeba-like shapes and rich, indulgent textures. If this were your home, it might be a mishmash, but Urquiola’s talent is that the sum of the seemingly disparate parts is an utterly pleasing cohesion. Comfortable, too: Sink into one of those armchairs, lounge around the 50-foot indoor pool or pull up a chair at the hotel’s Michelin-starred restaurant, Cinco, and you’ll know what I mean. And the artwork is fun as well as relevant. That crocodile head sculpture, for instance, or Bernard Moretti’s intricate wire-mesh animals — well, the Berlin Zoo is literally on the doorstep.
Down in Monaco, the $280 million renovation at the legendary Hôtel de Paris Monte-Carlo proves the adage “Plus ça change, plus c’est la meme chose” — “The more things change, the more they remain the same.” So how exactly do you improve on original design dating back to 1864, in a property that set out to establish Monaco as the place to be? Well, honestly you don’t. All you do is update and refresh, big-time. Oh, and add an entire new floor, and do it, seemingly, while all the Monegasques are blinking, or at least having an afternoon nap. The hotel remained open virtually throughout the entire renovation process. The new floor houses the upper level of the Princess Grace Suite — whites, creams, and soft beiges everywhere; photographs and ephemera (the suite was completed with the close collaboration of Princess Grace’s son, Prince Albert); a pool, naturally, and yours from $48,000 a night. Two of the hotel’s four wings were also demolished and rebuilt, leaving the hotel with a ravishing 7,000-square-foot inner garden, called Le Patio, in the process, and terraces added as if by magic so that now every one of the hotel’s 207 guest rooms and suites has outdoor space.
If minimalism is your thing — and which of us isn’t feeling the Marie Kondo force? — check out the Hotel Arts Barcelona on your next visit to the Catalan capital. It’s a celebration of cream, pale gray and taupe. When I first stayed at the Arts nearly 25 years ago, I resolved to go home and redecorate, throwing out every last piece of junk and painting every one of my sad, sorry, rooms a vivifying, life-enhancing shade of pale ivory. Unfortunately, that never happened. All these years later, I can confirm after a recent visit that the Arts is as fresh as the day it opened, while my poor house has aged several aeons, continuing to accumulate junk and visibly dilapidating. A lesson there, I think.
Lastly, should you be headed to the Antipodes any time soon, let me tell you about Brisbane. I was there last fall — its spring — and was blown away by the sheer vibrancy of the place. Australia’s third largest city and gateway to its famed Gold Coast is having a moment. From sandboarding and surfboarding to night markets to a huge number of hip bars, Brisbane is also home to some of Oz’s most exciting new design hotels. All opened within the last year, properties like the W, with its contour-line design referencing the snaking Brisbane River; the moodily decorated Ovolo Inchcolm; and the second Emporium Hotel in the city’s Southpoint complex, with its cutting-edge but user-friendly technology; all show that great hotel design need not be confined to “first-tier” cities. And another thing, too: It shows that retro-design be can cool and comfortable without being even a touch ironic.