What makes a design hotel? It’s not any particular style, of course – this diverse bunch can attest to that. Or scope – one has only a single bedroom. All, however, have a keen sense of place and a vision that sets them apart from the pack. Here is our round up of the most innovative hotels to open since the millenium, from riads to agritourismos, members clubs and exclusive hideouts deep in the desert...
Stamba Hotel | Tbilisi
Few hotels could make the list for their lobby alone, but then few make the statement of Stamba’s. The cavernous atrium, with its imposing Brutalist skeleton, is where the imaginative conversion of a former 1930s publishing house in Georgian capital Tbilisi really shines. A glass-bottomed swimming pool installed on the roof lets dappled light stream into the space, which is flanked by internal balconies that look out over mature greenery below. Where brickwork isn’t left exposed, walls are painted in moss green and denim blue. For now, the hotel’s expressive spirit is unmatched in the city, but there’s plenty more to come. From around £110 per night. designhotels.com
Ett Hem | Stockholm
Ett Hem might simply translate as ‘a home’, but few can claim an abode so stylish. The 12-room boutique hotel, masterfully coaxed from a 1910 Arts & Crafts townhouse in Stockholm’s Lärkstaden neighbourhood, still retains the intimacy of the exquisite private residence it must have once made. Devoid of the vast atriums and anonymity of grand hotels, designer (and former ELLE Decoration editor) Ilse Crawford’s deftest trick is a series of genuinely inviting communal spaces, where lighting by Michael Anastassiades and bespoke furniture by her own Studioilse jostle with beautiful vintage finds. Ett Hem confirms that luxury doesn’t have to be loud – the honesty bar in the dining room says it all. From around £300 per night. etthem.se
Ion Adventure Hotel | Iceland
A hotel housed in an abandoned concrete barracks for a nearby power station might not sound a luxurious prospect, but anything slighter would feel lost in Iceland’s rugged, elemental landscape. Two years after the country was unceremoniously put on the map by the Eyjafjallajökull ash cloud, this architectural tour de force opened an hour from Reykjavik. Set on diagonal stilts at the foot of Hengill volcano – still active, for an extra thrill – Ion’s monolithic form rises out of the rocky hillside, sheltering a pool below and offering an uninterrupted panorama of lava fields. It also proved an early adopter of the luxury eco model, drawing on geothermal energy and local, sustainable materials. From around £205 per night. designhotels.com
La Granja | Ibiza
Though La Granja – simply ‘the farm’ – cannot lay claim to the concept of Ibizan agriturismo, its distinct vision of pastoral life has proven irresistible. Conceived by Design Hotels founder Claus Sendlinger, the 10-room estate offers an insight into the earthier, epicurean side of the island, centred on a 300-year old farmhouse hewn from stone, slate and oiled ash. Balearic tropes like whitewashed walls are traded for cooling dark grey, and rooms are bravely barren of televisions, frills of any kind – even air con – and largely free of furniture, save for wooden stools, cane pendants and beds draped in linen sheets. Its earnest, slow-living ethos and biodynamic bounty make a convincing case for going back to the land. From around £314 per night. lagranjaibiza.com
Il Sereno | Italy
The process of building a contemporary hotel on the shores of Lake Como – an area that hadn’t welcomed any new properties in decades – was a slow and delicate one. Thankfully, Spanish designer and architect Patricia Urquiola was undeterred. For all its clean, vertical lines and use of natural materials (see the 30 waterfront suites clad in walnut timber), Il Sereno proved that a modern retreat could more than hold its own among the lake’s converted palazzos. The airy interior, filled with Urquiola’s sleek designs for Cassina, Molteni, B&B Italia and Kettal, is Italian through and through. From around £714 per night. serenohotels.com
The Siren | Detroit
If an area’s hospitality scene acts as a barometer for its fortunes, it’s no wonder that The Siren’s 2018 opening in downtown Detroit generated a hopeful buzz. As tourists returned and the city’s trajectory continued its upward trend, this characterful renovation by ASH NYC and Quinn Evans Architects breathed fresh life into the abandoned Wurlitzer building, which had been left to decay for some 30 years. Its handsome façade now gives way to a glamorous 106-room boutique hotel outfitted with original travertine floors, terrazzo bathrooms and the kitsch Candy Bar, with its spectacular vintage Murano glass chandelier. This siren’s call is one that’s worth answering. From around £140 per night. thesirenhotel.com
Amangiri | Utah
Set in the arid expanse of Utah’s Canyon Point among majestic ochre mesas (the flat-topped rocky formations), Amangiri’s network of cubic concrete suites and pavilions presents an unorthodox vision of a desert oasis. More than 10 years here, it’s proven to be the Aman group’s most enduring image of luxurious isolation. Architects Rick Joy, Marwan Al-Sayed and Wendell Burnette – who earned their stripes with striking, angular structures across neighbouring Arizona – conceived a design that speaks to the drama of its natural surrounds, framed by vistas from open-air terraces and the floor-to-ceiling windows of 34 monastic suites. New sister site Camp Sarika is set to be another bucket-list-topper. From £1,478 per night, full board. aman.com
El Fenn | Marrakech
Though Marrakech has no shortage of plushly refurbished riads, none has captured our collective imagination in quite the same way as El Fenn. Sealed off from the hubbub of the Medina, its maze of shaded courtyards, lush terraces and rooftop plunge pools are steeped in bohemian flair. The 31 rooms and suites were individually designed from the outset – back when this was no given among boutique hotels – and painted in rich shades of crimson, turquoise, emerald and magenta, with striking tiled floors, hand-carved plasterwork and fluffy Berber rugs underfoot. This autumn, the retreat will unveil the results of a long-awaited expansion, with new suites, pool, wine cellar, yoga studio and orangery. From around £335 per night. el-fenn.com
Shoreditch House | London
The Soho House brand was already in full swing when it opened Shoreditch House, though this east London outpost can take much of the credit for the renaissance of the members’ club model. Here was a hotel that you might have spent the day in before you knew it, with myriad cosy spots to mingle with a crowd of creative locals that often outnumber the travellers. Originally outfitted by British designer Tom Dixon back in 2007, it has since been revamped by an in-house design team created to bring the boutique chain’s successful formula to a pacy schedule of new Houses across the globe. From £175 per night. sohohouse.com
Trunk (House) | Tokyo
Rarely does a new opening redefine boundaries quite like Trunk (House). The restful one-room Tokyo guesthouse, which followed a 15-room boutique by the hotel group across town, is a carefully crafted ode to a traditional salon seen through the lens of a modish lifestyle concept. Once a geisha-training house, its renovated interior reveals far more than a hotel distilled down to its essential parts: alongside space to sleep four, there’s a tea ceremony room and a view onto a small but perfectly formed garden. The showstopper, of course, is the diminutive red-walled disco – said to be the smallest in Japan – replete with illuminated dance floor, karaoke machine and requisite soundproofing. From around £3,675 per night, to include chef and butler. trunk-house.com
This article first appeared in ELLE Decoration September 2020
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