Goodbye boring box hotel. Properties around the globe are pushing the envelope on architectural style and interior design. While strong branding is as critical as ever, parent companies are breaking with convention and giving new-build projects creative license to stamp their individuality on their destinations.
In the past few years, hotel companies have tapped world-renowned architects, forged alliances with artists and struck up partnerships with some of the fashion world's most revered names to rework décor, design suites or even conceptualize an entire property, from fabric to furniture and lighting to linens.
"A decade ago we were very traditional in our approach to what we thought our hotels should look like, because we used to build for the road warrior," says Bill Barrie, senior vice president, design and project management, for the Washington, D.C.-based Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co. "Since 2004, we've loosened up in terms of design and have become a more contemporary, casually elegant brand."
While Ritz-Carlton has yet to follow the lead of other luxury hotel brands and partner with fashion icons, the company is paying close attention to that trend. "I think we can learn a lot from the fashion industry in the way they work with lighting and space and trends. I have asked my team to consider these retail designers," says Barrie. "After all, we manage the Bulgari brand, and they are definitely a fashion force."
Meanwhile, from London to Dubai to Macau, idols of fashion are making their mark on hospitality projects. Among the latest such developments:
• Milan-based Armani Hotels & Resorts (armanihotels.com), with properties in Dubai and Milan, Italy, has a 100-room hotel planned for London.
• Bulgari Hotels & Resorts (bulgarihotels.com), now with three hotels, will plant its flag in Shanghai, China, in 2015.
• This past January, Karl Lagerfeld, chief designer for the Chanel and Fendi fashion houses, as well as his own label, was commissioned by Rosewood Hotels & Resorts to design two suites for its newest acquisition, the Parisian landmark Hôtel de Crillon, which is closed for a complete renovation and slated to reopen in 2015.
• Macau development firm SJM, headed by casino tycoon Stanley Ho, also tapped Lagerfeld to create an entire branded hotel for its Lisboa Palace, a $322 million resort complex that will offer 2,000 hotel rooms, 700 gaming tables, restaurants and a slew of high-end retail stores. "An entire hotel designed by me. It's the first time for me! I think it's a great idea," said Lagerfeld in a statement.
Lagerfeld's won't be the only fashion-branded hotel rising in Macau. SJM also enlisted Italian fashion powerhouse Versace to design a Versace-themed hotel, tweaked to appeal to the local Chinese market. It will be the second hotel for the brand, which opened the 200-room Palazzo Versace on Australia's Gold Coast in 2000. Both new Macau properties, each with 270 guest rooms, are slated to open in 2017.
For a closer look at how hotels have become the new outlet for architectural inspiration and artistic expression, M&C has hand-picked 10 properties whose cutting-edge exteriors and stunning designer interiors are challenging the conventional hotel-in-a-box concept and earning buzz in the hospitality, art and fashion worlds.
Conrad New York
From its downtown Hudson River vantage point, the exterior of this 463-suite luxury staple of Manhattan's financial district hardly sets any design meters ticking. But step inside the atrium-styled lobby, above, and this hotel is a showstopper. Two dramatic pieces hang side by side: "Loopy Doopy," a 14-story-high purple and blue mural by American artist Sol LeWitt, a pioneer of the conceptual art movement, hangs above the lobby. Directly across from it is "Veil," a 77-ton aluminum and cable installation by Venezuelan-born architect and educator Monica Ponce de Leon. Works by contemporary local artists are found throughout the hotel's event spaces, guest suites and restaurants.
For meetings, the Conrad offers 30,000 square feet of highly styled space on two floors, including the 6,240-square-foot Gallery Ballroom, with capacities for up to 500 people.
Visionary hotelier Ian Schrager is still pulling mind-bending design punches. This 173-room property, which opened in September 2013, meticulously blends the ornate details of its landmark Georgian building with modern design marvels.
Complementing a Belle Epoque carved ceiling, stained-glass windows, and marble staircases and floors are Christian Liaigre black metal tables and chairs alongside Salvador Dali-inspired lamps and the colossal Ingo Maurer-designed mirrored ball that is the focal point of the lobby. On opening night, Schrager declared it "my best work ever."
Berner's Tavern, the hotel's prime gathering spot headed by Michelin-starred London chef Jason Atherton, is decorated with 185 contemporary photographs and features warm leather booths and sumptuous dining alcoves.
Hold your breath, because the Miami Edition, also designed by Schrager, is opening later this year.
In the United Arab Emirates, fashion, bling and F&B collide at the opulent Cavalli Club, Restaurant and Lounge, which spans three floors of the 394-room Fairmont Dubai, linked to the Dubai World Trade Centre. The work of Italian fashion icon Roberto Cavalli, this unique space features three suspended lounge bars -- the white-fur Roberta Lounge, the exclusive Leopard Lounge and the Zebra Lounge -- as well as a 159-seat restaurant. Bring your shades, though: The club's 20-foot-high walls shimmer with 356,000 embedded Swarovski crystals.
In need of some retail therapy to go with that designer cocktail? Step into the Cavalli boutique, stocked with luxury chocolates, high-end jewelry and, of course, Cavalli-designed dinnerware. For meeting purposes, 19 flexible areas fit the bill.
Le Méridien Istanbul Etiler
Starwood pulled out all the artistic stops with this 259-room hotel, designed by architect Emre Arolat and designer Sinan Kafadar, both Turks. It's the first Le Méridien in Turkey and the brand's first new-build in Europe. The Latitude Bar, which due to its perch on the Bosphorus Strait features views of both Europe and Asia, plays on the theme of cartography with long, sloping lines referring to longitude and latitude. And the artist-designed guest-room key unlocks not just the guest room -- it gives guests free access to the city's many cultural and art institutions, including the Istanbul Modern. The property has 20,000 square feet of meeting space.
Mandarin Oriental Barcelona
Acclaimed Spanish interior designer Patricia Urquiola, whose sculptures form part of a permanent collection at MoMA in New York City, spent three years crafting every element of this 98-room hotel's guest rooms, spa and public spaces, including its plush leather chairs, fabric wallpaper and pendant lighting. But her coup d'état in this über-designed contemporary property is the sunshine-flooded floating catwalk that connects to the white-themed lobby, with its sleek leather sofas, hand-woven carpets and soft lighting.
Hong Kong is fairly bursting with five-star luxury hotels. The 312-room Ritz-Carlton, occupying the top 15 floors of the city's International Commerce Center, is a standout among the new wave of digs. Its ultra-chic Ozone Bar, which sits atop the 118th floor and claims to be the highest bar in the world, bears no resemblance to any pre-2004 Ritz-Carlton watering hole. Created by Tokyo designer Masamichi Katayama, founder of Japan's internationally recognized Wonderwall Design company, Ozone has become an instant hotspot for this city's well-heeled cosmopolitan set. Mind-blowing design elements feature geometric angles, mirrors, offbeat lighting and a mix of textures. Considering the atmospheric elevator ride required to reach Ozone, it makes sense that this lofty space seems out of this world. The hotel has 13,000 square feet of meeting space.
This 171-room midtown Manhattan glam gal is strutting a fresh $90 million facelift. While the new guest rooms, featuring sumptuous fabrics in rich, bold schemes and specially commissioned New York City photographs, are major eye candy, it's the updated Dior- and Tiffany & Co.-designed suites that have guests swooning. The Dior Suite features the sophisticated palette of French fashion designer Christian Dior, who worked in warm grays, subtle pinks and soft whites, while the Tiffany Suite on the 14th floor is awash in the brand's signature blue box color. Take note of the jewel-shaped mirror and silver-leafed table, and take a seat at the dining table underneath the dripping chandelier, which replicates the brand's jeweled splendors. The hotel recently upgraded its 16,000 square feet of flexible meeting space.
Sheraton Huzhou Hot Spring Resort, China
Among the fruits of the hotel building frenzy in China is Sheraton's 321-room architectural dazzler on Taihu Lake, between Nanjing and Shanghai. The extravagant ring shape of this oval 27-story property is downright magical. Designed by Beijing-born Ma Yansong, the founder of Mad Architects, who just snapped up the World Economic (aka Davos) Forum's 2014 Young Global Leaders award, it plays on the idea of unity and infinity. At night, the ring's reflection in the lake creates the number eight, which signifies wealth and prosperity in Chinese culture.
The hotel's interior is just as stunning. The lobby features a wave-like series of lights made from 20,000 Swarovski crystals, and the floor is paved with Afghan white jade and Brazilian tigereye stones. Luxury just got kicked up a notch.
The Sofitel brand has long touted its French heritage as the cornerstone of its luxury image. So its no surprise that Sofitel teamed up with acclaimed French haute couture star Christian Lacroix for artistic direction in designing the second hotel in its new boutique brand. The 238-room property, which opened in 2012, features the work of five Thai interior designers coordinated and showcased by Lacroix.
In addition to designing the staff's colorful uniforms, Lacroix put his unmistakable stamp on the hotel's Club Signature lounge with the creation of oversized murals inspired by 19th-century Siam, 19th-century Paris and, of course, haute couture.
Swissôtel Métropole, Geneva
This beautifully appointed 116-room property last June unveiled 12 signature rooms, announced as the new design standard for the Zurich, Switzerland-based luxury brand Swissôtel Hotels & Resorts. The exclusive hand-painted wallpapers in the new guest rooms, which play off the wildflowers characteristic of the Swiss Alps, were designed by renowned Swiss textile manufacturing firm Jakob Schlaepfer, which also supplies luxury fashion designers such as Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Vivienne Westwood with its line of fine silks and embroidery.