Most people know good boutique hotel design and when they see it – but not everyone can identify the people behind the polish – the ones who pick the flooring, paper the walls and hang the blinds. LUCY FENNINGS brings you a Who’s Who of hotel design with a top-ten list of the most influential interior designers and their hotel projects…
Style Seductive, stylish
Setting Secluded SW7
What so good about it? A pioneer among luxury boutique hotels, Blakes in Kensington is synonymous with effortless style and attentive service. Its many years of popularity among London’s fashion and film elite is a testament to Anouska Hempel’s rigorous design perfectionism and sense of theatre. Where she led, many have followed, but there’s still nothing to hold a candle to the discreet opulence and drama of this first, most famous of Hempel hotels.
What else has Anouska done? Lady Weinberg has all manner of design triumphs under her belt, from restaurant interiors (Shy in Jakarta) and fashion flagships (Louis Vuitton in Paris) to couture dresses and fountain pens. Dutch hotel The Dylan started out life as Blakes Amsterdam, and Ms Hempel applied the same vivid imagination and ‘don’t take no for an answer’ guts to transform what was a tricky historic site into one of the world’s most fêted boutique hotels. The hotel recently had an incredible refurb by architect-designers FG Stijl (the boys behind the nearby College Hotel), opening up the public spaces and adding a bar so cool even the Dam’s most recalcitrant residents have ditched their beloved cafés to be seen propping it up. Rooms and suites retain Hempel’s signature decorative schemes, though, and the spirit of Anouska past is still very much present. She’s currently working on the much-anticipated WaraPuru resort in Bahia, Brazil.
02 Kelly Wearstler
What’s so good about it? Interior designer Kelly Wearstler knows a thing or two about how to give a place a bit of style, and she’s worked some rare magic here at the Viceroy Santa Monica: parakeet-green Chesterfields partner dazzling white Modernist occasional tables, deco-style gazebos are decked out with French dining furniture, and fresh-as-a-daisy decor awaits in the light and airy guest rooms. Credited with creating a new Hollywood Regency style – a style she has also successfully transplanted to the canary-yellow-trimmed Viceroy Palm Springs – Kelly is behind many of the most gorgeous boutique hotels in California.
What else has Kelly done? Once the residence of silent-movie starlet Lillian Gish, Maison 140 in Los Angeles is as glamorous and poised as its former owner. Inside the hotel, Far East meets West Coast as bold Oriental prints preside over vintage French furniture and deco pieces put together with a Modernist’s eye. Eye-catchingly attired in black, white and crimson with lacquered panels, the hotel’s bijou Bar Noir is a well-kept secret among in-the-know Beverly Hills residents and another fine example of Ms Wearstler’s laser-sharp attention to detail. And who’d have thunk it: the glorious revival of Avalon Hotel’s iconic mid-century modern style is also down to the queen of polished perfection. This Beverly Hills boutique hotel sports retro-fabulous ’50s furniture (think Charles Eames chairs, George Nelson lamps and tables by Isamu Noguchi), a vintage hourglass-shaped swimming pool, and a very cool, award-winning restaurant.
03 Ilse Crawford
What so good about it? When it first opened in 1998, Babington set the benchmark for bucolic boltholes with urban-cool credentials: in design queen Ilse Crawfords’ own words, Babington’s raîson d’être was to provide a ‘relaxed playground for adults’. It’s still raising the bar (literally – the recent refurb included a top-flight martini lounge). This stately pleasure dome strips away the country-estate hauteur and replaces it with a do-what-you-like ambience, injecting metropolitan must-haves such as the wonderful Cowshed spa for those who like their country retreats with all mod cons.
What else has Ilse done? The West London outpost of Nick Jones’ oh-so-cool Soho House members’ club, High Road House in Chiswick is resplendent in Ilse’s trademark print-led, colour-accented decor. Ilse has lately turned her attentions to smaller-scale stays, primarily at The Olde Bell Inn in Hurley, Berkshire (joining the Mr & Mrs Smith hotel collection next week), no doubt relishing the chance to use her skills transforming a more intimate, homely space (also see our blog post on ‘The inn thing’). This easy-going former coaching inn brings together a Dutch naturalist sensibility with 21st-century textiles and retro-feel furniture; it’s a modern-historic aesthetic that never tries too hard.
04 Philippe Starck
What’s so good about it? Transcending its humble origins, the interiors of this former HK apartment block were conceived by that guru of French design, Monsieur Starck. Jia’s impeccable lobby is graced with Shanghai Tang-clad staff and a silver-upholstered antique sofa that contrasts strikingly with mirror-finish Louis Ghost chairs. This is the kind of hotel that has you snapping every design detail and compiling mental lists of which ideas to pinch for your own home…
What else has Philippe done? Besides managing hotel projects including the Delano, the Peninsula, the Hudson Hotel and Saint Martin’s Lane in London, there are few stays that consider themselves ‘design’ or boutique hotels without at least one bathroom fitting, piece of furniture or other stylish gizmo designed by Starck… He also collaborates with Yoo property developer John Hitchcock (check out our recent Q&A with Yoo on the Smith travel blog).
05 Dodd Mitchell
What’s so good about it? This elegant LA boutique hotel combines refined American gloss with a ray of laid-back California sunshine. A honeyed stucco facade conceals minimal-chic interiors by designer Dodd Mitchell, the man behind Hollywood’s hippest playgrounds and design-hotel restaurants, so as you’d expect, the Crescent’s restaurant is a star attraction (literally), drawing in Mena Suvari, Liz Hurley, Courteney Cox Arquette et al.
What else has Dodd done? Mitchell’s masterpieces also include Miami boutique hotel The Setai: this now-and-Zen US hotel combines art deco glamour and Asian style with a cool clientele and seamless service.
06 Bruno Borrione
What so good about it? A long-time collaborator with Philippe Starck, Bruno Borrione’s transformation of Paris boutique hotel Le Placide employs the same rigorous design principles and cunning use of space. In this St Germain city-break stay, sleek French minimalism manages to be warm and feminine: in rooms, a gleaming canvas of white is enlivened by splashes of vivid colour, bold print wallpapers in muted tones, Perspex and chrome furniture, and warm walnut veneers. And miraculously, despite the petite proportions of this upwardly mobile Parisian townhouse, there’s an abundance of natural light.
What else has Bruno done? Aside from his many projects with Philippe Starck (including the Sanderson), Borrione was also behind the Jardin des Sens in Montpellier.
07 Shawn Hausman
What’s so good about it? The Standard Downtown LA occupies a 12-storey mid-1950s office block that has been skilfully brought back to modern life by the ever-entrepreneurial hotelier André Balazs and his innovative designer, Shawn Hausman. Here, in a plastic-fantastic playground, Bond’s groovy overnight mission bases meet the GPlan furnishings of suburban middle America – it’s an inspired, slightly psychedelic take on Hitchcock-era decor. Interiors draw inspiration from their original business functions: multi-time-zone clocks set to represent past capitals of commerce Calcutta and Tehran silently mark the passing seconds, and tiny lightbulbs blink on a giant etched-metal world map that Dr No would have itched to park his giant leather swivel chair in front of.
08 Kit Kemp
What’s so good about it? Country‑house charm meets London sophistication at this central London boutique hotel right on Piccadilly Circus. Kit Kemp’s quirkily colourful interiors, an eye-popping indoor pool-cum-bar and a made-for-peoplewatching restaurant make the Haymarket a particularly fine example of Kemp’s trademark design style: bold prints plus bright palette, used with clever restraint and English wit.
What else has Kit done? As design director of the Firmdale hotel group she founded with husband Tim, Kit is also the creative brain behind the Soho Hotel and the Covent Garden Hotel, among others – but despite having designed nearly 400 hotel rooms, no two are ever identical.
09 Olga Polizzi
What’s so good about it? Design doyenne of the Forte family, Olga’s common-sense style and comfort-first approach to decor has seen her hotels win devoted fans and weather the storm of ever-changing hotel trends with ease. We love Tresanton for its unstuffy look and for staying true to its Cornish location; this boutique hotel’s subtle maritime theming (the building was once a yachting club) has a distinct hint of cruising and its beach-house chic puts you in a relaxed, ‘let’s unwind’ frame of mind.
What else has Olga done? Polizzi-style palaces include Brown’s Hotel in London, which she was commissioned to refurbish; and Hotel Endsleigh in Devon, another flag-flier for classic English country chic.
10 India Mahdavi
What’s so good about it? Paris-based designer India Mahdavi is behind the crazy-cool-colourful world of Mexico City’s hippest hangout, Condesa DF. Architecturally striking (thanks to Javier Sánchez’s sensitive restoration of the art deco shell), the interiors are a canny mix of vibrant hues and natural textures: it’s Mexico, but not as you know it. Bold floral graphics zing off hardwood panelling, and intense teal blue adds electricity to high-gloss white and frosted glass. Huge doors slide closed to separate bedrooms from pretty lounges decked with flower-emblazoned chairs. Open a window, and birdsong washes in from the leafy park over the road. We love.