Luxury hotels for the design savvy
Written by Sophie Jones-Cooper
From an awe-inspiring contemporary Balinese escape to an industrial-chic pad in Shanghai and a modern Renaissance revamp in the heart of Manhattan, we discover six of the world’s most desirable design hotels.
What do you get when you mix a blank canvas, a pioneering architect, an innovative interior designer, and some seriously soporific bed linen? A piece of hotel perfection and a new breed of 21st-century hotels... all hail the design hotel.
Today’s international, design-savvy jet-setters are no longer satisfied with just a simple feather-down duvet, Molton Brown toiletries, and a Michelin-starred restaurant. Hotels have taken on new haute heights, where unimaginable feats of contemporary architecture sit alongside beautifully restored original Victorian façades, and one-off works of art, sculptural masterpieces, and state-of-the-art design elements make their way into every nook and cranny. The designers include talents such as Ron Arad, Philippe Starck, Neri&Hu, Conran and Partners, Jean-Michel Gathy, and Kit Kemp, and it is these creative talents that are fuelling our passion for hotels that go the extra design mile. Here are our favourites...
Alila Villas Uluwatu, Bali
Prepare yourself for a serious dose of design overload at this spectacular new-age cliff-top luxury hideaway on Bali’s lush and tropical Bukit Peninsula. The surrounding landscape is dramatic enough itself, but perch a feat of utterly modern architecture 100m above the shore, complete with an iconic wooden ‘stick’ sunset cabana appearing to float in mid-air, a 50m infinity pool with views to the Indian Ocean below, villas, terraces, gardens, and two restaurants, and your jaw will remain dropped for some time after your arrival. Built on environmentally sustainable design principles, the boundaries between interior and exterior spaces are beautifully subtle, and there is a harmonious use of local architecture, building materials, and flora and fauna, but with a strikingly contemporary design aesthetic.
Distance: 6,930 km
Flight Time: 12 hours , 10 minutes
Frequency: Daily via Singapore
Les Bains, Paris
Paris has no shortage of design-soaked rooms and suites, but one relative newcomer to the scene – well, more an icon revamped for a new era of style – is Les Bains in Le Marais. Back in its heyday, Les Bains Douches was a notorious star-strewn Parisian nightspot, and last year the original 1885 bathhouse was re-opened by French film director and producer Jean-Pierre Marois as a hotel, restaurant, and bar. Its fascination today lies in its homage to the building’s heritage, spirit, and style, yet with an achingly cool contemporary appeal. All over, tributes are paid to Les Bains’ iconic past. The Futura graffiti mural from 1983 in the courtyard, David Rocheline frescoes in the foyer, original stained-glass windows in the iconic Chinese Salon, and the then-young Philippe Starck-designed white and washed-out blue mosaic bath from the club sit alongside contemporary commissioned artworks and installations.
Distance: 4,980 km
Flight Time: 7 hours, 15 minutes
Frequency: 3 flights a day
Gramercy Park Hotel, New York
The creation of an exquisite style pairing, godfather of boutique hotels Ian Schrager and acclaimed Academy Award-winning director and iconic artist Julian Schnabel, Manhattan’s Gramercy Park Hotel is a Renaissance redux masterpiece. Step into this monumental gallery hotel and you cannot help but stand in awe at the opulence and eccentricity, and the dark, moody, edgy glamour that makes this hotel so enticing. It even boasts its own signature Le Labo scent. The huge Venetian glass chandelier in the hallway, the Harlequin floors, exposed brickwork, and reclaimed bare wood, grand mirrors, red velvet drapes, and Louis XV chairs, not to mention the impressive 20th-century art collection dotted throughout the hotel and its 185 rooms, transport guests to a unique world of modern renaissance. Damien Hirst, Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and David Salle are just some of the artists exhibited here.
New York, USA
Distance: 10,792 km
Flight Time: 14 hours, 10 minutes
Cheval Blanc Randheli, The Maldives
At the über-luxurious Maldivian island resort of Cheval Blanc Randheli on the tiny Noonu Atoll, everything is immaculately designed and beautifully presented. From the Dior tomes on the villa coffee tables and the gastronomic delights of the three-Michelin-star restaurants, to the slate-lined, palm-fringed square pool and the Vincent Beaurin artworks dotted across the island, not a grain of sand has been left to simply exist. Acclaimed designer Jean-Michel Gathy has excelled, creating bright and airy, super-contemporary and sophisticated open-plan villas. The 45 sanctuaries of supreme style include impeccably designed partitions to create three individual living spaces, with higher-than-high cathedral-style ceilings and Maldivian-inspired thatched roofs, 12.5m infinity pools, and finishing touches of teak, cinnamon wood, coconut shells, and exposed stone, as well as sleek slate and marble.
Distance: 3,351 km
Flight Time: 4 hours, 35 minutes
Frequency: 2 flights a day
The Waterhouse at South Bund, Shanghai
This unique Shanghai hotel does not conform to the glittering skyscraper-dom of the main city, but instead prides itself on its industrial-chic appearance, standing low and mighty on the banks of the Huangpu River in Shanghai’s historic riverside docks. Owner Loh Lik Peng and architects Neri&Hu transformed the 1930s disused Japanese army headquarters, stripping back the building to its shell yet maintaining the original façade and filling the vast interiors with sleek, minimal, and contemporary design and architectural wonders. The original exposed concrete and bare brick walls rub shoulders with floor-to-ceiling glass windows, oak floors, gleaming and new white walls, and Antonio Citterio and Finn Juhl furniture. The result is a unique blend of old and new and the epitome of pared-down cool, with a simple 19 rooms, rooftop terrace, Jason Atherton restaurant, and expansive vistas.
Distance: 6,775 km
Flight Time: 8 hours, 5 minutes
If you want to literally immerse yourself in art and design, check in to the room of your choice at the unrivalled Boundary hotel in London, which features 12 bespoke rooms and five suites all inspired by some of the most influential design movements and creative talents of our time. The Victorian-era warehouse, a former printing factory in London’s art-swarmed Shoreditch, has received the Conran and Partners treatment but with a difference... Sir Terence himself has put his own unique stamp on a suite, the Conran, which features not only his own work but also the work of those he admires, in particular a Karuselli chair by Yrjö Kukkapuro, and Sir David Tang’s Modern Chinoiserie suite is modelled on his own home. Whatever your design penchant, from Bauhaus to Scandinavian, Charles and Ray Eames to Mies van der Rohe, the rooms and hotel itself are bursting with original masterpieces and are an ode to great artistic legends.
Distance: 5,219 km
Flight Time: 7 hours, 35 minutes
Frequency: 6 flights a day