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An Architecture Book Where the Hotels are the Destinations

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Design Hotels

The fifth edition of the Design Hotels Book, released in June of 2015, is a 500-page behemoth that showcases 279 impeccably designed hotels (60 of them new to this edition) across 56 countries. Not only is this hardcover beautifully shot, with photos that practically pack bags and book trips themselves, but the book also tells the 279 stories of the architects and designers behind each hotel. This excerpt highlights four spectacular hotels — Hotel Omm in Barcelona, Hotel Vernet in Paris, India’s Park Hotel Hyderabad, and the Ion Luxury Adventure Hotel in Nesjavellir — and the creative stories behind each. – Tucker Bowe

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Hotel Omm

Where: Barcelona, Spain
Member Since: 09/2003
Architecture: Juli Capella
Design: Sandra Tarruella, Isabel López
Rooms: 91
Rates: €215–€1,300 (~$233-$1,410)
Meet the Original: Rosa Maria Esteva

With little more than passion and an unwavering belief in herself, restaurateur Rosa Maria Esteva took on a hotel project that would become legend. Hotel Omm, that iconic structure in Barcelona’s elegant Passeig de Gràcia, came to life thanks to Esteva’s bold leap of faith. Already wildly successful with Grupo Tragaluz (a joint venture with her son that includes 16 restaurants), she believed that she could produce a standout hotel, even if she had no experience in that arena.

“I wanted to do this alone because this was my vision,” she says. “My dream was to build a hotel that I would want to stay in. I’ve traveled a lot in my lifetime and I understood exactly what it was I wanted to create.”

The results speak for themselves. Hotel Omm looks, at first, like the ultimate meeting place for international movers and shakers. But behind the captivating appearance is also a kind of smooth, effortless usability. Sections of the unusual limestone façade teasingly peel back like pages of a book about to reveal the rooms inside. Yet what seems like decorative fantasy is actually functional: The angled windows shield guests from outside views and street noise, but allow direct sunlight to flood in.

To pull off her dream, Esteva became the sole owner of the hotel, but still she didn’t exclude her family. She sought the counsel of her son, as well as her daughters: One of whom created the hotel’s cozy cosmopolitan interiors, and another daughter whose artwork hangs throughout the property. That designer daughter, Sandra Tarruella, along with Isabel López, based the hotel’s interior concept on simple lines and a balance of colors and volumes, as well as natural materials without extravagant adornments. The spacious lobby cleverly flows into a sleek bar, and then into the restaurant Roca Moo, with furnishings kept at a low, uniform height to allow guests to glide through just as freely. A full-service spa in an adjacent wing echoes the hotel’s jet-set elegance.

Black rubber-lined corridors with two tubes of light spanning their length, lead guests to the 91 rooms and suites, creating a futuristic atmosphere. Standing in the dark hallways and then entering the light-filled rooms provides a buoyant, uplifting experience: Doors open directly into the expansive guestrooms, which are unrestricted by an intermediary corridor. Furnishings are limited to modular pieces, and only a lightweight metal wardrobe and an entertainment unit separate the bedroom from the bathroom — again avoiding the superfluous without forfeiting comfort in any way.

“My dream was to build a hotel that I would want to stay in. I’ve traveled a lot in my lifetime and I understood exactly what it was I wanted to create.”

The bones of Hotel Omm itself are the function-driven creation of architect Juli Capella. Those angled windows and its wide, light-filled rooms convey to guests the satisfaction that comes from the perfect marriage of form and function. But those windows weren’t always a given. Esteva cleverly noted that though the size of the window openings on her hotel would be strictly controlled, the angle at which they would open was not. So, by skewing the windows and balconies sideways — creating the hotel’s signature “peeling window” façade — guests would be given privacy, artfully framed views, and that abundant sunshine.

It was a win-win solution, and when it opened in 2003, the Hotel Omm was quickly proclaimed one of the most eye-catching and architecturally innovative edifices to be built in Barcelona’s Eixample district in decades. That’s no small accomplishment given that it’s just a block away from Gaudi’s La Pedrera.

Coming from a restaurant world that is all about an intersection between locals and visitors, Esteva innately knew the importance of creating a hotel that was also part of the neighborhood scene. One that didn’t just reside in the community, but welcomed community members in. “We’ve managed to keep locals in the mix,” Esteva points out. “I always think it’s a bit sad when hotels become tourist ghettos.” Far from that, Hotel Omm is a modern-day masterpiece that stands as a living, breathing testament to the vision and courage of its founder.

Hotel Vernet

Where: Paris, France
Member Since: 11/2013
Architecture: Albert Joseph Sélonier
Design: François Champsaur
Rooms: 50
Rates: €290–€2,100 (~$315-$2,278)
Meet the Original: Anne Jousse

Who knew that the secret to opening standout hotels in Paris could be found in the insurance business? Apparently Anne Jousse, who worked as an insurance broker for twenty years before turning towards hospitality. And what a turn! As president of Bessé Signature, a family-run hotel brand that offers luxury with a human face, Jousse set out to create the ideal space for business and leisure. In 2005, they opened the Bel Ami in Saint-Germaindes-des-Prés on Paris’s Left Bank, embracing ancient history and lively culture in the former stomping ground of the Parisian intelligentsia. And just last year, she created the magic all over again with the transformation of the iconic Hotel Vernet.

Located a few steps from Paris’ celebrated Arc de Triomph, within the city’s golden triangle, the once traditional Vernet has been transformed by Paris-based architect François Champsaur into a sleek 50-room boutique hotel. Housed in a post-Haussmann building that dates from 1913, the exterior is the embodiment of Parisian charm, which complements the fresh modernity that lies within.

The story behind the original building itself is a rich one. The clean limestone façade and charming black ironwork balconies are the work of French architect Albert-Joseph Sélonier, who designed close to 300 buildings throughout the French capital. Set over seven floors, the landmark structure merges seamlessly with the aesthetics of the street.

Inside, Hotel Vernet has emerged from a complete overhaul with its once traditional interiors transformed into a contemporary haven. Champsaur has employed his characteristic attention to detail by artfully playing with light and volume, filling the space with warm tones, modern furniture, and tactile fabrics.

Clearly, Jousse wants the reimagined interiors of these historic structures to also be seen as a part of today’s Paris; places for business, for leisure, and for the modern way of mixing the two. Nowhere is this mix clearer than in the dining area of Hotel Vernet — just look up. Over its dining room arcs a breathtaking glass dome designed by Gustave Eiel a century ago, which Jousse has impeccably restored.

As a counterpoint to this historic masterwork, for the ceiling of the hotel’s bar Jousse commissioned a fresco by the renowned Algeria-born painter Jean-Michel Alberola, who also designed the carpet underfoot to echo his ceiling. While Eiel’s dome speaks the language of order and power, Alberola’s is an organic, energetic vision. Together they distill the last century of Paris, and perhaps the next.

Why such a strong desire to introduce new design features into such a great historical setting? Jousse explains: “Something new happens every day. There is constant pressure to change, to update, to remake. You must always be changing and improving yourself.” Perhaps this explains why the hotel also pride’s itself on its in-house concierge service. The city in which Hotel Vernet sits, like the hotel itself, is constantly changing. Thus, whether guests are inside or out, they can receive guidance that will enable them to have the ideal Parisian experience.

Ion Luxury Adventure Hotel

Where: Nesjavellir, Iceland
Member Since: 10/2013
Architecture: Tryggvi Thorsteinsson (Minarc)
Design: Erla Dögg Ingjaldsdóttir (Minarc)
Rooms: 45
Rates: ISK 33,500–51,000 ($256-$390)
Meet the Original: Sigurlaug Sverrisdóttir

For those of us who have yet to journey to Iceland and only have a vague, often chilly idea of what might be in store for us there, it pays to remember this expression: “Greenland is ice, but Iceland is green.”

Or put another way, Iceland is a verdant and stunningly beautiful land packed with unexpected joys for the first-time traveler. Sigurlaug Sverrisdóttir, the driving force behind ION Luxury Adventure Hotel, is no stranger to either the unexpected pleasures of travel or those found in her home country of Iceland. A former cabin-crew member, she has organized adventure tours to Switzerland and provided training and recruitment services to airlines.

In other words, Sverrisdóttir has just what it takes to pull off such a mesmerizing property as ION. She has the adventurous spirit that one immediately sees in the hotel, which is carved almost defiantly into its rugged Icelandic setting, and the grounded business sense and organizational acumen to make it all work.

But “adventurous and grounded” are only two of the many words that seem to embody the hotel. Others, including “fire and ice” and “hot and cold,” are typical of the opposites that find themselves yoked together when bold modern design meets this country’s incomparable natural landscape.

Situated in Nesjavellir, by Lake Thingvallavatn on the southwest part of the island, ION offers guests convenient access to all parts of Iceland, from the volcanic marvels of Mount Hengill to the urban sophistication of Reykjavík nearby. Here, the unique landscape plays a pivotal role in the rich design of the hotel, which leans heavily on sustainable practices and the natural features of the island.

Throughout the hotel’s 45 rooms, guests discover a mellow mix of concrete chic and earthy ambiance, combined with the warm accents of locally salvaged driftwood and lava; all deftly handled by Santa Monica-based design studio Minarc. Fair-Trade organic linens and wooden flooring are found in all accommodations, where the sustainable ethos of the hotel is also realized via water-saving shower systems, and beds and chairs made from recycled materials.

Of course, long before you even see the hotel’s interior and its innovative and sustainable design, the property itself stands out in the landscape like a modern-day knight in armor atop a series of pillars dramatically jutting out of the slopes of Mount Hengill. This metaphor of strength and power is no accident. ION’s austere past as an inn for workers at the Nesjavellir Geothermal Power Station served as the canvas for it’s future as a chic bolt-hole. The abandoned building was acquired in 2011 and — with the assistance of Minarc — renovated, with a new wing added. The new elements of the structure were built using a prefabricated panelized building system, which exceeds environmentally safe building standards.

Park Hotel Hyderabad

Where: Hyderabad, India
Member Since: 09/2009
Architecture: SOM Skidmore Owings & Merrill LLP
Design: SOM Skidmore Owings & Merrill LLP, Conran & Partners
Rooms: 268
Rates: INR 15,000–100,000 (~$224-$1,495)
Meet the Original: Priya Paul

How do you build something unlike anything a city has seen before, yet also tap into themes that are part of that city’s ancient fabric? Just ask design wonder Priya Paul, the history-minded visionary behind Park Hotel Hyderabad.

“The city of Hyderabad is known for its precious jewels and jewelry,” says the leader of India’s pioneering boutique hotel group The Park Hotels. “It’s also known for its palaces. When I started to visualize the Park Hyderabad, I wanted to create a modern palace inspired by the city’s artistic traditions.”

“Our hotels are not just places for travelers to lay their heads, but happening meeting places in the city that they are in. If you are a guest at our hotels, you are engaging in a local hub.”

And what traditions! The design for the hotel’s grand façade was based on the intricate settings and metalwork found in the Nizam of Hyderabad collection, an exceptional 173-piece set of dazzling jewelry created for the Nizam family, who ruled Hyderabad for about two centuries until India’s independence.

But instead of the Nizam’s 140-carat diamond, the hotel show – cases a 120-foot-long pool — from two perspectives. To bathers, it’s a seamless and inviting body of water, but underneath the pool is Kismet, the hotel’s nightclub, conceived by the cutting edge British design company Blacksheep, with a windowed ceiling that reveals the pool’s liquid depths. It’s not uncommon for those enjoying a cocktail to glimpse the occasional leg or torso of a swimmer gliding through the shimmering water.

Priya Paul’s hotels frequently offer such “windows” into other worlds and realities. And they are clearly found throughout The Park Hyderabad’s interiors where guestrooms are a canvas of sleek white. Here, Paul fuses color, art, and textures — all bathed in a sea of light — to create a welcoming sense of calm and respite from India’s intensely sensual and hyperkinetic environment.

A warm welcome is especially important for Paul. “Our hotels are not just places for travelers to lay their heads, but happening meeting places in the city that they are in,” she explains. “If you are a guest at our hotels, you are engaging in a local hub.”

This “hub” appeal and desire to connect guests with their environment is why the indoor and outdoor spaces at Park Hyderabad merge so seamlessly. Here, in addition to its jewelry inspired façade, the hotel’s unique construction is focused on The Verandah. The heart of the building, it is a flexible, outdoor space that extends the lobby and restaurant as well as providing access to the private dining area. It is also a gateway to that famous pool, which fills the hotel with light and rippling reflections, bathing even the night club with the serenity of its motion.

If Park Hyderabad sounds like the product of one who thrives on the artistic creations of people around her, that’s because it is. Paul is especially in tune with the offerings of her fellow Indians. “The scene here has been developing rapidly in the last ten years,” she says. “It’s been really exciting to be here as it’s happening and to work with some of the most talented artists.”

When she describes what the most interesting of these up-and-coming artists and designers are trying to accomplish, it sounds like she is speaking about herself and her hotels: “It’s about reinventing a contemporary India with its past,” she says. “That’s where it’s at, whether you’re talking about music or design. The most talented artists are taking traditional elements but expressing them in different ways,” she says passionately, and then pauses briefly before concluding, “This is the new India.”

The last word, however, may just go to Park Hyderabad, where expression abounds, and where the difference one finds is both new and tied intricately and beautifully to the past.

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