As Azure celebrates its 30th anniversary, we look back on the most exciting hotel interiors of the past three decades, by such designers as Philippe Starck, Zaha Hadid and Julian Schnabel.
1 Hotel Il Palazzo in Japan, by Aldo Rossi (1987)
In this monumental building, the Iranian travertine columns and copper lintels appear to frame a grid of openings. In fact, the main facade is completely bereft of windows. In designing the seven-storey hotel, a collaboration with interior designer Shigeru Uchida, Aldo Rossi was actually inspired by E.M. Forster’s A Room With A View, a book that slowly focuses the characters’ attention on the life inside the hotel. The Italian architect – who designed, wrote and taught from the 1960s until his death in 1997 – penned an equally influential architecture book that argued against the International Style. He believed that cities hold our collective memories, and based his modern designs on the repetitive shapes and volumes of traditional architecture.
2 Im Wasserturm, Cologne, by Andree Putman (1990)
Fresh from having revived New York’s Morgans Hotel (and the career of Studio 54 magnate Ian Schrager along with it), Andree Putman got to work on the Im Wasserturm in Cologne. The one-time water tower, built in 1868, was given the French design doyenne’s classic touch, from its exposed-brick reception to the minimal wall lights, elegant ensuite washrooms and sophisticated palette of creams and dark woods. The timeless style of Putman, who rejected the overwrought style of most luxury accommodations, became a benchmark for boutique hotels.
3 The Delano, Miami, by Philippe Starck (1994)
Philippe Starck brought the glam to South Beach with The Delano, for hotelier Ian Schrager, who kickstarted the French designer’s hotel-revamping spree with New York’s The Royalton in 1988. The hotel marked a turning point for the beach, better known at that time for its dark underbelly (think Scarface and Miami Vice) than as an international hotspot. As he set out to revamp the 1947 building, Starck told the New York Times: “Miami style, to me, is terrible…You can build a real place from Miami, if we keep the essence of the weather, the smells, the quality of the water, a place of adventure. The Delano will have the honesty of the place, not the trend.” Twenty years later, the city is synonynous with art, design and culture (with architecture by Herzog & de Meuron and events like Art Basel/Miami) and the hotel helped set the stage for all that came after. Even after a few updates, its white-curtained lobby will let you know you’ve arrived in Miami.
4 Therme Vals, Switzerland, by Peter Zumthor (1996)
Peter Zumthor is the ultimate architect-philosopher, and the fantastic Therme Vals remains the ultimate spa destination. Almost 20 years after it was completed, the building still inspires architecture lovers to fall all over themselves in describing the emotional experience of a sojourn there. Situated near an existing hotel and atop the only thermal springs in Graubunden canton, the block-like structure is built up from 60,000 slabs of local Valser Quarzite – a manmade interpretation of a modern quarry. Glowing green with the water, the subterranean space is complemented by outdoor pools above ground. The spa was named a protected monument only two years after it was completed.
5 The Standard, Los Angeles, by Shawn Hausman (1999)
Today, Andre Balazs is almost as famous as the company he keeps (he’s dated everyone from Courtney Love to Uma Thurman). As the hotelier behind the Standard brand – which has five properties, including one on the High Line – he has created accommodations that are both stylish and affordable. He opened the first Standard just after his success with The Mercer in New York. The west coast property was a “a new twist, an entirely different take, on the idea of the inexpensive hotel,” Balazs told Vanity Fair. That same magazine described the interior – by production designer Shawn Hausman – as “Barbella-meets-Charles-Eames-meets-Sheik Abdullah’s 707.” Hausman brought together classic lighting fixtures and furnishings from the mid-century onward to conjure a contemporary setting – and the formula worked.
6 Ace Hotel, Seattle, by Alexander Calderwood (1999)
In setting out to create a place where his friends – artists, writers, DJs and the like – would want to hang out, Alex Calderwood ended up curating a hotel that epitomized the kind of cool atmosphere that the hippest travellers could appreciate. Set in a formerly derelict building in Seattle’s Belltown district, the original Ace Hotel had a shambolic feel, from its barbershop to its bedrooms, ranging from bunk bed suites to loftier ones, decorated by street artists – friends of Calderwood, who, sadly, died in 2014 of a drug overdose. There are now seven Ace Hotels, including in London and Panama, all of which carry through the original vision, serving up art programming and locavore cuisine.
7 Una Hotel Vittoria, Florence, by Fabio Novembre (2003)
In one of the most romantic places on earth, and the birthplace of the Renaissance, Fabio Novembre – a Milan architect known for his sensual aesthetic – designed a modern hotel that combined sexy design gestures and modern touches, like high-speed WiFi and LED lighting in the bedrooms. Floral mosaics (a Bisazza pattern) bloom all over the walls, and red lounges snake their way through the space. In Azure, Sonja Rasula wrote, “Upon entry, guests immediately encounter Novembre’s sensuous design. While he reassures guests with traditional Italian materials such as mosaic tile and stained glass, it’s his integration of modern technology and technique that make the Vittoria so intriguing.” We were impressed back then, and remain so at the unabashedly passionate interior.
8 The Drake Hotel, Toronto, by 3rd Uncle (2004)
“You can still reserve a room at 1150 Queen Street West – but it will now cost you between $119 and $249 per night. What’s more, the Stardust’s garish blue paint job has been replaced by a sleek black and bronze facade, a chrome canopy and neon signage, while the 114-year-old structure is rebranding the name it held for the last half of the 20th century:” That’s Stuart Berman describing the just-opened Drake Hotel – designed by 3rd Uncle (whose John Tong, Arriz Hassam and Paul Syme have since parted ways) – in Azure magazine.
Relaunched by entrepreneur Jeff Stober, the Toronto hotel was and remains a curated mix of spaces, including the main dining room with its eclectic shelving, Rorschach-flocked wall coverings and mix-and-match chairs; the cafe, animated by a giant light fixture made out of old bike parts; and the underground and rooftop bars. It doesn’t get more boho-chic than this. The revamp changed the face of seedy West Queen West, transforming it into the Vogue-approved neighbourhood of indie galleries, trendy restaurants and new condo buildings it is today.
9 Puerta America, Madrid, by various designers (2005)
Never mind five-star hotels. Puerta America is an all-star hotel: the Silken hotel group invited 19 of the world’s top architects and designers, including Zaha Hadid, Norman Foster and Jean Nouvel, to design the spaces of its Madrid property. Nouvel also had a hand in the building’s vibrant facade – a multihued compositon of PVC sunshades calligraphed in Paul Éluard’s Liberté poem. When it opened, Azure sent Sylvie Berkowitz to check in for the night, which presented a dilemma. “Formal introductions made, now comes the big question: with whom do you spend the night?…The choice is difficult. Zaha Hadid and her fluid space? Norman Foster and his sombre sanctuary? Jean Nouvel and his photo gallery?”
10 Gramercy Park, New York, by Julian Schabel (2006)
If anyone can set a scene, it is Julian Schnabel. The director of such searingly beautiful films as Basquiat and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is one of New York’s most legendary living artists – so when Ian Schrager invited him to refurbish an iconic Manhattan hotel (built in 1925 in the Renaissance Revival style), he raised the bar – and the curtains. Red velvet drapes are just one layer of the richly decorated interior: Eschewing the slick modern feel of Schrager’s other properties (many designed by Philippe Starck), Schnabel opted for luxurious details: Aubusson carpets, bronze tables, hand-carved stone fireplaces.
But there are some eclectic moves, including the 4,000-bulb ceiling in the Drawing Room, and the Maarten Baas pieces – Smoke chairs in the guest rooms and a custom-designed pool table in one of the basement bars. Schrager, who had worked with artists in the past (such as Keith Haring, Kenny Scharf and Francesco Clemente) gave Schnabel the freedom to bring back the glory days of hotels, and he delivered quite the show.
Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram with the hashtag #Azure30, for more on the 30th anniversary of Azure. Want more on hospitality design? Have a peek at Azure’s Mar/Apr 2015 issue, now on newsstands.