Contemporary hotel design for the modern traveller

Guests checking into the Nordic Room of the Kube Hotel in Paris will be met with quite a spectacle: a bed suspended on cables appears to levitate, while LED lights change colour underneath it. Adding to the oddity is all of the white. Walls, sink, gauze drapes and tub are bathed in the pristine hue, save for a single pink pillow resting on the bed — which is, of course, white. The scene is more installation art than traveller’s respite and a press release describes the hotel as “an innovative and high-tech universe.”

Since opening in 2008 near the Montmarte district, Kube has been showing off. It houses the city’s first ice bar. And, among its 41 suites, is the Ice Room by Grey Goose wher guests fall asleep at -10 degrees in an ice bed covered in animal skin. The hotel’s advanced technology even has guests accessing their rooms through a digital fingerprint scanner and offers practical perks such as car service to the airport in an eco-friendly Lexus hybrid RX400.

This hotel is for the modern traveller — the person who doesn’t live life but boasts a lifestyle. She travels with Bang & Olufsen headphones, an eReader, a wafer-thin iPad and the latest digital camera.  To be sure, avant-garde hotel rooms are not new. The movement’s heavyweights, Andrée Putman and Philippe Starck, are both French protégés of Ian Schrager. Schrager and Starck are behind such provocative New York hotels as The Royalton (1988) and The Paramount (1990), while Putman’s career spans four decades. She conceived the magnificent Morgans hotel in 1984 for Schrager, and with it, invented the first boutique hotel.

Today, highly conceptual contemporary hotels are found in many cities, created by owners who want to provide guests with memorable experiences. Whether in North America or abroad, these hotels playfully engage the senses. It might be through a delicate signature fragrance in the room (Kube does this) or an interior that uses a single jolt of pure colour to instill instant joy, such as at the Pantone hotel in Brussels.

Being cognizant of design behooves hoteliers, as surroundings affect mood — just try omitting the outlets for a guest’s digital doodads or installing lights with switches that are insufferably difficult to find, and you’ll cue a maddening call to the front desk. These are examples of practical considerations, of course, but the interior landscape is every bit as important. It gets guests excited about visiting your property and evokes conversation. Word-of-mouth accolades are good business.

At the aforementioned 59-room Pantone, which opened in 2010, guests feel gleeful upon entry. Who wouldn’t, perched on what looks like a giant jubejube in the lobby? Made by Finn Stone, the candy-bright seat are actually called ball chairs. Glammed-up by Belgian interior designer Michel Penneman and Belgian architect Olivier Hannaert, each of the hotel’s seven floors correspond to a Pantone colour, such as green, violet or orange. Pantone, a hue-heavy line of design-inspired consumer products, have been incorporated into the property’s design. There are Pantone mugs, stationary and bags for sale. And the only colour in the pure white bathrooms comes from the Pantone soap.

“The guestrooms are works of art — white walls and bedding provide a clean, crisp canvas for saturated pops of vibrant colour,” says Lisa Herbert, executive vice-president at Pantone. “Adding to the artistry, rooms feature photographic installations by renowned Belgian photographer Victor Levy that include a spectrum of vibrant colours to create a unique ambiance in each room,” she says. “The rooms empower guests to transform their travel by selecting a room that complements their mood through colour.” The hotel even books Pantone colour consultants for informal colour consultation.

The aesthetic is an entirely different scene at Ace Hotels’ newly opened New York property, which Th e New Yo rk Time s calls “The country’s most original hotel.” The 12-storey boutique in midtown Manhattan has 260 rooms. Stylishly slapdash, these funky pads are intentionally lo-fi (yet fully wired). Rooms sport vintage Smeg fridges, record players, plaid bedding — which could have been lifted from the Brady Bunch set — side lamps that would suit a student dorm and hardwood chevron floors. Some rooms offer wooden tables that seat six, which are more living room than hotel room. Are those nicks on the tabletop? It’s as though the furnishings were haphazardly picked up at a hipster home-accessories shop. In actuality, Ace collaborated with New York-based Roman & Williams, the design firm that brought spatial nirvana to the homes of Gwyneth Paltrow and Kate Hudson.

Canada has its own share of dynamic design. Toronto’s Drake Hotel on Queen West, with its train-compartment sized crash pads (as the hotel calls them) and revolving art installations has been a boho-lovers’ hangout for nearly a decade. And, a chicer version of luxury cool can be found at the new 167-room Le Germain Maple Leaf Square boutique hotel near the Air Canada Centre. Gorgeous wood frames the shower, the bed and a nook with inset glass shelves — it’s a minimalist design, but has warmth thanks to the abundance of wood. Absent is the tired axis of boring bed, mini bar, chair and generic art.

“Hotel-room living has been reinvented as an easygoing experience,” says Viateur Michaud, principal of architectural design firm Lemay Michaud, who worked on Le Germain with designer Louise Dupont, architect Michel Aubé and hotelier Christiane Germain. Michaud points out the residential inspiration. “The room is treated like a loft,” he says. “All aspects have been thought of from the perspective of the guest’s comfort. The closet and luggage rack are positioned close to the shower and the vanity, which facilitates access to clothing. The spectacular all-glass shower is the star of the room.” Rest assured though, there are privacy blinds for bashful bathers.

Artwork was commissioned to complement the ACC next door. “Different professional athletes were asked to participate in a photo session by Toronto photographer Matthew Plexman,” Michaud says. “The bold, oversized black and white images are a very impressive surprise.” Indeed, the artful photos show a glimpse of a basketball player’s muscled back, for instance. Lighting was also key to the design. “The large windows flood the entire room with natural light,” Michaud says. (Bonus: The windows are also fully operable.)

Lighting was a prime focus for the designers, he adds. “The best feature about the lighting in the room is the Lutron control system. This eco-energy system is preprogrammed with various scenarios. The all-off function is the most popular.” It’s located at the head of the bed, so a guest can float into darkness with one easy flick.

Michaud also notes the pervasive LED lighting throughout the hotel. “In addition to being very energyefficient, this type of lighting adds to the ambiance with the use of coloured lights — when the Leafs are in town, the lighting in the lobby and corridor is blue.”

It’s a uniquely Canadian take, on the pervasive trend of bright ideas from across the globe.


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