Five-Star Reception

Some of our favorite architects and interior designers take us on an evocative tour of their ultimate hotel spaces, places, and experiences.

A fine hotel is more than just a comfortable place to rest your head and an escape from the norm. (A Ramada delivers that much). So what makes a hotel truly great? To flesh out an answer, we asked ten designers (a discriminating and worldly bunch) to name their favorite hospitality spaces. The answers vary aesthetically and geographically, but they all have one thing in common: a strong connection to place, whether it’s Fasano’s rooftop pool overlooking Ipanema Beach and the surrounding favelas in Rio, or the Old Hollywood feel of the Fountain Coffee Room at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Not only do these hotels reflect their physical locations, but they immerse their visitors in local ritual: at Tawaraya, in Kyoto, guests are invited to soak in a predrawn bath with views of a Japanese garden; at La Tourette monastery in France, boarders receive a silent greeting from a robed monk. Together, the following pages speak to a craving for authenticity in a globalized age. —B.L.

Jamie Drake on the Mandarin Oriental, Barcelona, Spain
The entry of the new Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Barcelona is pure drama. A veritable catwalk ascends from the street, bringing you up slowly and grandly to reception. Totally contemporary, the design by Patricia Urquiola finds amazing visual corollaries between its subtle Asian devices and classic Spanish ones. Once you reach the lobby, the space opens up to a sunken dining room viewed through glass walls. Dreamy and poetic, the rooms and bathrooms are sublime as well. -P.M.
Designed by Patricia Urquiola
Built in 2009

Gregg Pasquarelli on the Hotel Fasano, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
My absolute favorite spot of the last five years is the Hotel Fasano, in Rio—a very nice, high-end, boutique hotel. It’s right on Ipanema Beach, which in and of itself would be great, but the best part is the rooftop pool, which has a double-infinity edge facing the ocean and the beach. At night, it’s just incredible: the ocean is lit up from the beaches, the favelas are twinkling in the mountains, and Christ the Redeemer is floating above you. -B.L.
Designed by Philippe Starck
Built in 2008

Kit Kemp on La Posta Vecchia Hotel, Ladispoli, Italy
La Posta Vecchia is the perfect prelude to Rome. After a day of sightseeing, you return on a twenty-minute train ride, arriving in a very sleepy town. The hotel is a grand, beautiful old house by the sea and such a contrast to the bustle of Rome. Here you can enjoy the simplicity of bicycling around the vegetable garden, or lie in your bed and listen to the sound of crashing waves. The atmosphere is relaxed and unhurried. The shuttered windows open out onto the sea—and, in fact, you can hear the ocean from almost every room in the hotel. The room is warm and rich, with a smattering of 16th- and 17th-century furniture and a wonderful oak ceiling. Jean Paul Getty once owned the hotel, giving the suite its somewhat incongruous name and faint whiff of nostalgia. -M.P.
Built in 1640

Rene Gonzalez on the Witt Istanbul Hotel, Istanbul, Turkey
I love staying in hotels. The perfect place for me is a small to medium-sized place. All the hotels I enjoy have a lot of light and are lofty. In other words, I don’t like hotel rooms. When I’ve stayed in suites that have a living room and separate bedroom, I found it uncomfortable and kind of a waste of space. That’s why I love the Witt Hotel, in Istanbul, which has a little sitting area and, of course, a bed, but it is all open, like a loft, with an amazing terrace where you can see the city and hear the call to prayers, which is just magical.

A hotel room should have a connection to its place—whether that means staying in a great neighborhood or looking out at an incredible vista. In this case, we were in the Cihangir neighborhood overlooking Istanbul. I search out places that are richer, where you’re able to see real people, get a sense of the way the locals live, and feel like you’re closer to them. Whenever possible, I go with people I know and hang out with people that live there. That makes all the difference in the world. -P.M.
Designed by Autoban
Built in 2008

David Rockwell on the Hotel Cipriani, Venice, Italy
This is a case where context is everything. You’re in Venice, surrounded by the city, but you’ve taken a boat to get here, which is part of what makes the city so amazingly surreal. Whenever I visit Venice, I always think about water before getting there: the water taxis, the gondolas, the bridges, the lagoons. But when you’re there, and you’re reminded again that that’s how people really get around, it’s almost impossible to take in. And this enormous pool is set on the lagoon in the midst of unbelievable gardens, so when you’re in that space you’re both part of the city and removed from it. It’s such an incredible contrast. The city is so dense that having the release of this space, with the city around it, magnifies its impact. The scale of the pool, which is almost Olympic size, combined with the gardens, the lagoons, and the domes and spires of Venice beyond—I think it’s one of the most magical places in the world. -M.P.
Built in 1958

Frank Clementi on La Tourette monastery, Eveux sur Arbresle, France
When you’re traveling in Europe as an American architect, there are these points you’re expected to see. They become like pilgrimages to holy places. A lot of times the effect isn’t worth the effort; you check the building off the list and go on to the next one. But Corbu’s buildings were not like that. They were all really hard to get to and all really amazing once you got there. Even the way you approach the monastery is so different from that of a traditional hotel experience. When you go to what in other places would be called “reception,” you’re greeted by a guy in a robe (and he’s not on his way to the pool). You’re always a little bit unsure: Does he carry my bags or do I? Maybe that’s why that place works so well and forces itself on you. Not because it’s so assertive architecturally but because you’re so unsure of how to interact with it that you’re more aware of everything about it. Corbu’s monastery has this remarkable way of relating the interiors to exterior vistas. The most significant space is the courtyard and the simple stone cloister that focuses one’s attention inward, rather than out to the countryside. Corbu did an amazing job of let-ting the landscape on this hillside roll underneath this courtyard, so that the monastery actually hovers above the landscape. Another interesting aspect of the building: in the fifties, there was already a green roof, and no one made a big deal about it. -B.L.
Designed by Le Corbusier
Built in 1953-60

Richard Meier on Claridge’s, London
First of all, the service is impeccable. I don’t go there that often, but they still address me by my name, so immediately you feel like you’re in a grand hotel. And what’s nice about the dining room is, it’s really an extension of the lobby. There’s a feeling of openness, activity. It’s a social space. You’d much rather have your breakfast here than in your room. Architecturally, it’s not what I would think of as a great space, although it has nice proportions. It’s sort of decorated, and a little bit overdone, but I always prefer to stay in places that I could never have designed. -M.P.
Designed by C. W. Stephens
Built in 1898

Roman Alonso on the Fountain Coffee Room at the Beverly Hills Hotel, Beverly Hills, California
The Fountain Coffee Room at the Beverly Hills Hotel was designed by the architect Paul Williams during the 1949 renovation of the hotel (which was originally built in 1912 by Elmer Grey). What I love about it is that it’s basically a time capsule. It’s protected by landmark preservation, as is the exterior of the hotel, so they couldn’t ruin it like the rest of the hotel in later renovations. It’s been restored but not changed. So you have the same wallpaper and counter and chairs and menu! It’s a really small room tucked under the stairs, only like twenty seats, which makes it private and intimate, so a lot of the regulars are old movie stars and characters that live in Beverly Hills and come for breakfast and lunch. High kitsch value. The curved counter is great for sight-seeing and eavesdropping. It’s just pure old-school Beverly Hills. The decor is perfection: the green-and-white-and-pink color scheme, the banana-leaf wallpaper, the old Formica countertop and wrought-iron high stools. It’s heaven. Plus, the banana split is the best, and you can still get a real Orange Julius (fresh squeezed orange juice and vanilla ice-cream shake). -P.M.
Designed by Paul Williams
Built in 1949

George Yabu and Glenn Pushelberg on Tawaraya, Kyoto, Japan
When you cross the single step of carved stone in this traditional Japanese inn and onto the tatami mats, it’s as if you entered another world. You take off your shoes and you’re given corridor slippers. We love the old ritual as well as the sense of order. You’re greeted by an elderly woman in a kimono, who escorts you to your room. She is your rent-a-mom who takes care of you for the duration of your stay. She draws your bath for you. But what’s interesting, as a designer, is the convertibility of the room itself. When you arrive, it’s set up as a living room. When you come back later, it’s set up for dinner, and, later still, for bed. This whole notion of design in this convertible room is something hoteliers today have tried but not that successfully. There are different ways to do it today that aren’t furniture-driven—through lighting, for instance, or panels that open up, slide, and pivot to change the mood or feeling of a room. But here, this notion is expressed in the form of a grandmother, who, as soon as you leave the room, is rearranging the deck chairs so that the space becomes something else when you come back. -B.L.
Built in the early 1700s

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