When Eloise took up residence at The Plaza, her room was remarkable as a destination for room service but hardly as a design statement. With few exceptions, top hotels used to equip guest rooms with furniture of indeterminate period, unknown origin, and indefinite shape. The comment "Your house looks just like a hotel" was anything but praise.
Then in the mid-eighties in New York, Ian Schrager changed hotel design forever. He hired Andrée Putman to revamp the dowdy Morgans and Philippe Starck to turn the Royalton into a kind of party, where the furniture would be as interesting as the guests. The era of the hotel as chic stage set was born.
These stylish retreats attracted design-hungry visitors, and over the past two decades this clientele has increasingly sought to take its hotel room home. Curious to know how the sophisticated American house will look in, say, 2008? Then travel to the southern tip of Bali's Jimbaran Peninsula, where Antonio Citterio (whose spare designs for B&B Italia make him a perennial star at Milan furniture fairs) is completing a new Bulgari hotel: Euro sleek meets South Seas sybaritic. Or go to Lisbon, Portugal; here Grace Leo-Andrieu, creator of The Montalembert in Paris, has outfitted the new Bairro Alto Hotel with ocher walls and butterscotch-rich upholstery. It's a safe bet that the leading-edge decor of these hotels will soon turn up in homes in Aspen, La Jolla, and Greenwich.
The trend works both ways. If homes are imitating hotels, hotels are also imitating homes. At the Four Seasons Hotel New York, the latest suites by Peter Marino feature materials usually reserved for private residences or even fashion, such as Thai silks and mother-of-pearl. A few blocks away, Sills Huniford Associates, the firm responsible for some of the world's finest houses, is redecorating the rooms at the St. Regis Hotel.
With such talent fashioning hotel interiors, it's no wonder that travelers who once photographed scenery now shoot hotel rooms' desks and sofas. Still, as the New York designer Benjamin Noriega-Ortiz has found, it isn't only objects that people covet. "They show me a picture of a room and say, 'Make it look like this.' But then I'll point at things in the picture and they'll say, 'No, I don't like this. I don't like that.' It turns out it's the feeling of the place they're after."
"People want to live as if they're on vacation," explains David Wine, vice chairman of the Related Companies, developer of many of New York's most prestigious residential buildings. That's why he turns to hotel experts to outfit the public spaces in his company's properties. In decorating his own Manhattan apartment, Wine was inspired by a trip to the Singita Boulders Lodge in South Africa's Kruger National Park; he especially liked the way the architecture framed the views. Back home he asked designer Shamir Shah to achieve the same effect, with Central Park playing the role of savanna.
More than a dozen Amanresorts around the world are at the head of the most-imitated list, which also includes Delano in Miami Beach and hotels designed by Leo-Andrieu (The Montalembert, the Royal Riviera in St.-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, and Le Toiny on St. Barths). Newer hotels—Citterio's Bulgari in Milan, a pair of Boston boutiques (XV Beacon and Nine Zero), L.A.'s Sunset Marquis Hotel and Villas, and two places called just The Hotel (one by Todd Oldham in Miami Beach, the other by Jean Nouvel in Lucerne, Switzerland)—also influence clients.
"Many people have the means but not necessarily the imagination or ability to think in 3-D," explains Leo-Andrieu, who studied hotel administration at Cornell. "Hotels provide ideas that you can make your own."
For those homeowners overwhelmed by the many products on the market and styles shown in magazines, guest rooms can turn into catalogues for that perfect chair, bed, sconce. Staying at a hotel becomes akin to test-driving a car—but far more intimate. "Whenever a client tells me, 'Give me the hotel room of my dreams,' I try to make it better," says Frank de Biasi, senior director of interiors for Michael Graves and Associates. "In a home, you can go a little further with the details."
Brown Cranna, of New York's Studio Luxe, has on occasion been asked to replicate a hotel room. "I may take inspiration from it, but I try to make the home more individual," he says. One of Cranna's clients wanted to replicate Wheatleigh, the hotel in the Berkshires designed by Calvin Tsao and Zack McKown. (The two have also done some of New York's most beautiful apartments.) But the place was only 900 square feet—and Wheatleigh is known for its extravagant proportions. So Cranna improvised, using shapes and textures suited to that scale.
Abigail Turin, a San Francisco-based architect, appreciates the clever layouts of Raffles L'Ermitage Beverly Hills, a popular role model for her clients' decor fantasies. "They're very interested in how bathrooms, dressing rooms, and closets fit together," she says. Turin, with projects in California, Cape Town, and Provence, welcomes ideas from well-designed lodgings, but not from places that are simply of the moment—where the details, she explains, don't hold up.
Others skip a step and hire the designer of the hotel. Paula and Gerret Conover, the owners of the Charlotte Inn on Martha's Vineyard, recall one couple who had built a house on the island and asked them to furnish it in the inn's style. "They basically gave us free rein and told us, 'Make it look like the inn,' " Paula says.
Books filled with images of hotels—among them Herbert Ypma's Hip Hotels series and several coffee-table books from Taschen—are big sellers. "Hotels have gone from being bland and plain to being way theatrical," says L.A. designer Tim Clarke, who often works with Hollywood moguls. And the stakes keep getting higher. Giorgio Armani is creating about a dozen hotels in partnership with a developer in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates. Rumors have Ralph Lauren planning resorts in Colorado and Jamaica. But perhaps nothing will be more lush than Peter Marino's $15,000-a-night suites at the Four Seasons Hotel New York.
The hotel-to-home trend started slowly, with guests who might once have lifted an ashtray now asking about furniture and fixtures. Concierges have grown accustomed to questions like "Who made the sink?" and "What kind of wood is that?" Terms such as Duravit and wenge are scribbled on scraps of paper as if they were stock tips; the beds at the W hotels are now a hot commodity on the chain's Web site. The Wynn Las Vegas, which at presstime was scheduled to open in late April, features a store selling its specialized designs. And if you can order a lamp or a mattress, why not acquire the entire look? The glass-bead curtain from the white bathrooms at London's Dorchester, the slate roof of the coach house at the Charlotte Inn—these have also been appropriated. The two-story-high, ethereal curtains of Miami Beach's Delano are also often copied.
Even if the phenomenon of copying hotels is new, the hotels aren't always. Ali Tayar, a New York architect, says one client had always admired room 606 of the Radisson SAS Royal Hotel in Copenhagen, which was designed in the late fifties by Arne Jacobsen. The book Room 606 helped Tayar understand Jacobsen's Danish-modern aesthetic and incorporate it into his customer's house in South Africa.
Some of those whose designs have been imitated are imitators themselves. David Easton, a renowned New York interior designer, was commissioned to create the restaurant at Aspen's Little Nell. One of its most striking elements is a red polished cork floor with dark diamond-shaped inserts. The floor was a hit not only with guests but with the owners as well, who cloned it for their Chicago kitchen.
Easton is not surprised. "I went to Fontainebleau outside Paris on a postgraduate scholarship and stayed in an hôtel particulier [a private mansion]. On the first floor there was a round window directly above the fireplace." The effect required a flue that angled around the window. "I was awed," he says. "I've since used the concept several times."
Designers are of two minds about the trend. "It does sort of bug me," Tim Clarke says of being asked to replicate another's ideas. "And then I go to hotels and find myself taking pictures of really good details."
Some turn the tables, using hotels to show clients what they envision. The firm Bodron+Fruit in Dallas was commissioned to do a 12,000-square-foot house overlooking a golf course in Fort Worth, Texas. Mil Bodron knew he wanted to employ a lot of sycamore; to gain their consent, he showed the clients the sycamore dressing rooms at the Four Seasons.
Edward Tuttle, an American architect living in Paris, has worked on six Amanresorts—in Jackson Hole; Bali; Marrakech; Indonesia's Central Java; Phuket, Thailand; and the new Amanbagh in India's Rajasthan (see "Aman's Majesty" in BlackBook).
Tuttle declines most requests to design homes. "A lot of people call," he says, "but we don't have time." So when Tuttle's creations influence homeowners, as they often do, other designers land the commissions. "We put a lot of thought into making people comfortable," says Tuttle of his hotel projects. "And if that inspires them after they're home, terrific."
Rooms with a Point of View
When the Aleph hotel in Rome opened in 2003, designer ADAM D. TIHANY had a hit on his hands. Best known for his theatrical restaurants—most recently Per Se in New York—Tihany fashioned stunning rooms at Aleph, as plush as required but also utterly unexpected. The walls, for example, feature floor-to-ceiling photo murals of piazzas, creating the illusion that you're floating amid Rome's great public spaces. Design awards followed the debut. But perhaps the greatest accolades came from the guests who clamored to bring Tihany's style into their own homes. Hotel design is now home design, Tihany says: "Tell me where you stay and I'll tell you who you are."
WHAT ARE GUESTS LOOKING FOR?
I constantly get e-mail from people who stay at the Aleph and want everything from the faucets to the light fixtures to the art—you name it. You can walk into any design store and find Philippe Starck, but at Aleph the rooms are 100 percent custom, so you can't readily find the products, which makes them even more desirable. You get to try things out, too—in a hotel you can sleep on sheets that in a department store you can only look at. The hotel is a laboratory of ideas. It's inevitable that those ideas will find their way into people's homes.
HOW DO YOU WORK WITH SUCH LIMITED SPACE?
You can't reinvent the wheel. You have a whole list of things the room must be that you have to provide, so the design is about using furnishings and accessories in a different fashion. You don't reinvent the bed—but you might hang it from the ceiling. The area is small, making the challenge that much greater. But 99 percent of the population lives in rooms that are twelve by six feet. The problems in a home are the same.
BUT PEOPLE VIEW THEIR HOMES DIFFERENTLY.
Residential clients have a different mind-set—they're thinking permanence, not temporary thrill. What you build becomes part of the real estate. With hotels you can see some details differently. Like the interiors of drawers, for example: how to design them to surprise when you open them up. What if the lining had a picture of Michael Moore? You'd remember it. Most of the ideas people take from the hotel are the reading lamp or color scheme—not the surprises inside the closet.
Elements of Styles
If a curvy chaise or a high-tech showerhead catches their eye, hotel guests are not shy about requesting to buy it right then and there. Staff are often happy to oblige by offering the items for sale directly or by connecting guests with the appropriate manufacturer or craftsperson. The most popular furnishings, such as these, combine style and utility.
CITY CLUB, NEW YORK
CERAMIC STOOL The Brancusiesque piece is chic and versatile, working as a side table or a seat.
DELANO, MIAMI BEACH, FLORIDA
FLOOR-TO-CEILING CURTAINS Guests have adapted the diaphanous drapes from the hotel's lobby to use in their homes—on a smaller scale.
THE DORCHESTER, LONDON
TEXTILES Vibrantly colored and richly patterned fabrics are a signature of this hotel; guests often request copies of the smallest details, such as decorative tassels.
HOTEL LANCASTER, PARIS
CHINOISERIE TABLEWARE The set is by hotel owner-cum-designer Grace Leo-Andrieu.
THE PHOENICIAN, SCOTTSDALE, ARIZONA
HURRICANE LAMPS Crafted of brass and mouth-blown glass, the lamps keep up with the hotel's southwestern style.
THE POINT, UPSTATE NEW YORK
FURNITURE The chairs, chess tables, even grandfather clocks are made by artisans working in the Adirondack tradition.
RANCHO DE SAN JUAN, SANTA FE, NEW MEXICO
GLASS-BLOCK SHOWER The owner, a former architect, supplies guests with the specs to build the shower—gratis.
THE REGENT BEVERLY WILSHIRE, FOUR SEASONS, BEVERLY HILLS
NORMANDIE BED Those who buy this famously comfortable bed with its elegant black headboard often purchase the mattress and matching linens.
WHITE BARN INN, KENNEBUNKPORT, MAINE
SHOWER SYSTEM Eight inches in diameter, the oversize showerhead is from the premier line of the renowned British firm Lefroy Brooks.