The drive along the palm-lined lane up to the hilltop rose-colored villa passes flowering almond-tree groves surrounded by terraced gardens. Twelve years ago, when then prospective owner D. David Stein traveled this lane to reach Son Net, a 17th-century estate on the island of Majorca, off the Spanish coast, it was the fifth house he'd seen, and he didn't think it would be the last. Yet the property, though it needed work, had three features on his wish list—a tree-lined drive, an orchard, the classical arches of a noble house—and it spoke to him. "I know you're not supposed to buy emotionally," Stein says. "But this was love at first sight."
Any guest wandering into what is now the Gran Hotel Son Net would understand why. But this is six and a half years after Stein, a real estate developer formerly based in California, and local architect Antonio Obrador literally rebuilt the house from the ground up (with the hotel's co-owner, TV producer Norman Lear) and transformed it from the residence of the relocated Steins into a hotel. Perhaps that's why staying here still feels very much like being a guest in a private home.
When Stein first looked at the house, it required a lot of forgiveness. Apart from letting its physical foundations deteriorate, its previous owners had tiled over the local stone, affixed gilded cherubs to the walls, and covered the fireplaces with slabs of gray marble. "It was like a bad Hugh Hefner fantasy," says Stein.
Using painstaking techniques, architect Obrador triumphantly restored order to the chaos, preserving what he could of the original structure, such as the towering 17th-century entry doors fashioned of local pine. He improvised other elements, including the sandy-hued vaulted stone ceilings and columns, so that they seamlessly blend in and look authentically vintage. Within this textured setting, he's devised a decor of great brio with a respect for the traditional crafts of the island and a sense of unabashed luxury and glamour. And throughout Son Net, Stein's museum-quality pieces of contemporary art add just the right note. Every room is a showplace—and a surprise.
Take the sitting room on the second floor. After ascending the winding stone staircase, you're shocked to come upon Andy Warhol's lithograph of Jane Fonda and a succession of theatrical, slate-blue sashed drapes—but it works. So does the intricate antique mahogany desk with its ivory inlay and the 130-year-old blue-and-white floor tiles, uncovered during the restoration and now accented by two David Hockneys on nearby walls.
The 24 bedrooms are equally and excitingly eclectic. In number 21, the Maria de Napolis Suite, bright red-and-white-striped Majorcan fabric is mixed with 18th-century appointments: a reproduction of a Majorcan fourposter bed, an ornate French gilded mirror, and blue-and-white frescoes midway up the 14-foot ceilings (also uncovered during the restoration). In number 10, the Jaime I Suite ("Lauren Bacall's favorite," according to one staff member), a fourposter beneath a 14th-century Moorish sandstone arch is enveloped in lush peach- and lemon-colored toile de Jouy.
Downstairs, the common rooms are done up in a locally made green-and-white linen known as lenguas Mallorquinas, woven on 100-year-old looms in nearby Santa Maria. (A notable, flamboyant exception: the Etro silk in the chapel.) The motif of stylized birds looks right at home in the house. "We wanted to reflect local color, to design with Majorcan flair," says Stein. Similarly, Spanish religious paintings are dispersed throughout. Of course, visitors are also drawn to the Christo hanging over the fireplace, as well as a Chagall and a Stella.
For the more perceptive, a small masterwork, Figura Cubista by Salvador Dali (the surrealist's "so there" response when Picasso told him he couldn't paint in the Cubist style), is hidden in the balcony of the restaurant Sa Tafona, a former olive mill housing the island's largest press.
Stein admits that the restaurant is the one area of the hotel that wasn't up to snuff, so in January a new chef, François Reverdy, was hired to execute a riveting cuisine Méditerranée: roast lamb with thyme, roast partridge with shallots and rosemary, lentil terrine wrapped in ham. (Would that the pastry chef were operating at the same level.)
The Gran Hotel Son Net, now in its third year, is still evolving. There are hints of its California parentage in the recent addition to the nurturing, unobtrusive staff—one Patricia Eilert, practitioner of tarot reading, past-life regression, and the Chinese technique Qi Gong to strengthen body and mind. Starting this spring, a private jet will be available for day trips to the Guggenheim in Bilbao.
And that's just the beginning. Ever the developer, Stein seems intent on spreading the lifestyle—starting a magazine and building stylish houses for sale nearby. He's in discussions with Antonio Obrador to design them. But will he be able to re-create the hotel's mystique? At least one aspect is certain: Dalis and Hockneys will not be included.
Doubles: $218-$834. Minimum stay is four days if weekend is included; no minimum-stay requirement weekdays. 07194 Puigpunyent, Majorca, Spain; 800-735-2478, 34-971-147-000; fax 34-971-147-001; www.sonnet.es.