May 21 2010

When you travel constantly, you are not easily impressed by hotels. You have no patience for pretentious or poor service, and you have seen enough amenity kits and fluffy robes to turn you off bathing permanently. Design does not even enter the picture until the all-too-common problem issues, such as bad pillows, no wifi or no internet connection at all, noisy surroundings and slow service, are eliminated.

However, if the service and comfort issues are handled well, we start to really appreciate design. This is why, when in London, TCH stays at the Firmdale Hotels. Our favourite is The Soho Hotel, situated right in the centre of Soho but tucked away in a quiet lane with theatres, shops and cafes within walking distance. The rooms are spacious and luxurious, and the penthouse is extraordinary.

Firmdale is a UK-based boutique hotel operator with six hotels in London and now one in New York. Firmdale is privately owned by husband and wife team of Tim and Kit Kemp. In each Firmdale property, Kit Kemp has been in charge of interior design and her attention to detail is impeccable. Colour, texture, quirky themes and art collections are part of her signature style that manages to translate into an inviting and beautiful hotel experience. Kit Kemp’s eclectic but luxurious design work makes her hotels akin to the refined British Airways business class.

Late last fall, Firmdale opened its first-of-many-to-come North American hotel, the Crosby Street Hotel, in New York. Again, it is in the perfect location in the heart of SoHo between Prince, Spring and Lafayette Streets. It is a few cobblestones away from all the action, but on a quiet street.

The brand new 11-storey, 86-room Crosby Street Hotel was built on a vacant parking lot over a two-year period. A short film by Jean Roman Seyfried “The Reconstruction of My Views” chronicles the construction period using time-lapse photography. The film premiered in the hotel’s own 99-seat screening room. (all images here are of Crosby Street Hotel). - Bill Tikos

Firmdale's next opening will be in London. They have acquired a site in Piccadilly (called Ham Yard) and will begin to develop later this year.


March 29 2010

Mamilla Hotel in Jerusalem describes itself as the first luxury lifestyle hotel in Israel and Jerusalem. With its city-centre location and views of the old city walls, it connects old and new gracefully. Mamilla is a refined and elegant reminder that just as the word “urban” comes from the ancient Latin word urbs for “city,” luxurious city living in aesthetic harmony with the surroundings is not something we have invented in the last few hundred years. So, yes, this may indeed be the first luxury lifestyle hotel in Jerusalem that we will have the chance to enjoy today, but it probably has predecessors in the distant past of this historic, global city.

Deftly, by letting the milieu and setting speak their language, Mamilla’s main creative forces, Massachusetts-based Moshe Safdie and Milan’s Piero Lissoni, have avoided one of the syndromes that has become boringly common in hotels aspiring to exude luxury and cool — the overuse of black and white with a few splashes of bright colour.

Many of us have vivid sensory memories about Jerusalem: the ever-present sand and stone, the strong sun, the subtle surface textures, and the soft, sun-bleached tones of colour. Mamilla expresses all of this, and that harmony creates a peaceful, classy and confidently un-trendy hotel environment.

To protect Jerusalem’s ancient ambiance, all new construction must by law use the local light-hued limestone called Jerusalem Stone. In this hotel, the use of the stone is prevalent, but not pretentious. For example, in each of the 194 rooms, the bedside walls are of exposed Jerusalem Stone in harmony with the massive metal headboards and dark wooden floors, and in contrast with the modern, Piero Lissoni custom-designed furnishing and bathrooms.

The Israel-born architect Moshe Safdie is also the planner of the adjacent Alrov Mamilla Avenue, a shopping and entertainment area overlooking the Old City.

The Mamilla Hotel is part of Alrov Luxury Hotels Holding – the hotel and hospitality subsidiary of Tel-Aviv-based real estate company Alrov, founded in 1978. In addition to Mamilla, Alrov Luxury Hotels owns the David Citadel Hotel in Jerusalem and is developing two properties in heritage buildings in Europe: the Conservatorium Hotel in Amsterdam and the Café Royal Hotel in London. - Tuija Seipell

See also Neve Tzedek Hotel, Tel Aviv

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January 18 2010

When in Barcelona, you will want to check into one of the several new or refurbished and distinctively cool hotels that have opened there recently. Among them, W Barcelona, located on La Barceloneta and designed by architect Ricardo Bofill, and the swish apartment residences of El Palauet that we featured in October.

The latest hotel launch capturing design media attention is Mandarin Oriental Barcelona. The Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group operates in 25 countries, but this is its first entry into southern Europe. Mandarin Oriental Barcelona’s official opening was celebrated in November 2009 with a lavish gala attended by the city’s style leaders and elite.

The hotel’s cool factor is a lucky combination of three elements: The convenience of the central location on Passeig de Gràcia, the good bones of the refurbished 20th-century former bank building, and most significant, the tour de force of design by Spanish-born Milano-based architect, Patricia Urquiola, responsible for the interior decor of the 98-room hotel, including most of the furnishings.

Urquiola is best known for her prolific career in designing clean-lined furniture and accessories for brands such as Foscarini, B&B Italia, Alessi, Capellini, Cassina, Knoll and Moroso. At Mandarin Oriental Barcelona she has created a strong sense of timeless elegance by using white confidently and lavishly, and by applying a Scandinavian sense of scale and clean lines.

To soften the linear angularity, Urquiola added beautiful touches that reflect the weightlessness and precious fragility of origami or intricate lace. The overall effect is stunning. - Tuija Seipell


January 6 2010

Elegant use of space, lovely surface texture and breathtaking sightlines help this new “stack of boxes” avoid the current architectural cliché and give it the appearance of a villa that is not new at all but rather an established retro holiday compound of someone with a confident sense of style and a stack of extra cash.

Casa Kimball is a much-publicized private house and rental villa on the north coast of the Dominican Republic. Designed by New York’s Rangr Studio.

Casa Kimball owner, Google software engineer Spencer Kimball, found Jasmit Rangr via Google when he needed a designer for his New York loft. That cooperation led to the next project, the beach house in the Dominican Republic.

Casa Kimball’s lovely features include huge windows and doors that pivot on ball bearings and have extremely thin and light frames made of a South-American hardwood as strong as steel. Floors and ceilings are covered with local coral stone. The 20,000 square-foot casa has eight suites. - Tuija Seipell

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October 29 2009

Hôtel de Sers in Paris exemplifies a building that fits magnificently in its new role as a hotel because the current owners’ expensive and extensive renovation retained the initial feel and the structural bones of the original mansion, and managed to insert today’s touches in a way that does not feel like a pretentious afterthought.

Today, Hôtel de Sers has 45 rooms, four junior suites, two large suites with terraces that overlook all of the splendor of Paris, and one 80-square-meter apartment. The original building was a four-storey mansion designed by architect Jules Pellechet in 1880 for Henri-Leopold Charles, the Marquis de Sers.

In the early 1900s, the building served as a medical facility and gained four more floors and a six-storey attachment. It has been a hotel since 1935. In 1999, the Vidalenc family took over the building that was then known as Hôtel le Queen Elizabeth, and the family's younger son, Thibault Vidalenc, became the general manager. He engaged his cousin, recently graduated architect Thomas Vidalenc, and together the two began the 11 million Euro transformation of the old mansion into the chic and desirable Hôtel de Sers it is today.

Thomas Vidalenc designed most of the furniture as well, and added the latest comforts, technology and amenities to the rooms, but the new never overpowers the French classical elements.

The designer touches -- such as modern, sculptural occasional tables, and chairs and cushions covered in retro-floral fabrics -- add a Scandinavian, modernist feel, but it all seems to somehow belong in this environment that is resplendent with gold, and old paintings and red velvet. Not an easy balance to achieve. - Tuija Seipell

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October 26 2009

In its latest incarnation, Barcelona’s El Palauet is now appearing as a most desirable home away from home. Six luxurious apartments, each approximately 150 square meters in size and designed to please even the most demanding traveler, are available for rent for stays of three days or longer.

With the confident charm of the well-lived and well-looked-after, the 1906 modernist building’s residences ooze affluence, elegance and tradition, while at the same time sporting the latest technology, connectivity and gadgets.

The beautiful details and ornamentation of the building are matched by the high-end designer interiors and furnishings throughout the apartments, and in the common spaces. A private spa with a Finnish sauna is open exclusively for the guests and located on the terrace that opens to views of Passeig de Garcia and the Tibidado mountain. A-la-carte hotel services from daily breakfasts to private chefs and butlers are also available.

In Paris, the ten gorgeous apartments at La Réserve offer a similar degree of luxury and design-savvy for those who want a city experience that is more like being a resident and less like being a tourist or a visitor.

While this level of opulence may be too much for most of us, the trend to opt for apartment-style city living rather than traditional hotels is starting to become more and more prevalent. If you have found an exceptional city residence that is available for rent, please let us know. - Tuija Seipell


June 1 2009

The travel world is full of designer boutique hotels and resorts - cities and seaside locations are teeming with them. Winter resorts, on the other hands, have left a lot to be desired in the design stakes. Until now. Developers, architects and designers are turning their attention to ski resorts, help to redefine the experience of the typical ski holiday.

Taking inspiration from classic European chalets, sophisticated, design-led ski resorts and lodges are popping all over the world. From Australia to Austria, the new ski holiday is as much about the experience of kicking back in beautiful surroundings at the end of a long day of skiing, as it is about the runs.

Paul Hecker is the interior designer behind some of the most beautiful public interiors in Australia, including the Prince Hotel in Melbourne and more recently in Sydney, the Ivy and stunning adjoining penthouse hotel suite. The latest from Hecker and his Melbourne-based team at Hecker, Phelan & Guthrie, is the new ski lodge, Fjall, located at Falls Creek in Victoria.       

Falls Creek is on its way to becoming something of a hot spot for those seeking the luxe version of a ski holiday.  The Hecker designed Fjall lodge joins the hip Huski Lodge and Frueauf Village; luxurious architect-designed self-contained apartments and chalets. Next month the ski town will add another high-end resort to its stable, with the Quay West Resort & Spa Falls Creek set to open its doors.

Fjall lodge consists of spacious, private apartments. With the Fjall, Hecker has taken the modern Scandinavian chalet aesthetic up a notch. Working with a crisp, very Nordic palette of charcoal, white, black and pale gray, Hecker brings a strong sense of nature into the interiors, working with  smoked and limed oak timber floors and wall paneling, and custom-designed oak timber joinery. Calacutta marble, heated balconies and cozy window banquettes complete the sophisticated space. - Lisa Evans

Photography - Peter Bennetts

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May 25 2009

We first stayed at Macakizi – the sexiest pontoon beach club frequented by Istanbul’s super-chic A-list jet-setters – a couple of years ago when we were setting up TCH Turkey.

Now is the perfect time of the year to head back to Macakizi as it gets incredibly hot and busy there when the season really kicks off. Macakizi is the best place to stay in the Bodrum area.

Located in the village of Turkbuku, half-hour drive from Bodrum, Macakizi is named after proprietor Sahir Erozan’s mother Ayla. Her nickname is Macakizi, the Queen of Spades. Ayla is the originator of the pontoon beach club concept in which you never really touch a beach but instead lounge on terraces carved into the steep hillside.

Creating a perfect stage for the eye candy coming at you from all sides in the form of immaculately groomed, beautifully tanned and designer-gear-attired bodies, the hotel itself is elegantly down-played. It is concealed by the lush vegetation but the view of the Aegean is ever-present. The architecture is loosely Mediterranean, the rooms are classy, unadorned and sparse.

Celebrities and other VIPs parade from morning till night in Chanel swimsuits, Pucci sunglasses and William Richardson sarongs. Money and attitude and a penchant for gossip are prevalent, and the whole scene reminded us of a French Vogue shoot live with Steven Meisel shooting.

The highlight of the visit is always the food: absolutely amazing Turkish cuisine served buffet-style and al fresco. Having said that, now we really need another Macakizi fix! - Bill Tikos

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October 15 2008

Thanks to the jet-set generation, demand for boutique hotels is increasing around the world. The first boutique "chain," W, started the trend for a network of branded urbane-style properties and has just launched its latest edition - W Hong Kong.

Located in West Kowloon, the hub of the buzzing financial district of Hong Kong, the new W brings a large dose of New York style to this cosmopolitan Asian business capital. 

The area is right on the commercial waterfront, so instead of luxury yachts you are more likely to look out onto imposingly large freight and cargo ships. It works though, juxtaposing the designer, luxury environment with the gritty, functional realism of the hotel's location.

Overall the hotel's design is pitch-perfect for the W brand - New-York- style interiors with the W signature quirk in the form of butterflies (butterfly motifs everywhere, we loved it) and surprising contemporary art works such as a fiberglass seal holding up a grand piano (yes, a seal holding up a grand piano, it's for real and a feat of creativity and engineering).

Other standouts include the spectacular rooftop pool, featuring an incredible mega-scale mosaic of a butterfly graphic created by Australian designer Fabio Ongarato. The pool looks out over the whole island - one of the most breathtaking in the city. 

The rooms, designed by Australian interior desiger, Nicholas Graham and Japanese designer, Yasumichi Morita, are comfortable and welcoming. Each designer was assigned a specific floor to design, so each floor has its own personality, countering the cookie-cutter feel of most large hotels.

As for the suites - let's just say that they're apty titled  - "Wow" and "Extreme" - and are suitably enticing. Enough to turn a short stay in long one....- Laura Demasi

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January 23 2008

Since 1991, San Francisco-native Jeanie Fuji has acted as the traditional Japanese okami (land lady or female inn keeper) of the Fujiya Ryokan (traditional wooden inn) in the Ginzan Onsen (hot springs) area.

That year, she married Fuji Atsushi, the son and heir of the 350-year-old inn and started her rigorous training under her mother-in-law in the art of serving customers, true Japanese style. This included preparing all meals, washing the dishes and cleaning all rooms. The goal was to make sure every need of every customer was anticipated and met following the age-old inn tradition of providing the right amount of service at the right time.

Fuji describes the types of things she had to learn. �Sliding a fusuma door open and shut, greeting guests, bringing them meals on small o-zen tables... everything has to be done a certain way, following the old traditions. And I had to learn how to talk with the guests using polite, formal Japanese. I often wanted to give up and go home to the United States. But now I love my work here,� she says in a Japanese publication.

By the time she had a good decade of experience behind her, Fuji had gained a celebrity okami status that she modestly and reluctantly dismisses. By 2004, she and her husband hired Tokyo-based celebrity architect Kengo Kuma to raise the personal service of the inn to even higher level. Kuma overtook a complete remodelling of the inn that reopened in July 2006. Kuma is behind many well-known buildings, including the Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessey headquarters in Tokyo.

The capacity of the thoroughly wooden, three-story Fujiya Inn was reduced to only eight rooms with full capacity at 16 persons. Considering the location of the inn, right in the middle of a relatively remote rural area known for its hot springs and natural beauty, the level of luxury in the inn is astonishing.

Kuma has been able to combine traditional Japanese simplicity with international tastes and needs, yet avoided the dumbed-down, westernized version of Japanese style. In fact, Fuji has written an autobiography on this subject Nipponjin ni wa, Nihon ga Tarinai (Japanese people are not Japanese enough), in which she emphasizes that it is important for modern Japanese to recognize and re-claim the value of their own millennia-old customs and history.

At Fujiya Inn, you feel that you are part of an ancient, authentic and almost organic history that seems to be seeping through every seam and screen here. Many aspects contribute to this effect. One is Kuma�s brilliant use of layers, screens as thin as veils, to both hide and reveal space. The omnipresent samushiko bamboo screens by craft master Hideo Nakata (no, he�s not the horror-movie director) and his son required 1.2 million four-millimetre-wide strips of bamboo. Green stained-glass panes by Masato Shida and the prolific use of the handmade, richly textured Echizen Japanese paper add to the feeling of lightness and transparency.

The organic, natural quotient of the inn is also boosted by the baths and the hand-prepared, fresh food. The inn has five beautiful private hot springs baths including an open-air bath on the top floor. The food is based on a regular washoku (Japanese cuisine) menu and features many edible plants and other local ingredients. Fuji�s favourites include the sansai, mountain vegetables, including kogomi (ostrich fern fiddleheads) and urui (plantain lily petioles.) The only exception to this local-only rule is Cafe Wisteria (English for fuji), open only in the summer months, and offering international coffees and cakes.

To get to the Fujiya Inn, take the 3.5-hour trip on the Yamagata Bullet Train (Shinkansen) from Tokyo and then get a bus to the hot springs. Or fly from Tokyo to the Yamagata airport and arrange for a pick up by the inn. By Tuija Seipell

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