Out of town on a recent business trip to Europe, I experienced several hotels that fall into the design category. As opposed to boutique or corporate, design hotels are fiercely avant garde. I'm always keen to pick up decor tips while I'm travelling, and hotels are some of the finer places to find hints that might translate well at home. However, despite the name, I found that "design" hotels aren't necessarily that much help to those of us who'd like to borrow a little interiors inspiration.
While they offer the seasoned traveller all the mod cons, I have discovered to my chagrin that the conveniences are not always easily found. Design hotels, you see, seem to be accessorised by M from James Bond. Hidden doors, intricate espresso machines, multi-use televisions and more shower options than you could possibly need in the morning are de rigueur. You feel your way around the room much like a secret agent hoping that wall panels will yield the wardrobe or indeed the light switch. I think the technical term for such fittings is "smart technology", but to traditionalists like myself, I'm left feeling anything but intelligent.
Take, for example, one hotel I booked into in Paris. The Sezz stood out because of its absence of a lobby or check-in desk. In its place there was a very low sofa and a member of the welcome team handing me a drink. This apparently symbolised that I had arrived at the hotel, rather than that I was gate crashing a private party, as I briefly thought. No concierge here, rather I was assigned a "PA" who showed me the room. Picture a bed on a raised wooden plinth in Spartan surroundings of concrete tones and red accents.
Design in hotels, I realise, equates often to the elemental and functional and requires a wardrobe of Jil Sander suits or Issey Miyake pieces. The overriding impression though is not of relaxation. I battled to understand the phone system, got lost in the huge corner bath and disliked the motel-style breakfast. In this world, design aficionados apparently have minuscule appetites and live on black coffees. However, I did note the Italian light fittings and all the other Frarckitecture touches. The Sezz is designed by Philippe Starck's protégé Christophe Pillet. So distinct is the style that a whole new term has evolved; to deconstruct it amounts to French + Starck + architecture. In fact, the Sezz now rates as one of the top 10 hippest hotels in the world, with one critic suggesting that its rooms are like the "devil's own bachelor pad". Black and red were the pervading colours and there was indeed something subterranean about the ambience.
My point is that this kind of design is all very well and good for a night's stay for the novelty factor but not for a holiday, or indeed a home. They also provide a good talking point at dinner parties. I've had a lot of mileage out of my stay at the Nhow in Milan, which is located in the trendy Zona Tortona district. Matteo Thun's design has turned a former electrical factory into a loft-style hotel complete with Artemide lights, Kartell chairs, Pininfarina toothbrushes and huge empty spaces masquerading as reception areas. Again it was a crash course on the art of wearing black. Returning home, I reflected that my own design was woefully pedestrian with an absence of concrete and industrial accents. While they were great to see (I love staying in places that are on top 10 lists), given a choice I'd be hesitant to recommend design hotels to anyone other than Marcel Wanders.