No mere place to spend the night, hotels are now a branding opportunity
Gretchen Kelly -- Interior Design, 1/1/2011 1:50:00 PM
The original Virgin Atlantic Airways "upper class" cabin was a groovy cliché. Hipsters draped themselves across the frosted-acrylic bar, and everything else was upholstered in red. Travelers fell in love with this relentlessly cool louche-life attitude when the airline started flying between London and New York in 1984, and they haven't fallen out of love yet.
After masterminding brand extensions into soft drinks, cell phones, trains, and space travel, founder Richard Branson has announced a partnership to tempt those same loyal customers: He and his team of investors hope to be operating 25 hotels in under seven years, with the first property expected to open in around a year. A press release describes "a brilliant place for fans of Virgin to extend their stay with us," suggesting that the logo-red apples won't fall far from the tree.
Branson's expansion into an upscale hospitality venture exemplifies a growing trend. Now that the boutique hotel, once a one-off, has evolved into such corporate entities as W Hotels and Andaz, developers are looking to global style icons to help refresh the concept.
Pantone, long content to classify colors and predict trends, jumped at interior designer Michel Penneman's pitch to open a Pantone hotel in Brussels. Penneman-who'd gotten the idea from a vibrant orange Pantone-brand tote bag-then lined up architect Olivier Hannaert to transform a 19th-century hotel building into a Pantone universe. Now open for business in a chic shopping district not far from the stolid administrative buildings of the European Union, the playful Pantone Hotel thumbs its nose at all that.
The facade is a rainbow of Pantone-coded acrylic balustrades. Inside, each of the seven levels is themed to a different color. To reinforce the message, artwork includes mock-ups of color swatches. Their shades repeat in the lobby and the bar-where, in addition, cocktails are named after Pantone colors. Rave reviews on travel Web sites say the hotel makes a gray city bright.
It's 275 misty miles from Vancouver to Vernon, British Columbia, where a member of the crystal-manufacturing Swarovski family opened the Sparkling Hill Resort. Restrained on the exterior but glittering with bling inside, this geode of a building sits high on a ridge above a lake. The creative head of Swarovski's design team, Andreas Altmayer, worked with the Cannon Group and SSDG Interiors to conceive the aesthetic.
At the outset, the team met at headquarters in Austria to bask in Swarovski sparkle. "The word chandelier doesn't do justice to the options we saw," SSDG interior designer Shauna Root says. Back in Vernon, that translated into myriad cascading Swarovski light fixtures as well as crystal flames in faux fireplaces.
Another one-word icon is Fasano, originally a Tuscan restaurant in São Paulo. The Fasano family, early adopters of hospitality brand extension, spun off two Brazilian hotels in 2003 and 2007. For Fasano's first international resort, in Punta del Este, Uruguay, management returned to Isay Weinfeld's namesake firm, which had designed the 2003 hotel as well as the flagship restaurant's current incarnation.
To turn a stone farmhouse into the main building of Las Piedras Fasano, Weinfeld added a concrete box for the restaurant and bar. Also concrete are the bungalows scattered around the property. It was rugged pastureland, dotted with sheep, when he first saw it, and he sited the bungalows with the same randomness. Interiors boast natural fabrics, wood, and antiques-earthy meets contemporary.
Even further along the simplicity spectrum are the Spanish footwear company Camper's two hotels, collaborations spearheaded by Jordi Tió Arquitecte and Fernando Amat, founder of the design emporium Vinçon. For both Casa Camper Barcelona and Casa Camper Berlin, Amat tapped into his own obsessions with minimalism and functionalism. He started with a list of things he personally hates to see in hotels: bedspreads, carpet, and pastel colors, all duly exiled. In their place, he chose a rust red for walls and sofas. Hammocks hang in small lounges.
Taking a fashion label to a new level, namely 10 stories of the world's tallest building, was precisely what executives at Emaar Properties were thinking when they asked Giorgio Armani to make his hospitality debut at the Burj Khalifa. As Wilson Associates managing director Bernard Himel puts it, "Everyone knows Armani." And anyone who stays at the Armani Hotel Dubai will recognize the restrained elegance exuded by his boutiques: neutral colors, zebrawood paneling, fabrics with a fine hand, moderne-inspired furniture straight out of the Armani Casa catalog.
After this first foray to the United Arab Emirates, Armani returns to home territory in April with the highly anticipated Armani Hotel Milan, another Wilson Associates project. A clutch of Armani shops already occupies the ground level of the 1937 building, and upper stories are to remain largely intact, with some oddly shaped rooms enhancing variety. Who needs one-size-fits-all?