This is definitely not your grandfather’s airport hotel. Inspired by the glamour of a bygone travel era—the jet-setting period nearly 50 years ago when Air France debuted its first Le Meridien hotel in Paris in 1972—the newly opened Le Meridien Dania Beach at Fort Lauderdale Airport has brought the brand’s renascent “timeless chic” to southern Florida. In this case, the mid-century-meets-cartography-meets-aviation ambience was created by David Ashen of New York-based Dash Design using the tenets of Le Meridien’s brand-wide interiors refresh—with, yes, a dash of sky-high inspiration.
The 245-room hotel, formerly a Sheraton, was acquired and converted by real-estate developer Charles S. Cohen of Cohen Brothers Realty Corp. “When we first came into the space, the first meeting I had with Charles, we had this weird sunken rectangular space and columns,” recalls Ashen. “And the first thing we did was I had this idea of looking up to the sky, and so we created this kind of big oculus that penetrates the ceiling and becomes the focus of the space that pulls you up and then pulls you out.”
This oculus—along with a massive chandelier interpreting the constellations positioned within it—became the center of the Hub, the lobby space featuring a striking seating area adjacent to a lively bar and casual café. “Every Le Meridien has this arrival moment,” explains George Fleck, Le Meridien’s global brand leader, “and it’s part of the brand philosophy that we believe that first 15 minutes of the guest experience, that arrival experience, matters to the total experience…so when you first walk in we really want you to be drawn into something that is really exciting and really vibrant.”
But guests may be torn on whether to look up or look down. The chandelier centerpiece was inspired by the solar system, while the striking 8,540-square-foot terrazzo floor—both by American graphic artist Paula Scher of design studio Pentagram—is a massive map of Fort Lauderdale that celebrates Le Meridien’s brand-wide cartography theme. Ashen lauds Cohen for opting to create such a unique focal point. “Terazzo is iconic to south Florida, and also the time period,” he says. “The fact that [Charles] made the investment in doing that is great…the process is super intense.”
Convenient for both travelers seeking a sophisticated stay at the beginning or end of a trip and for architecture and design industry creatives visiting the Design Center of the Americas (DCOTA)—which is located just steps away and is also owned by Cohen—the Le Meridien Dania Beach breaks the mold for a hotel located next to an airport. “Charles has said that in many ways it is an anchor to the [DCOTA] campus, so we really had to be thoughtful about this in a way that isn’t typical for an airport hotel,” says Ashen, noting the oasis-like look of the cabana-lined pool. “He really wanted to see this as an extension of that campus, so there was a lot of thought about that clientele and that they might stay here for two or three days.”
What they’ll experience design-wise is in the details. The hotel, while adhering to the new Le Meridien design credo of Timeless Chic—the principles of mid-century modernism, layering design with unique cultural and local nuances and taking inspiration from the glamorous halcyon days of air travel—adds local touches via the color accents (a deep azure blue and complimentary sunny orange) and artwork (commissioned photography featuring up-close details of southern Florida architecture), along with mid-century materials such as walnut, burnished metals, and “nubby ‘60s fabrics that have been modernized and simplified,” notes Ashen.
“When I think about modernism in Europe, it’s very different than modernism here,” he says. “American modernism tends to be more stylized, and so I think we have a great balance here. You’ll see it in terms of the shapes of the sofas and lighting fixtures—that we reference it without going too over the top. And we also maintained a cleanliness that is a reference to the European heritage.”
In the guest rooms and suites, Ashen and Scher went to great lengths to bring the cartography story of the Hub’s terrazzo floor upstairs. While keeping Le Meridien’s signature bed with its mismatched nightstands and lamps in mind, they developed a walnut wood veneer headboard with a copper metal overlay representing the streets and canals of Fort Lauderdale. Another favorite detail: a dimmer switch in the bathroom that controls the lighting in the shower. This adds a residential feel and enhances the lighting experience, notes Fleck.
“If you only have one night here, it’s still like a mini getaway,” he says. “I think it’s a nice alternative for us to be able to say, ‘Don’t feel so guilty… just have a little bit of fun, even if it’s just for one night at the airport.’”