To make a statement in the era of social media, hotel architects and designers can’t just think outside the box. They have to rip off the flaps and set it on fire. Cookie-cutter rooms piled on top of a gilded lobby? That doesn’t cut it in 2020. The most inspiring inns these days are the ones that look unlike anything else on the market. In Mexico, architects dreamt up a half-sunken Mayan ruin with storybook bedrooms that open onto a placid jade pool. In Malaysia, they built a soaring English-style conservatory with wall-to-wall mirrors and jungle greenery. In Belgium, they transformed an austere nunnery into a minimalist haven. And amid the sand dunes of coastal Namibia, they constructed beached fishing vessels with guest rooms tucked neatly into their hulls. This is the kind of creative thinking that drops jaws. And combined with impeccable service, it represents a new era in hospitality. Here are 8 new hotels that are rewriting the rulebook. Are you ready to check in?
Holy mother of God, this one’s a showstopper: a 19th century Catholic church, convent, rectory and schoolhouse turned into one of the South’s most talked-about hotel openings. The restoration, which wrapped in fall of 2018, took four years and was led by former journalist Nathalie Jordi and ASH NYC, the real-estate development and design firm behind the Siren Hotel in Detroit and the Dean Hotel in Providence, Rhode Island. Now, the quartet of historic buildings originally designed by preeminent Louisiana architect Henry Howard houses 71 one-of-a-kind rooms brimming with European antiques, religious tapestries and hand-painted tile showers. African, Cuban, French, Italian and Swedish influences can all be spotted. But the real Hail Mary? The crew pulled it off using scads of local talent. Deep in its bones, this hotel feels as New Orleans as it looks.
Talk about keeping it in the family. This 12-room hotel on a thimble-sized island was born out of a collaboration between architect Claudia Muñoz, her brother, her parents and two of her former professors (both architects at Guadalajara’s Estudio Macías Peredo). The innovative design, inspired by a sunken Mayan ruin, was built around the breathtaking swimming pool. In some ways, Punta Caliza’s blueprint tore a page from textbooks on traditional Mexican architecture; the stucco-like finish on the walls, for example, was made using an ancient Mayan technique. At the same time, the aesthetic feels fresh and of the moment — the Instagram ideal. Construction took nearly four years, largely due to the island’s ban on heavy machinery, but the Muñozes powered through. Now we get to reap the benefits: a boutique port of call redefining the tropical escape.
For every cracked ceiling and naked wall in this 159-year-old aristocratic townhouse, there is a gobsmackingly gorgeous fresco, museum-caliber artwork or sweep of florid mosaic tile. Hotelier Gabriele Salini wanted an estate where he could craft an “artful nuance” between past and present. His friend, art philanthropist Francesco Petrucci, knew just the spot: his former family home. Opened as a nine-suite hotel in April 2019, Palazzo Daniele is the second addition to Salini’s portfolio, GS Collection. Its design MO: “Exalt the void,” which he describes as “stripping back and exaggerating the grandeur of the place: monastically simple bedrooms highlighting vaulted ceilings, mirrored salons and exposed walls.” Add to that site-specific artworks (a Roberto Cuoghi sculpture here, a Carla Accardi lithograph there), and you have a design-forward property unlike any other in Puglia.
In the 1700s, this sprawling godown overlooking the Strait of Malacca was a hub for maritime trading. Today, it’s one of Malaysia’s buzziest new hotels, inspired by, of all things, the 2006 psycho-thriller film set in Victorian-era London starring Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman as rival magicians. The interior, spearheaded by Singapore’s Ministry of Design, uses “visual trickery” to create its own kind of magic. In the lobby of this 162-key hideaway, guests are met with a mirrored stainless-steel reception desk “floating” atop shiny chrome spheres — an illusion made more puzzling by the brass-trimmed maze laid atop the marble floor. The rooms are even wilder: Hidden doors conceal pantries and toilets, while lighting beneath the bed frame makes the mattress look as if it is levitating. The Prestige is open for business but still under partial construction, with its final level slated for completion in early 2020.
Each of the 10 cabins at this remote lodge was designed to look like the many foundered vessels dotting the Namibian coastline. A joint venture between Journeys Namibia, Natural Selection and Trip Travel, the eco-friendly inn offers the only luxury accommodations in Skeleton Coast National Park, a protected desert habitat famed for its wind-sculpted sand dunes. Architect Nina Maritz constructed the solar-powered chalets in June 2018 using sustainably sourced timber, wood nails, and insulation made from recycled water bottles. Melanie van der Merwe, founder of Women Unleashed, took on the interiors, customizing the furniture and color scheme. (The mauve and dusty rose hues of the guest rooms were inspired by semi-precious stones found in the area, while the blue and gray tones mimic the wild Atlantic.) In the end, the lodge was built with almost no environmental impact, and per an agreement with the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, the cabins can easily be removed after a 25-year concession.
For leading Belgian architect Vincent Van Duysen to take on a hotel project, the opportunity had to be pretty darn special. Enter August, the second hospitality venture from Mouche Van Hool. The hotelier tasked the architect with transforming a clutch of heritage-listed buildings on the site of a 19th century military hospital into a minimalist-chic getaway. Opened in April 2019, August houses 44 rooms and suites, plus a smart little gift shop, inviting wellness center, and classy brasserie and bar in what used to be the convent. From the custom Flos lighting to the Christian Wijnants–designed staff uniforms, Van Duysen’s fingerprints are everywhere, although his reverence for the original space remains palpable.
Gazing upon its stark concrete exterior, you’d never guess that the inside of Brisbane’s 175-room Calile Hotel was done up in frothy blush tones and more greenery than a botanical garden. Architect Ingrid Richards, cofounder of Richards & Spence, calls the September 2018 opening a rebuttal to the generic stylings of chain hotels. It’s also a “much-needed social heart for a growing city,” designed to enchant locals as much as travelers. Inspired by the architecture of balmy, retro-cool cities like Miami and Palm Springs, California, she and business partner Adrian Spence imagined an open-air design that melds seamlessly with the toasty Queensland climate. Throw in custom oak furnishings, cork floors, sisal mats and brushed brass accents, and the result is cool personified.
If you’re feeling isolated at Sacromonte, the hotel is doing its job. Set on 250 acres in Uruguay’s Sierra de Carapé, it’s a place where sheep are tailed by gauchos and cell phones rarely catch a signal. Which is precisely the point. Peruvian businessman Edmond Borit teamed up with architects from Montevideo’s MAPA to design this dream getaway, a coalescence of great wine and enchanting nature. The vineyard came first, followed by a series of 645-square-foot modular cabins (dubbed “shelters”) that disappear into the landscape, their mirror-clad façades a reflection of the surrounding cliffs and grassland. The property is still a work in progress: Four shelters were unveiled in late 2018, and eight more will follow in 2020.