Top Five: Hotels

by Matt Bushey, June 24, 2010

posted by Matthew Bushey, AIA
Just in time for your summer vacation plans, this week we look at five of our top hotels for interior design.  All of these are places that we have experienced firsthand, and have walked away with a strong impression.  We tried to mix it up so that no matter what kind of vacation you’re planning, or which corner of the country you’re visiting, there is something here for everyone.We know hotel design, both in our architectural practice and our interior design studio.  But I should mention that we excluded any of our own projects from this list of five.  Instead, this is our unbiased look at the work of other design firms, taking note of where we find inspiration.
1.  HOTEL TERRA, Teton Village, WY
One of our favorite places to stay when traveling out west is the Hotel Terra, located at the base of the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort and just one mile from the Grand Teton National Park.  Some of the best skiing in the country is right at your door, and you’re just steps from some of the most beautiful expanses of national wilderness you will ever see.  TruexCullins has worked in the neighborhood, on both the Teton Mountain Lodge and Teton Springs Resort, so we’re familiar with the area and all it has to offer.
But beyond the desirable locale, we love the Hotel Terra for its ‘modern mountain’ aesthetic and environmentally-focused design.  The Terra was one of the first LEED-certified hotels when it opened a few years ago.  It is now charting new ground for the whole hospitality industry, proving that sustainability and luxury can peacefully coexist.  In fact, at the Hotel Terra, we would say its environmental amenities actually define the guest experience: natural, healthy, and luxurious.

The Charles Street Jail was built in 1851 on the edge of Beacon Hill, overlooking the Charles River.  After closing in 1990 due to deteriorating conditions, the historic building was transformed into a modern luxury hotel that retains the feel of the century-old prison.  Dubbed the Liberty Hotel, this is our #2 pick for its clever integration of old and new.

The large historic windows have been beautifully preserved, along with the original stone and brick masonry and the prison cell iron bars.  The jail’s central atrium soars 90 feet and forms the core of the hotel lobby, encircled by the catwalks once used by prison guards.  18 of the guestrooms are housed in the original jail, with the remaining 280 rooms located in a new 16-story tower connected to the main building.  Stay in this hotel and you will truly feel like a pampered prisoner.
3.  ARIA, Las Vegas, NV

The Aria Resort is the largest hotel of the $8.5 billion CityCenter mega-development in the heart of the Las Vegas strip.  As with all things Vegas, the scale is impressive, with over 4,000 guestrooms, 16 restaurants, and a dedicated mass-transit system to bring you from one end of the property to the other. CityCenter is the largest private development in US history and takes up 67 acres of real estate in the middle of the Las Vegas desert.  Yet in spite of this massive scale, the hotel has received LEED-Gold certification.

Even more than its scale or sustainability, Aria’s most notable feature is the fact that it represents a radical departure from the themed approach of Las Vegas’ recent past.  Instead of reconstructed Italian piazzas or Egyptian tombs, the architecture of Aria is firmly based on unadorned modernism.  This is its strategy for achieving authenticity: it is not trying to be anything that it’s not.CityCenter has been called a referendum on modernism itself.  When we were there, just 5 months after it opened in December 2009, the crowds seemed healthy but not overwhelming.  Guestroom occupancy rates are down, and sales of the neighboring residential units are even worse.  Still, the verdict is out whether the masses will embrace this new chapter in the continual reinvention of Las Vegas.
4.  HOTEL AT THE THREE STORKS, Prague, Czech Republic


This is a good time for a trip to Europe, with the American dollar so strong against the Euro.  If your travels take you to the Czech Republic, you should check into the Hotel at the Three Storks. This 5-star luxury boutique hotel is located in the historic center of the city in a recently renovated historic house.  The Renaissance building has been sensitively but unabashedly updated with an unconventional, modern interior.  We especially love the dramatic use of indirect lighting, in the guestrooms and the public spaces.  Light flows from behind objects and around corners, casting a soft glow over the space and accenting key features.
5. ICE HOTEL, Sainte-Catherine-de-la-Jacques-Cartier, Quebec

Just north of the border, about 30 minutes from Quebec City, lies a hotel made entirely of ice.  It is actually rebuilt every winter, and open for a few short months during the coldest season.  The Ice Hotel, or Hotel de Glace, changes and grows each year.  It is now up to 36 guestrooms and suites, each with unique ice carvings and some with fireplaces.  Multiple layers of animal pelts keep you warm at night, and you can take a dip in one of the open-air hot tubs to warm up.  The Ice Bar is the center of the action, where the house specialty is Vodka, of course (served in an ice glass).  There is also a chapel that’s popular for weddings.

I was there in 2002, one year after its inaugural season.  It has been rebuilt every year since, and this winter the Ice Hotel celebrated its 10th anniversary.  For the first time this March, it had to close 2 weeks early due to a record warm winter, (another consequence of global warming).  But for those 10 weeks of winter we still have, the Ice Hotel is one of the most memorable hotels you will encounter.
Have you discovered a great hotel?  Leave a comment and share your favorite.

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