Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Travel + Leisure: Best New Hotels 2011 - Runners-Up

For my final installment on Travel + Leisure's "It List: The Best New Hotels 2011," I'll focus on some of the runner-up hotels. Here you'll find the best and the worst of the list.

Dear Runners-Up, please know that you are both really really special. Don't take this personally. It's me, not you.

1. Fasano Las Piedras, Punta Del Este, Uruguay

This resort is undeniably spectacular. The architects and interior designers, inspired by the dramatic landscape, mixed classic regional elements like native stone, rustic wood, leather and cow hides with expansive glass windows, cement floors, and clean, minimalist furniture.

What kept me from putting this in the top 3 was that it's hard to see myself in something simultaneously so sparse and also so fancy. I feel like I would have to whisper and dress like I'm in a Woody Allen movie.

Photos: Fasano Las Piedras

2. Soho House Berlin

I'm slowly discovering about myself the I tend to prefer mountain, beach and desert inns over any hotels in urban centers. I find most urban hotels either austere in an effort to be modern or stuffy in an effort to be sophisticated. What I like about the Soho House Berlin is that it comes across as extremely cool, but also very cozy and playful.

The hotel is housed in a 1920's Bauhaus building and decorated with pre-war Art Deco details. But then there's this weird/awesome layer of 1980's German country house expressed with tons of ballsy floral design. It's very bold, super local, and zeitgeisty (har har).

Now that Madonna has stayed there it'll probably go out of fashion in 45 seconds, which is why it's not a winner for me, but I'd definitely love to stay there in the next few days.

Photos: Soho House Berlin

Travel + Leisure: Best New Hotels 2011 - Worst Of

A few days ago I gave my top picks of Travel + Leisure's "It List: The Best of New Hotels 2011."

Today I'll feature the hotels that are on the bottom of my list.

1. The Redbury Hotel, Hollywood

Sam Nazarian, can you just go home already? I promise I don't mean that in some creepy, xenophobic way. I mean it literally. Just go to your house, sit on the couch, watch all 5 seasons of The Wire, and stop designing cheesy hotels that make me embarrassed for my city.

Everything I hate about over designing is embodied here. This looks like the deformed love child of Amelie and 2007 Pier 1 Imports. Don't get me wrong. I love Amelie, and ethnic prints, but this was done so poorly. Ikat chairs and paisley wallpaper? Dude, come on.

Photos: Redbury Hotel

2. Hotel Beaux Arts Miami

Dear 1997, please come reclaim your Miami design hotel.

I do not understand how this hotel made the list. Is that an image of Christy Turlington in the lobby? (Okay, I know it's not, but this hotel is just not avante garde enough for an early 90's Peter Lindbergh homage.)

And then the room looks like a random airport-adjacent hotel room in any city in any country. I actually think I stayed in that exact room in Abu Dhabi, or maybe it was Toronto...

Photos: Beaux Arts Hotel Miami

Now what have I taken away from this?

First, not all layering is equal. Two extremely busy styles placed on top of each other, like with The Redbury, often don't work. There are obvious exceptions, but this is why many successful examples of layering feature one simple inspiration with clean lines, like Rustic Farmhouse or Contemporary Japanese, paired with another more ornate or bold style like French Colonial or 1960's Mod. Ornate plus ornate just makes me seasick.

The real problem with the Miami hotel is not that it's decidedly uncool, which it is, but that I don't see anything distinct about it. There is little connection to place, which is my number one criterion in determining an interesting new hotel.

Jared, my beyonce, thinks it would be a nice place to stay. In a way, I agree. I bet the service is great and the bed very comfortable. It's just that this hotel, especially the room, could be anywhere. When I go somewhere different, I want to stay somewhere that feels like I'm there. (Yes, I'm a broken record.) And I really believe there is a way to offer all the great amenities of an urban business hotel - attentive service, useful electronics, intuitive layout, delicious room service, comfortable bed and shower - without compromising a strong sense of place.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Itinerary #1

This marks the first in a series that will present an itinerary of a perfect vacation day in my neighborhood. This is for a Saturday.

8:00am - Begin the day with a hike in Griffith Park. Starting at the top of Commonwealth in Los Feliz, follow this sometimes strenuous hike to Dante's View, a terraced two-acre garden planted by Dante Orgolini in the 1960s. The Mt. Hollywood peak provides unparalleled views of Los Angeles, Burbank, and the San Fernando Valley. And on a good day, you can see the ocean. As you scale down the hill, say hello to the neighborhood's most memorable landmark, The Griffith Observatory.

10:00am - In all your sweaty mess head over to the Silver Lake Farmer's Market. Pick up a delicious maple bacon scone from the Village Bakery stall, a piece of seasonal fruit, coffee from the Cafecito Organico stall, and sit back and relax while hipster toddlers rock out to the drum circle.

12:30pm - After a shower, enjoy a proper meal at
LA Mill. This restaurant/cafe has delicious food and an impressive coffee and tea list. While it does fall on the fancier side of brunch/lunch, the comfortable chairs and perfect lighting beg you to spend hours there reading or chatting. So if you're there for 2 hours, divide the money you've spent by the number of minutes and it will end up seeming like a deal. (Math equations from a money squanderer.) Also, their virgin "mohito" is ridiculously tasty.

Photo credit: Richard Hartog / Los Angeles Times

2:00pm - Do some shopping/browsing at the boutiques around LA Mill on Silverlake Blvd. Hit up Lake, Studio 1617, Lawson-Fenning East and Yolk.

Photo credit: Lake Boutique

3:30pm - Get a Thai massage at The Raven Spa. This place is about 40 bucks more than your standard Los Angeles Thai massage joint but you're paying for ambiance and it's pretty special. (That said, if you want a cheap Thai massage instead, go to The Barai Spa on Hyperion.)

5:00pm - Take a nap. After that serious hike and massage you're going to be destroyed.

7:00pm - Get a pre-dinner cocktail at Big Bar at Alcove on Hillhurst. This tiny space is built into the converted cottage that is Alcove Restaurant. You can sip away inside this cute bar or take advantage of outdoor drinking in their huge patio.

Photo courtesy of Big Bar

8:30 - Walk up Hillhurst a few blocks to dinner at Little Dom's. This hip Italian joint that feels old school even though it's not. I've seen John Hamm there more than once. Also, the food tends to hit the spot.

Photos by Alen Lin

11pm - By now you're full, liquored, and tired from a full day. Go crawl into bed and watch Saturday Night Live.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Travel and Leisure: Best New Hotels 2011 - Best Of

This month Travel + Leisure magazine published the It List: The Best of New Hotels 2011. I have gone through the list of 50 hotels and chosen my top 3. I'll feature runners-up and big time losers in later posts.

GoldenEye Hotel & Resort, Jamaica

This place is the winner for so many reasons. It is the perfect size with 11 cottages and 6 suites. It has clear connection to the surrounding environment (kayaks from every room!) with just the right amount of design style. I love the use of natural wood and local textiles. Most importantly it has a sense of humor. The website is playful, that silly cocktail glass is endearing, and it doesn't refer to itself with stupid marketing blabber like "treat yourself to a breath of fresh air..." That goes really far in my book.

There's a lot of good stuff going on in this room.

Photos courtesy of GoldenEye Resort

2. Babylonstoren, Cape Winelands, South Africa This is an old farm transformed into a resort with acres and acres of land to explore. My favorite detail is this, "For traveling gourmands, some cottages offer kitchens—glassed-in cubes facing an eight-acre garden from which you can pick your own herbs, fruits and vegetables, the same produce used by the chefs at the restaurant, Babel."

I spent wayyy too long eating up every detail on the website. Beware of major time suckage before clicking here.

Photos courtesy of Babylonstoren

3. Hotel Havana, San Antonio, TX

If I'm going to San Antonio I do not want to stay in a W Hotel with velvet curtains and claw-foot golden settees. It's the heart of Texas, for fuck's sake.

I like this hotel because it knows what it is and where it is. The traditional furniture suits the historic space but the splashes of bright color and 1950's vintage elements make it modern.

Photos courtesy of Hotel Havana

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Dream Decor

Remember how much detail I went into describing how I would layer different design elements into creating my perfect Los Angeles hotel style?

Well, turns out my dream layered aesthetic already exists and it's all over the internet.

A while ago, House Beautiful featured the house of Roman Alonso, the creative director of Los Angeles design firm Commune.

I'm freaking out. This house has fallen out of my dreams and into reality. Seriously Roman, just design my dream hotelito and let's get on with it.


Have I told you lately how much I love Emily Henderson? Thanks to a little tip off from my sister who watched last season's Design Star on HGTV (this is also significant news because Jennifer hasn't watched television regularly since Eight is Enough), I have been following Secrets from a Stylist, Emily's design show, religiously.

While her design aesthetic is great, what I have enjoyed most about the show is her ability to label design styles in creative and straightforward ways. (As in, 70's Palm Springs meets Easy Rider Chic.) I like labels. They allow me to classify and control things in my scattered brain. I want to be her labeling intern.

In my lifelong search to figure out my design style, I have often felt confused. I've always loved Spanish revival (I've been obsessed with the California missions since my 4th grade trip/lasagna pasta model recreation).

And Mid-Century modern feels so nice and clean.

Oh, and obviously something Middle Eastern, as I need elements that reflect my lifetime spent between California and Arabia.

And what about all that inspiration from the American Southwest and Mexico from the 1970s that also sometimes looks like cool African and Central Asian stuff?

(Photo credit: Amy Neunsinger)

I can't leave out the work that contemporary Los Angeles artists and designers are creating today, can I? But if you put all of that in one place, wouldn't it look disgusting?

But wait. What's that you just said, Em? Something about layering?

In my 12 week TV course I have learned that if you decide to be true to a single era or style, it looks like your house is themed and not a reflection of a real human being. Instead, focus on a number of styles and layer them on top of each other. Architecture could be one style, furniture a mix of others, and accessories, textiles and art another mix. I know what I'm saying is probably Interior Design 101, but it's been a revelation to me. Seriously, it feels liberating.

When looking at hotel design, I think that even more than with homes, there is a gross tendency to lean toward themed rather than layered. Why is the Colony Palms Hotel in Palm Springs more stylish than the Figueroa Hotel in downtown LA? Because the Colony is layered with Moroccan elements and the Hotel Fig is a Moroccan Disneyland. (Sorry Fig! I love your patio but that burlap bed really brought things into focus.)

Photo: www.tripadvisor.com

Photo: www.concierge.com

My dream Silverlake hotel would certainly focus on layering my favorite Los Angeles design elements to arrive at something distinctly local.

Emily can you please tell me what I should call 1920s Los Angeles mixed with 1950s California Modernism mixed with 1970s World Desert?


Friday, May 27, 2011

Todos Santos House

This unbelievable house appeared on one of my favorite blogs, At Home At Home. This is not a hotel but it should be. I have looked at this house 100 times and can't believe how gorgeous it is.

Photographer Laure Joliet's father is building this home in Todos Santos, Mexico.

Can you imagine a similar type structure built to be a small inn somewhere in the hills of Silverlake or Echo Park?

Many more of her house photos are here.

Wadi Feynan

My favorite hotels possess a very strong connection to place. Architecture, landscape design, interior design, and food should all reflect the location that you're actually in, and not some distant place that you'd rather be if you had more money and time.

I do realize there's lot a grey area in that statement. I mean, isn't archetypal Los Angeles Spanish revival just a recreation of a distant place? Just because we've been ripping that off for centuries, does that make it true to place?

I don't have the answer to that question. What I do know is that when I'm in a Tuscany-inspired room in Las Vegas or a Tokyo-inspired room in Dubai, I just feel stuck in a confusing airport/womb space waiting to feel something.

(Maybe it's okay if the inspiration is reflective of history? The Spanish were actually in California. I'm pretty sure Japan never colonized The Emirates. But I digress...)

I consult for the Sundance Institute's Screenwriter's Lab in Jordan and had the pleasure of staying for a week for the workshop at the incredible Feynan Ecolodge in Wadi Feynan.

Beyond the isolated location, beautiful design and delicious food, this 26-room ecolodge had a bunch of cool features that add to the experience. They shut off the electricity (largely run by solar power) at sundown and fill the hotel with candles. In the summer they roll out rugs on the roof top to project movies under the stars, and they have a permanent Bedouin tent set up for lounging. And we know how I feel about lounging.

To me this place optimizes connection to place.

How cool is that rug art?

These are all just my own mediocre photos. There are tons more, especially at night when the candles come out, here.