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Monthly Archives: January 2017

Bambu Indah’s Guest

The hotel is certainly one of a kind, evolving, in its early years, as more of an experiment than an entrepreneurial venture. During the years when the couple were building Hardy’s namesake jewelry company—which they sold in 2007—they purchased a block of land adjacent to their house, fearful it would be turned into another of the area’s luxury hotels. From that point forward, Bambu Indah has evolved from a place that could accommodate the couple’s visiting friends to one of the world’s most unique examples of sustainable hospitality.

Pragmatism, rather than any particular design vision, governed Bambu Indah’s early development. The couple began snapping up inexpensive Javanese teak wedding houses, built more than a century ago, and transporting them to the island. “In a very short period of time we had three or four gladaks and placed them randomly on the new land,” says Cynthia. “There was no name for it and there was no organization, they were just cute little huts where we put a few guests who we asked to leave $20 a night in tips for the staff who would take care of them.”

Bambu Indah has continued to grow significantly—the hotel now numbers 15 unique guest pavilions—but the project’s guiding principles haven’t changed. Rather than manicured lawns, the property’s grounds are covered with vegetable beds and local edible and ceremonial plants. There’s a natural swimming kolan (swimming pond) surrounded by large river stones; delicious, spice-laden local food is served in a spacious open-plan kitchen and dining room; and while each of the hotel’s houses feel private and secluded, most are sited facing the Ayung River and the lush rice paddies in the distance.

Adding to this sensation of sybaritic escape, the Hardys decorated the hotel with pieces acquired on their many exotic voyages. Among the treasures are traditional Persian carpets, crystal geodes discovered in South America, African furniture, and ikats and cotton throws and bedding from the Indonesian Archipelago.

The Moon and Copper houses, the newest structures on the compound, were conceived by Hardy and his daughter Elora, the creative director of Ibuku, a local architecture and design firm known for conjuring lavish structures entirely from bamboo. The Moon House resembles a soaring crescent-shaped basket, its otherworldy form typical of the company’s creativity and technical prowess. The Copper House echoes this curvilinear silhouette with a bamboo roof wrapped in tin copper. Of the new houses, John explains: “We looked at the view and it was sublime. But how do you build without blocking the view? So we left them open and built a netted sleeping arrangement so there would be the possibility of privacy and safety. I like to call one of them the Love Nest, and the other is called the Moon House because there’s a beautiful copper bathtub in the garden for moonlight bathing.”

Just getting to the new houses, accessed through a steep series of stone stairways or via the hotel’s bamboo-covered two-person mining elevator carved into the cliffside, feels like an adventure. “The hotel offers a connection to nature and a sense of wonder and possibility,” says Elora of the hotel’s quixotic character. “We believe that by opening up to a landscape, culture, and nature you can get more joy. I hope that being at Bambu Indah inspires excitement about how the future can be.”

Chicago Hotel With a Modern Spirit

Built by its elite members to convince visitors to the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair that this wasn’t a hick town, the elegant Chicago Athletic Association languished in recent decades, notable for its Venetian Gothic facade on a landmarked stretch of Michigan Avenue. But in 2013, Commune Hotels & Resorts and the developers AJ Capital Partners began its resurrection, restoring the terrazzo floors, stained glass windows and carved stone fireplaces. In May 2015, the former men’s club reopened as a 241-room hotel, so thronged with sightseers since then that the Chicago Architectural Foundation now offers tours there. Retro appointments like a library wall of thrift-shop-caliber art are from the interior design firm Roman and Williams.

Location

In the downtown Loop, the prominent Michigan Avenue address overlooks tourist-centric Millennium Park across the street. Attractions including the Art Institute of Chicago are within easy walking distance and the 18-mile lakefront recreational path is just across the park. The elevated “L” train is one block away.

The Room

Reminding guests of the establishment’s original purpose as lodgings for members who were meant to spend their time in the grand public spaces, standard rooms are compact and interior facing. I had to whisk heavy drapes shut to avoid looking into a medical office just beyond the fire escape. Compensating for the lack of view, interiors channel another era, from a woven luggage rack above the desk and a Bluetooth speaker modeled on old radios to a Faribault Woolen Mill blanket draped across the bed and a headboard inspired by 19th-century brass beds. Minibars come generously stocked with local brands like Vosges chocolate and CH Vodka and include recipes for cocktails like the Moscow Mule.

The Bathroom

Open showers partly walled by glass, generous marble sinks and white tile with black accents make the most of the small space. Bathrobes in cozy sweatshirt material resemble boxers’ warm-up robes and the 19th-century apothecary C.O. Bigelow supplies the soap and shampoo.

Dining

Guests will find little incentive to explore Chicago restaurants beyond the hotel, home to five options for food and drink. The conservatory-like Cindy’s on the roof serves shellfish platters, cocktails and some of the best lakefront views. On the second floor, in a period-channeling room with tall privacy-ensuring booths, the Cherry Circle Room uses original club menus as inspiration for updated versions of steak tartare and roast lamb. Beyond it, the Game Room, with bocce and tabletop shuffleboard, serves playful fare like duck sausage corn dogs. The small Milk Room offers cocktails made from vintage spirits by night, coffee by day. On the ground floor, Shake Shack dishes burgers amid the grandeur.

Amenities

Besides the Game Room, the well-stocked gym and loaner Heritage Bicycles support the sporty theme. The heart of the hotel, the wood-paneled second-floor lobby called the Drawing Room, doubles as both a work space with a library table and book-filled shelves and a social setting with conversation areas around the enormous fireplaces.

Bottom Line

Gorgeously restored and imbued with a modern spirit of play, the Chicago Athletic Association captures many of the city’s most compelling attractions — architecture, history and food — under one handsome roof.

The Beaumont in London

When the 73-room Beaumont Hotel opened its doors in London’s Mayfair district in 2014, it made an artistic statement so conspicuous that not even passers-by could disregard it. The building’s southernmost exterior is crowned by the British artist Antony Gormley’s inhabitable sculpture of a crouching man, which doubles as the property’s priciest and most conceptual suite.

But “ROOM,” the official name of Mr. Gormley’s sculpture, is only one element of a very deliberate artistic focus that the owners Jeremy King and Chris Corbin, two of London’s best-known restaurateurs, placed at the center of their concept, one that hinges on a fictional story that Mr. King created to establish a sense of place. Collected in a span of three years by Mr. King and his wife, Lauren Gurvich King, the art selection at the Beaumont works on two levels. “There is a simple decorative element that alludes to a particular period, but there is also a strong narrative,” Mr. King said. “Each work supports the back story I created about the New York hotelier Jimmy Beaumont who moved to London in the late ’20s to open his eponymous hotel.”

The art — a mix of more than 1,700 original paintings, photographs and prints that relate to places or people Jimmy would have known — serves to support the story and lend authenticity, the abiding buzzword today among hoteliers striving to offer guests an immersive and memorable experience. “If the art is not authentic when trying to create an atmosphere from a particular era, then you risk ending up with pastiche, when the intent is to celebrate the craftsmanship and creativity of the originals,” Mr. King said.

Similarly, the Lanesborough in London, which reopened last year after an 18-month design overhaul, features original works of art throughout the property, from public areas to guest rooms. The design teams on the project, Cabinet Alberto Pinto and Visto Images, a Paris art consultancy, conceived of an art collection that resembled that of the private residence of a wealthy Londoner, complete with the various types of art that could have been acquired in the 1830s.

“As the Lanesborough was built then as a hospital, we wanted to be faithful to the period and curate artworks that were authentic to the taste and style of the Regency period,” explained Alex Toledano, the president of Visto Images. The 2,000-some artworks, reflecting English taste at the time, are international, and were sourced not only from Britain but from France, Italy, Holland, Germany and China. They incorporate works on paper, hand-colored engravings, porcelain and paintings, including a pair of portraits from the 1750s by Sir Joshua Reynolds that hang in the entrance.

Whereas most new hotels favor designs that feel of the moment, Cabinet Alberto Pinto’s approach was to offer an Old English experience. “For so long there have been facsimiles used in hotels but guests today want and expect more,” said Amr Mandour, the studio’s lead decorator on the project. “There is a broad, intellectual movement toward authenticity in all areas of life and it’s our job as decorators to respond to that in our designs.”

That many upscale hotels have emphasized elaborate design concepts and curated artistic programs as a means to attract culture-hungry travelers isn’t all that rare in the industry. One of the pioneering examples of bridging the worlds of art and hospitality is 21c Museum Hotels, a boutique chain based in Louisville, Ky., that opened in 2006 and has properties in four other American cities, each with its own 21st-century art museum with curated exhibits open all day, every day, to the public and to guests.

Le Bristol in Paris, known for its classic 18th-century style with original works collected by the Oetker family, which owns the hotel, intends to draw those who love art but who may not be guests. In collaboration withGalerie Kamel Mennour, Daniel Buren created a pergola for Le Bristol that will be on view in the hotel’s garden through October, and the contemporary artist Hicham Berrada will illuminate the mirror screen in the Bar du Bristol with video installations.

Following that, the hotel will incorporate a series of sculptures in the garden by the Colombian artist Iván Argote, in association with the art exhibition Foire Internationale d’Art Contemporain and the Galerie Perrotin.

Integrating the scale of original artwork seen in the Beaumont or the Lanesborough is likely to exceed the budgets of most hoteliers, but those who can tell a story through such design considerations can enhance a guest’s experience. “Well-curated art collections in hotels, especially the most ambitious, help guests feel the identity of a place,” Mr. Toledano said. “They help these properties feel less standardized.”

South Beach Hotel

1 Hotel South Beach opened in March 2015 as the first hotel of an eco-focused, “nature-inspired” brand created by Barry Sternlicht, the chief executive of Starwood Capital Group. (There is also a 1 Hotel Central Park, which opened last summer, and a 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge opening later this year.) Driftwood accents, billowy curtains and muted tones imbue a relaxed, sophisticated ambience, while living-plant walls add a tropical element. A pleasant scent of eucalyptus, cardamom, cedar and oak wafts through the air. In the lobby, the nature theme takes a whimsical turn as decorative mushrooms sprout from columns; moss clings to walls; and driftwood-inspired furnishings are topped with cactus-filled terrariums. Reuse and recycle is a pervasive message. Key cards are fashioned from reclaimed wood; hangers are made out of recycled cardboard.

Location

The blocklong oceanfront hotel sits at the northernmost fringe of South Beach. Museums, shops and restaurants are within easy reach. There are also three Tesla electric cars driven by staff members and available between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. for free drop-offs within a three-mile radius of the hotel.

The Room

Our fourth-floor room was spacious and airy, with an L-shaped couch, large wood coffee table and multiple cushioned chairs. The king-size bed, outfitted with a “hemp-blend” Keetsa mattress, was perched on a raised oak platform. Missing but not missed from the room: a phone and brochures. Instead, a hand-held device, called the 1 Guide, doubles as a TV remote and is used to order room service, text the valet, request turndown service, and more. Unfortunately, the system failed more times than it worked. While breakfast was delivered in a timely fashion, other requests required follow-up calls. And when we tried to check out via the device, we received an error message and a bellhop never came up to collect our bags. Worse, no one answered when we called for assistance. Amenities included a yoga mat and a Nespresso machine. A minifridge contained juices, organic beer and coconut water as well as the usual soda and liquors. Snacks included kale chips and chocolate bars with sea-salt.

The Bathroom

An opaque sliding glass door with a driftwood handle opened to a spalike bathroom with a deep soaking tub and separate shower stall. An oversize interior window facing the bed let light into the bathroom. One design flaw: The privacy curtain was hung on the bedroom side, outside the bathroom, allowing your roommate to peek.

Amenities

There are four pools, including a 112-foot-long, adults-only rooftop pool and an expansive hot tub on the main pool deck that was overtaken by children (including ours) during our November stay. A free fruit stand in the lobby was continuously replenished. The Bamford Spa and Spartan Gym is set to open in December. On the beach, loungers, umbrellas, towels and toys are provided.

Dining

Two eggs ($6), house-made sausage ($6) and toast ($3) ordered at 7:21 a.m. through the hand-held 1 Guide arrived 34 minutes later. There are seven dining outposts including three from Tom Colicchio — a lobby bar, Tom on Collins; a poolside grill, the Sandbox; and Beachcraft, a farm-to-table restaurant serving organic and local fare with an emphasis on grilled seafood dishes.

Bottom Line

Spacious, comfortable and appropriately stylish, but the quality of service was undermined by the glitchy hand-held 1 Guide.