5 Unique Luxurious Hotels from United States of America, Europe, to Oceania


The long journey to find well-designed hotels during wintertime has somehow become an annual ritual for me.

There is this pure excitement when I find a well-designed hotel where the designers and architect put their heart and pay attention to even the smallest details. It is a great joy to me to know that my “temporary home” while overseas is made with such passion and taste.

Since August last year to February this year, I have been traveling to three continents to find these gems. From ever-exciting New York City in the US, romantic Bratislava in Slovakia, the imperial ambience of Vienna, to the charming beauty of Christchurch in New Zealand: these are the cities focused on for this issue. Each hotel is truly unique and has strong design originality that gives them not only fame, but also recognition from their peers.

Vienna, Austria

Park Hyatt Vienna

Grande Dame

In a city like Vienna, it is well-quite impossible to establish a new building in the city center as most of the buildings are historically important and protected. Thus, changing the use of an existing building has become the way out, though they have to work within strict parameters in order to preserved the building facade and inside layout. One of the best recent examples of this kind of work in Vienna is none other than the newly opened Park Hyatt hotel.

At Park Hyatt, real luxury often discloses itself on second sight. Renovated and newly planned from top to bottom with great passion, a multitude of artisans have revitalized the historical building on Am Hof 2, true to its original form. In 1913, the building was drafted by architects Ernst von Gotthilf and Alexander Neumann before it finally opened in 1915 as the headquarters of the Lower Austria company Escompte and later Laenderbank. It is done in the Art Nouveau style, which is characterized by natural forms, structures and curved lines. When it was sold from its last owner, Bank Austria, to Park Hyatt Vienna’s owning company SIGNA in 2008, renowned Viennese architecture office Neumann + Partner as well as interior firm FG Stijl from Amsterdam were assigned to convert the building into a hotel. The result of their work is simply magnificent.

From the lobby, to the room and even the spa, the hotel oozes grandiosity from the fine crasftsmanship of the 600 workers, including designers and artisans, who returned the building to its glory days. The 143 guest rooms, including 35 suites, were formerly bank offices and because of that no two rooms have the same size or ceiling height. Inspired by the ancient bank building and Viennese culture, FG Stijl designed a soothing wooden tone with Viennese-inspired contemporary art and Italian marble in the bathroom that creates a residential feel. A few iconic design accents are implemented in the rest of hotel as well as ornamental works. The first is the use of mother of pearl, where it is subtlely utilized as part of the tile motif and inlaid into the mini-bar cabinet handle. The second is that the door design inside the guest rooms is based on the design of the air shaft of the former bank. However, the last and the best is the obvious massive Art Nouveau ornament that is inspired by a brooch.

That brooch, originally created by Joseph Hoffmann, Karl Otto Czeschka and Dagobert Peche of Wiener Werkstatte (1903-1932), is blown into oversized proportions and used as a wall sculpture that can be seen from the Reception Area to guest rooms and suites.

Not only that, but the designer also decided to use a historic hair comb as a model for sculptures on a plinth in the Reception Area and in the corridors. Hair combs were used widely in the 1920s when the short hair style (bob/crop) became fashionable.

Spectacular changes of function can also be seen at their only restaurant called The Bank, located in the former cashier hall. Here, you can also see Hyatt’s worldwide signature open-kitchen concept. The historical bank director’s offices with ballroom and Bel Etage are now also transformed into a stunning conference and meeting room. A further architectural icon in this hotel can also be seen at the bar called Pearl. As its name suggests, here we see not only the continued use of mother of pearl in the interior design but also stunning mirror-glass staircase in art deco style inspired by the similar stairs at Coco Chanel’s apartment in Paris. It is an elaborate, artistic, low-carbon steel staircase that is supported by a pearl-covered column as homage to the hands-on elegance of Coco Chanel.

In overall, the grandiose ambience at Park Hyatt Vienna, which opened just last year, is one of the finest in its category. So much attention to detail is given to the design, from unseen elements like a bar handle/button made from mother of pearl to obvious ones like putting gold bar-like tiles on their 15-meter-long pool in the former bank vault (which still has its original steel door, weighing three tons). Park Hyatt Vienna is really a fine example of modern luxury design incorporated into an existing historical establishment.

Christchurch, New Zealand

The George

The Modern Luxury

In 1850 a great ship known as Sir George Seymour arrived in Canterbury, New Zealand, as part of a flotilla of four big vessels that was carrying immigrants from the UK. The legacy of the name still remains until now on and it is preserved at The George, a chic hotel in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Located in the heart of Christchurch overlooking the serene Hagley Park and river Avon, this hotel was established in 1974. Known first as Arlington Motor Lodge, the hotel went through 2 more changes before it finally became The George in 1987. As soon we enter this hotel, we can feel a modern yet sophisticated ambience. This entrance area also has an interesting blended lobby where lobby, bar, restaurant and lounge become one.

The blended lobby concept comes from Richard Dalman of Dalman Architecture, who did a major renovation in 2005 to this area. Throughout this brilliant concept, the blended lobby becomes a business and social hub, where guests may connect with colleagues and friends as well as their “devices”. This new lobby environment provides lively social areas, relaxed spaces for coffee meetings and more intimate spots for undertaking individual work while still making the guest feel part of the vibrancy of the hotel.

With its total 53 rooms, this luxury boutique hotel choose to go with a subtle and understated approach. Refurbished in 2009 by Warren & Mahoney, a Christchurch-based Architectural firm, each suite now has a lighter, more spacious feeling, with rationalized storage space, and the addition of glamorous mirrored entry lobbies. The addition of sliding opaque glass doors to the bathrooms also created a more useable floor area and improved the flow between spaces.

Dark timber, mirror, mosaic tiles and plush velvet give the space a sophisticated, upmarket look, while the muted color pallet creates a feeling of calm and serenity. The focal point in each room is the perforated graphic lacquer panels featuring an abstracted oak leaf design inspired by the planting of an English Oak tree at the 1863 inauguration of the Christchurch Botanic Gardens. The panels reference The George’s enviable parkside setting, and provide an elegant point of difference in a world of ubiquitous hotel artwork.

The George might be located at the end of the world; however, it is full of surprises, especially design-wise.

Bratislava, Slovakia

Kempinski Hotel River Park

The Ultra Modern

To me, Kempinski is a hotel brand that likes to emphasize luxury and sophistication at unique and often historical establishments. In Bratislava, Kempinski Hotel River Park stands as the place where business and society meet. Opened in June 2010, this hotel by the Danube river is actually a newly built establishment, but it is quite obvious that they are setting the luxury standard in Bratislava.

Designed by award-winning Dutch architect Erick van Egeraat, the Kempinski Hotel River Park is the heart of the ambitious River Park development project, which was finalized in the same year. The L-shape building, completed in a combination of glass, metal and wood, oozes the spirit of ultra-modern design. The spirit continues to the interior where clean lines in sleek and sophisticated surroundings of red and gold catch the eye. Slovak renowned interior designer Zuzana Cambelova from CADE bound these elements together and added Italian fine furniture, black marble, rosewood flooring and velvet to give a solid total look to the modern design theme.

Featuring 231 guest rooms and suites in over 7 floors overlooking the Plaza and or Danube River, this hotel has a warm crème and brown colour scheme combined with high-quality wooden furniture, while the use of sandstone in the bathrooms creates a cosy and relaxed atmosphere. As for the 31 suites, Zuzana created a slightly different ambience by using onyx, black marble, silk fabrics, teak and gold mosaics together with the latest technical equipment to add to the suite’s grand atmosphere.

Found throughout the hotel, I also noticed rose motif as ornamentation – even printed on the carpet. Chosen by Slovak artist Peter Rusnak, the rose is the central leitmotif of the hotel. The inspiration came from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, in particular from one empress that once ruled the Habsburg dynasty, known as Maria Theresa. As the sovereign of Austria, Hungary, Croatia, Bohemia, Mantua, Milan, Lodomeria and Galicia, the Austrian Netherlands and Parma, Maria Theresa was known for her obsession with the rose. At Kempinski Hotel River Park, the rose motif is used decoratively in elevators, on central pillars, restaurants, doors and the main door to the presidential suite.

As the most luxurious hospitality institution in Bratislava, Kempinski Hotel River Park design lives up to expectations.

SoHo, New York, US

Crosby Street Hotel

The Eclectic Spirit

In order to understand the beauty of this unique hotel, we first should meet the design mastermind behind the venue itself: Kit Kemp MBE from Firmdale Hotels. As an award-winning designer for most of her hotel designs, Kit is an outstanding architect with internationally acclaimed recognition for her individual and original yet innovative approach to interiors. She has her own idea of arranging spaces with a carefree and colorful spirit. Together with her husband Tim Kemp, they collectively own great design hotels, which include The Soho, Covent Garden, Charlotte Street, Haymarket, Ham Yard Number Sixteen, Knightsbridge, and Dorset Square Hotels in London and Crosby Street Hotel in New York.

First to open in 2009, Crosby Street Hotel in the heart of SoHo is Kit Kemp’s debut in the US. Built completely new, the façade of this hotel has an olden-days industrial aesthetic that fits perfectly with its surroundings. The minimalist façade of brick, stone and glass with floor-to-ceiling warehouse windows are a tribute to the typical SoHo design characteristic.

The design changes as soon as we arrived at the lobby area, and it immediately brings you to the quirky yet eclectic London style of Kit Kemp’s trademark. The ground floor blends wood, metal, glass and stone. Wide gray oak floorboards sit alongside soaring metal-framed windows and doors that provide abundant natural light. A sophisticated, grown-up look, mixing color, texture and patterns with antique-meets-modern furniture; and stunning collection of contemporary art such as the dramatic 10-foot-tall Jaume Plensa steel sculpture as a human head created from letters of the alphabet are perhaps the best way to describe this area and the hotel’s overall ambience.

All 86 rooms and suites in this hotel are individually designed, featuring floor-to-ceiling warehouse style windows. Kit’s quirky and eclectic look here is fresh, colorful but still keeping that perfect balance of classicism, elegance and modernity. Again we see that the combination of colors, texture and patterns on muted color juxtapose sleek modern furniture and specially designed lighting. An odd and out-of-place item such as a floral motif dress mannequin is displayed in some rooms (including my suite) and I have to say it is quite refreshing to see than the usual and predictable hotel décor.

The hotel is also known for other facilities such as The Crosby Bar and the drawing room in deep pink and greay that is characterized by deep patchwork sofas, organic objects in wood and large oil paintings by artist Francois Bard. Other stand-out (and unusual) facilities in this hotel include the private cinema with 99 orange leather Poltrona Frau seats and walls padded in a violet wool; sculpture courtyard featuring a tall organic tree sculpture and suspended pendant lights hanging from above, a native woodland meadow planted with an array of native flowering plants; and a rooftop kitchen garden that supplies the hotel with seasonal produce such as strawberries, heirloom tomatoes, courgettes and many others.

You will always find new details to enjoy at Crosby Street Hotel thanks to the flamboyant design of Kit Kemp that is not only original but also memorable.

Upper East Side, New York, US

The Surrey

The Stylish Hotel

A stay at The Surrey will give you the feeling that you are staying at the private residence of a fabulous male designer. Since the first step to the lobby area up to the room and even to the oh-so-Coco Chanel Pleiades bar, I cannot stop thinking how sexy yet subtle is the whole ambience in this hotel. Located in one of Manhattan’s most exclusive addresses, the Upper East Side, and literally perched on the edge of Central Park, The Surrey is definitely a place where sophistication meets good taste.

Nestled inside a Beaux-Arts building built in pre-war times, The Surrey was treated to a more than $60 million beautification by renowned architect and interior designer Lauren Rottet, FAIA, IIDA. Different to other areas in New York, the Upper East Side is known for its residential townhouse characteristics. At The Surrey, we got to experience this ambience through the use of a refined palette of textures and hues of cream, silver, gray, light tobacco and black that creates a contemporary yet timeless appearance.

The hotel showcases coffered ceilings, limestone walls and moldings, and marble archways and floors in the lobby. Adding a sense of personality to the overall design is an array of eclectic pieces such as the front desk made of hand-tooled leather, and an antique oriental carpet in mosaic tiles that seem to have been acquired through worldly travels. However, it is Rottet’s artistic approach to feature a stunning collection of modern and contemporary works from a variety of renowned artists here that gives The Surrey its solid, stylish identity.

The art collection in this hotel is quite serious. From the obvious big tapestry featuring Kate Moss by Chuck Close as the focal point at the lobby, Jimmie Martin’s graffiti armoire, to even Mel Bochner’s one-of-a-kind, 50-foot print can be found at various places at this hotel. My advice is to ask the hotel staff to take you on a mini-tour to see all the art here, including some located inside the presidential suite and penthouse (including the work of Richard Serra).

The Surrey’s design really gives you a flair for the drama that goes entirely from the lobby to the rooms (known as salons). The continuity of pattern and texture in cream, silver, gray and black that goes to the salon is interpreted in art deco custom-designed furnishings such as hand-painted armoires, walnut cabinets and nightstands with burled wood insets. Again, the prints of 1700s etchings that Lauren Rottet found while traveling in Milan, as well as black-and-white photos of New York scenes form a balancing accent that gives you a residential feeling.

Additional facilities such as the discreet Cornelia spa on the 2nd floor, a roof garden overlooking Upper East Side and Central Park, and a Michelin Star Café Bouloud by the famous Chef Daniel Bouloud, are key elements that add up to the hotel’s overall fine style. The Surrey on the Upper East Side is the best example for those of you who are curious on sampling the ambience of New York’s prestigious society.

Like this story, share to your friends
Erza S.T.
Erza has pursued his great passion for opera and classical music for over a decade. His brainchild, the Indonesia Opera Society, has produced many classical music concerts and operas, and recently marked its 10th anniversary with a gala production. He is also a journalism lover focusing on luxury, lifestyle and travel stories, which he files from datelines around the globe.

Related Stories