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Soft Sells

(March 2017) posted on Wed Mar 29, 2017

Today’s coolest hotel collections and soft brands make superb styling and experiential expertise their book of standards. This trendsetting trio shows how.

By Oriana Lerner

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Deep scarlet tones evoke equal parts elegant drapery and slightly illicit glamour. A geometric gold wall brings the vibe into the 21st century. Photo: Elegancia Hotels

Not that hotel owner Corine Boulay was taking a literal approach, either to the concept of the comtesse or the 18th-century references that are scattered throughout the property. Instead, she and architects Cabinet A3+ turned tension into the driving force behind the look.

First, there’s the dichotomous persona of the countess. “She is mysterious and complex and likes solitude that’s conducive to reflection and reading. But, she’s also very festive and social. So, we designed the hotel to reflect that,” says Boulay. An ultramodern marble origami-like reception desk brings a rococo palette into the 21st century. An 18th century painting becomes a contemporary statement when it’s reimagined as door art in the hotel’s hammam.

Oversize lights evoke crumpled manuscript paper. Rich dark finishes offer a sophisticated backdrop. Photo: Elegancia Hotels

How did the team tie the 40-room hotel into Elegancia’s DNA? While the company didn’t have a direct hand in the design, Boulay and the architect channeled the hotelier’s signature love of saturated colors and historic architectural details. Touches like elaborate molding and elaborate tables pay tribute to the intricacy of the French aesthetic. Marble accents around the bathtub offer an elegant accent. Cup of chocolat, anyone?

Yoo2 Rio de Janeiro
Yoo Hotels and Resorts

Cut the drama. That’s the catchphrase for some of today’s hottest boutique properties. Yes, eye-catching styling is a must and design has never been more important than it is to social-media-obsessed guests booking—and judging—hotels based on their looks. But designers are shifting the balance from “wow” toward “aah.”

It's easy being green in the Cariocally restaurant. Real greenery sets the tone, and similarly hued tile gives a manmade echo. Photo: Denilson Machado

Case in point: YOO2 Rio de Janeiro. Bright colors and a bold geometric tiles are not exactly quiet focal points, but they get a counterweight from nature-inspired statements such as ferns that look like they are growing out of the wall of a cafe or stylized palm imagery that creates a verdant ceiling of the YOO2 Family room (one of the guest room configurations).

A curvy chair provides a chill place to lounge. Rows of potted plants fill the role usually given to books. Photo: Denilson Machado

To do that, YOO Studio's (the umbrella brand of YOO Hotels and Resorts) head of design Mark Davison and his team looked to a simpler time to distill the vibrant chaos of modern Rio into an urban oasis with equal parts yin and yang.

“We immersed ourselves in Rio’s culture, especially the nostalgic notion of its heyday in the ’50s when it had the iconic status as the biggest beach resort in the world, and the music and films of the time,” says Davison. “These influences were woven into every detail of the design, from the choice of materials to the color palette and especially the bold graphic elements used throughout.” That plays out not only in outsize statements like the elevator, but in the gold, teal and bronze headboards. Aqua cushions on rooftop seating evoke the beach. Green wallpaper in the restaurant plays off the actual plants on the walls.

Mark Davison, Yoo Studio. Photo: Denilson Machado

While YOO, unlike many soft brands, has an in-house design team, Davison also worked with a local design team to bring in area artists and artisans. That resulted in a commissioned bold graffiti mural in the elevator shaft designed by Marcelo Ment, a Rio-based based street artist and tiles made by a 100-year old Brazilian firm.

So, it’s not about putting a brand stamp on these properties. Instead, designers need to think about crafting a signature ethos for each space within the hotel, whether that’s expressed in lush artwork or reclaimed wood. Forget about the easy trademarks. Swap out books of standards for reams of inspiration—if all the world is a stage, then it’s up to the design teams to dress that set.


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