Suite dreams are made of this

From Mexican modernism to surreal spas in Austria, Nonie Niesewand checks in to designer label hotels around the world
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The Independent Online
A funny little no-name book on hotel design was published in the Eighties by a subversive American graphic designer called Dan Friedman. On his whistle-stop tour of the world taking pictures of hotel bedrooms, captions identified different hotels by name - the Sheraton, Hilton, Intercontinental - with their location. Flicking over the pictures, you discover that wherever in the world you went, the outlook was the same. Wall-to-wall beige. Baghdad or Boston, Agra or Zanzibar, carpets and cupboards, bedspreads, even those horrible slatted vertical blinds were all beige. The awfulness of that downmarket penthouse suite look was carefully cloned to conquer the world.

Of course it was a marketing strategy. Nothing too bold to put off the punter whose taste and style was unknown. No colour or pattern to distract them. But it's surprising that it took so long for hotels to buy into big, bold design.

Far-flung holiday destinations were the first to cash in on the vernacular architecture to style their hotels. Exotic Zen-style temples with scented flowers floating in private pools sprang up in Bangkok. Tree houses set up showers above game watering holes in Africa. English country house hotels flowered in chintz far from the country. Yet the avant garde design movement of the mid Eighties has only recently reached mainstream hotel chains in major cities.

Hotel Design by Otto Riewoldt shows us which ones. Individual chapters focus on designer hotels, international business hotels, resort and theme hotels and luxury hotels. At least when you check into any one of the hotels featured you won't have to worry about a room with a view.

It was Ian Schrager in New York who made designer label hotels in cities the haunt of the paparazzi when he bought the sleazy old Royalton opposite the Algonquin. He threw out the dime-slot water beds and got French designer Philippe Starck to style it. And Starck customised every fixture and fitting from the horn-shaped handles to the velvet dining chairs on moon-probe feet.

Armchair travellers should turn to page 18 of Hotel Design to check out the latest Schrager/Starck hotel, the all-white Delano's in Miami. It is known as the sanatorium for exhausted super models, and you don't even have to leave home to buy into the look of the pallid paletted hotel. Most things Starck designed for Delano's can be found in selected furniture stores. The washbasins styled with a round white porcelain bowl atop a table on page 21 are available at CP Hart, in London. I know, I've just bought a pair. And Viaduct furniture in London stocks high-sided, all- white linen-covered furniture that Starck designed for Delano's, made by Driade in Italy.

Now that Schrager has bought two buildings in London - the most under- bedded city in Europe - to turn into hotels with Starck, it's worth checking out his two main rivals: The Hempel, designed by Anouschka Hempel (page 34), and the Met, designed by United Designers(page 46). Or cross to Potsdam and the Art'Otel (page 42) to see how British designer Jasper Morrison's sinuous and shapely furniture looks in the lobby. You can buy his furniture at Conran's, too

Affronted by the bronze elephants standing next to Samson-scaled columns on real elephants' feet at Sun City in South Africa (page 158 ) I checked out swiftly to visit Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista (page 168). Aghast at post-modernist kitsch clapboard Robert Stern collaged together like a quilt on Disney's Boardwalk, I retreated to the Mexican modernism expressed in concrete columns and cubes coloured purple, pink, crimson and yellow at the Westin Regina Los Cabos. They call it the "architectural sculpture yard" which sounds like just the place to lie down and reflect upon style trials. Just reading Hotel Design makes me realise that I need a holiday.

So I've picked my next dream holiday destination - the surreal Rogner- Bad Blumau spa in Austria, crowned with turrets, golden domes and battlements (page 73). Stepping inside must be like climbing into a Klimt. Truly awesome and, I suspect, awful.

`Hotel Design', by Otto Riewoldt, is published by Laurence King at pounds 45; C P Hart, Newnham Terrace, Hercules Road, London SE1 (0171-902 1000).