Design-led hotels are not new to Amsterdam, but the Conservatorium upped the tempo when it opened last year, displaying an ambition that must have taken a fair amount of Dutch courage.
It was the first member of a high-end collection called The Set, the second being London's Café Royal and the third, Paris's under-wraps renovation of the Lutetia. Yet little pretension pervades these 19th-century walls, which originally housed a bank, before resounding to sound of the Sweelinck Conservatory, the music academy from which the hotel takes its name.
Holding its architectural own amid a cluster of cultural attractions in the city's Museumplein district, the five-star Neo-Gothic pile could quite easily be mistaken for a museum itself.
Inside, a sophisticated interplay between the past and present is at work. Orchestrated by Italian architect and designer Piero Lissoni, the decorative tug of war starts as soon as you choose which entrance to use. There's the grand, historic porch on the lively Van Baerlestraat, through which smart shops and a shower of hanging violins greet visitors. Or enter via the 21st-century at the back where a soaring atrium has been created by enclosing the courtyard in glass, as if it really is a museum piece. Light abounds.
The open-plan atrium is the hotel's contemporary hub where Amsterdammers and guests relax amid the mismatched lounge furniture and the more muted brasserie under Edison lightbulbs. The areas are separated by a horticultural oasis rising from the Akasha spa below, squared off by glass shelves filled with pottery.
In the vaulted corridors of the historic part of the hotel, money talks. The features of its former incarnation as a bank glow under low lighting – original wall tiles depict honeybees as a symbol of prudence.
Flanking the atrium, the Tunes bar serves up Hendrick's gin to an after-work crowd, while the restaurant of the same name offers imaginative dishes – Waldorf salad with sweetbreads or duck with beetroot, cherries and dauphinoise potatoes – from an open kitchen under the trained eye of chef Schilo van Coevorden.
All guests are assigned a "host" and can access the "human library" – a directory of experts in everything from floristry to shopping, who offer their time for a fee. However, Wi-Fi, water, newspapers and fruit are all complimentary.
The Conservatorium rubs shoulders with the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh and Stedelijk Museums and the Concertgebouw. For shopping, there's the grand arcade within the hotel's confines or the nearby designer shops at PC Hooftstraat. Amsterdam's centre is a 30-minute walk or head south to Cornelis Schuytstraat, where you'll find a village atmosphere and upmarket stores. The Vondelpark – Amsterdam's largest – is a jog away.
Reaching Schiphol airport is delightfully easy – hop on a 197 bus by the Concertgebouw. The 30-minute journey costs €4.
There are 129 rooms and suites spread over eight floors, with a dizzying number of options. Almost half have two floors, a concession to the building's lofty dimensions. I was in room 528, a Grand Duplex Suite whose outer wall is entirely double-glazed-glass with a view of the Stedelijk Museum. The first floor is given over to a bathroom, with a rain shower and a separate bath. Up the glass-sided staircase, a mezzanine plays host to a generously-sized bed. The back wall has the compositional feel of a Mondrian painting, all dark lines and panels, but cleverly hides a secret door that opens to reveal a second bathroom.
The design is sleek and restrained, right down to the Lissoni televisions that resemble slabs of black marble. A muted palette – brown, beige and grey – is occasionally lifted by pops of bright colour. Here, a bright blue constellation of Royal Delft plates orbiting against the white of the wall; there, a mustard yellow Cassina clothes horse. The bathrooms also are kitted out with L'Occitane products and LCD mirror TVs. While the technology is largely discreet, the 37 different light switches that I counted invoked my inner Luddite.
Conservatorium, Van Baerlestraat 27, Amsterdam, the Netherlands (00 31 20 20 570 0000; conservatoriumhotel.com).
Doubles start at €310, room only.