There’s a somewhat frustrating trend happening in the hotel world these days. To draw crowds, more and more hotels are relying on peripherals — espresso bars, pop-up shops, gastropubs. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with good coffee or a happening bar scene, but sometimes hotels lose their focus on the rooms themselves — in theory, the backbone of the business. And this is a shame. To stay in a well-designed hotel room is a treat. So what makes for a thoughtful design? My preferences tend towards the more minimalist end of the spectrum, perhaps from having lived in Asia for so many years. But really it’s the feeling of openness that I am addicted to. It’s an invitation to relax. And that’s an invitation I can’t turn down. Here are three hotels whose rooms I’ve found truly exceptional…

The PuLi, Shanghai

The PuLi in Shanghai is an example of the most intelligent kind of interior design. For an urban hotel to create such a feeling of spaciousness within a relatively small space is quite a feat. First of all, when you walk in, there’s a lattice-like screen, which creates a kind of foyer. This helps the room feel more like a studio apartment that just your standard hotel room. Then, the bedroom and bathroom are divided, just barely, by two sliding partitions that can be tucked into a single column of solid wall. So you can choose to leave the screens open and it feels quite expansive. The TV, which hangs on this center column, kind of just floats. It’s nice to be able to watch television without staring at an expanse of blank wall. I found this to be a very clever design trick.

Another thing I love about the PuLi is that beneath the wall-to-wall window facing JinAn Park, there’s a daybed, and I’m quite a sucker for a good daybed. In the bathroom, you have a similar layout, with the bathtub is right beneath the window too. So there are plenty of places to be horizontal and still take in the excellent views of the city.

The Conrad, Tokyo

Every time I fly to Tokyo, I am painfully jet-lagged. But when I am staying at The Conrad, I find that I don’t really mind it. The rooms have floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall windows, which means that when I inevitably wake up at three or four in the morning, I can watch the sunrise over Tokyo Harbor — an almost too perfect a welcome to the Land of the Rising Sun. By Tokyo’s standards, the rooms at The Conrad are huge, and the interiors are particularly soothing. The design scheme is conservative, but still contemporary. There are patterns and motifs that allude to Japan’s history, but overall the rooms are sleek, with very clean lines.

Uxua, Brasil

Brazil is a special place to me. More than anything design-related, it’s the culture that I really love. As soon as you arrive, you are made to feel like family. And one place that embodies this sentiment quite well is Uxua.

The hotel feels very warm and familiar, like the vacation home of a chic friend, and that’s a tricky feeling to pull off, especially for the high-end hotels and resorts. The hotel is owned by Wilbert Das, who was for many years the creative director at Diesel. He is a very gifted designer, and I love that he worked so closely with local builders and craftspeople to bring the look together.

Das has a way of using textures and layers in a way that still feels appropriate in a tropical environment. There’s a lot of subtlety in his approach, and I very much appreciate that he’s not trying to create a spectacle when he’s designing a bedroom.

He uses a lot of wood, which I find to be a very warm and soothing material, but he mixes it up with lighter, brighter colors like white, blue and pink, so it never feels oppressive. Das also has a knack for finding the most interesting antiques from the area — pieces with history and character — that help give the rooms real personality. This is an advantage specific to small hotels. When you’re designing only nine rooms, you can use unique and original pieces, in a way which would be impossible on a large scale.

Thanks Laurent, happy travels…

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