The boutique hotel design for SLS Hotel in South Beach, Miami is like eating a Serrano chile and mango popsicle: The first impression is refreshing and tasty, followed by the unexpected spicy kick of pepper. And the result is sublime.
After being gutted and restored, the former Ritz Plaza maintains the vast majority of its original Art Deco streamlined architecture. The exterior, the inside railings, even the ballroom is much the same as it was in 1940. But after your eyes adjust you start to see the inventive décor of the very prolific and talented Philippe Starck.
Punches of color added in artistic ways were complimentary to the overall white theme. In the sushi restaurant Katsuya, crisp white walls, ceilings and floor are the background for two gigantic portraits of a traditionally dressed Japanese woman and man. They are dignified and regal standing in front of a serenely white background. Starck carefully plans the artwork and then commissions a photographer to create his design. Like all of his artwork, they are curious and sly. The photographs beautifully animate the room they inhabit. The result is a luxurious fusion of Asian and Art Deco motifs.
There are the pockets of surprising intimacy in rooms such as the dusky gray lounge above the sushi bar. The sloped ceilings seem to press in on you. Enlarged details of Geisha’s make-up encrusted faces are the subject of back lit photos and are examples of Starck’s darkly sensual style.
Art imitates life (or is it the other way around?) with the tapestries that divide the outside cabanas by the pool. These life-size printed photographs create the surreal illusion of actual wall to wall shelves full of odd paintings and drawings and of stacks of books. You feel as if you just wandered into someone’s eclectic sun porch. I loved the patchwork tile “carpets” on the patio floor as well as the giant silver rubber ducky.
The SLS Hotel South Beach was featured at the HD Boutique convention in September 2012. A tour of the hotel was led by Joe Faust, Senior Vice President of Development for SBE – developers for hospitality properties. Faust gave us amusing but illuminating tales of the process of working with Philippe Starck, the international design giant.
According to Joe, Starck’s design instructions were made up of stacks of “scribbles” with volumes of accompanying narrative, describing the feel and concept of his plans. These sketches were interpreted by an interior designer colleague who would translate them into exact details of the architecture and furnishings. Then the specifications were given to a local interior designer. Finally it was the developer’s task to then work out the practicality and cost in the procurement of these details and then advocate for necessary changes in the design.
After years of working on similar projects, Faust’s skill in finding acceptable compromises and workable solutions must be masterful. The proof is in the pudding: A gorgeous world-class hotel design.
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