A room without walls, a palace that makes you feel like a local, and clever design that's as simple as nature. We get to know the designers that transform how you think, feel and behave without you even knowing it.
Words: Marianne Françoise Dick
Main Image: Passalacqua, Lake Como
In The Architecture of Happiness, author and philosopher Alain de Botton writes, “Beauty is a likely outcome whenever architects skilfully mediate between any number of oppositions, including the old and the new, the natural and the manmade, the luxurious and the modest, and the masculine and the feminine.”
It is this elusive magic of extraordinary contrasts that talented designers cleverly set about to distil in rare and incomparable luxury hotels. Between the unfamiliar and what feels like home, between worlds we might have daydreamed about in a spellbinding novel, and those that offer all the comforts we desire at hand – it’s these surprising elements that makes such places so exceptional.
On an atmospheric waterfront of Lake Como, the setting of Hollywood films and the home of its stars, the 18th-century Passalacqua proudly protrudes from dainty palm trees. If you’re not wowed by this impressive structure at first glance, the interiors are sure to sway you. They have been carefully renovated by design visionary and Como-born Valentina De Santis of the De Santis family. Her legendary fame is already whispered about on these shores, after she transformed the fortunes of the family’s sister hotel the Grand Hotel Tremezzo with her artistic attention to detail.
At Passalacqua, she has fused modernity and heritage together with a warm familiarity that can be felt in every room. Antiquities, many of which have been sourced from local markets by the family, decorate the walls, while the country’s inimitable artisanal treasures are used in abundance, from Como silk curtains, to Murano candelabras reminiscent of confectionary, and over 20 different kinds of marble. The learned traditions of a glassblower’s steady hand and the delicate turn of a wood carver’s chisel are brought up to date with contemporary relevance.
Valentina’s vision encourages the spirit of ‘meraviglia’ and slow living. This can be as simple as wandering into the open country-style kitchen and learning to make ice cream with Laura, who owns a local gelateria named after her grandmother. Afternoons are spent being enticed to rest under lily-petal parasols or exploring further afield with Beppe the boatman, who grew up by the water. A Gatsby-esque whimsy make these discoveries – from the intimate nook of a bar to a well-stocked library – almost like a fairy tale. Striped parasols glow beside the twinkling lake; aromas of orange, lemon and jasmine float through the air; and new friendships are formed over jewel-toned aperitifs. A stay here is like retreating to your own Lake Como palace, but with the understanding of someone who loves the area dearly.
Meanwhile, in St Lucia, the Sulphur Springs aren’t the only thing to erupt from the ground; a Brutalist architectural feat appears to grow gracefully from a thick jungle that clads the steep hillside: Jade Mountain Resort. The architect and owner, Nick Troubetzkoy, chose this spot over two decades ago because of the exact vista it offers. Revolutionary and innovative even today, it was controversial when it was first built, with many doubting it would succeed. But Troubetzkoy proved them wrong.
The suites at Jade Mountain don’t feature a fourth wall, so each private infinity pool overlooks the emerald Pitons that rise sensationally out of the sapphire ocean. The main decor here is simply the uninterrupted scenery and the inimitable spectacle of nature.
The wonder of this paradise is felt throughout the resort too: every surface is made up of local materials that were melded by the hands of 500 local tradesmen. “The adventurous journey to your sanctuary is via a long, suspended sky bridge to infinity which is yours and yours alone,” says Troubetzkoy. “Your entry door is a massive rough, hewn slab of exotic tropical hardwood. Your first step inside creates an instant spiritual uplift. The infinity pool in front of you is a luminescent Persian carpet floating you out into space, to hover over the Caribbean Sea, hypnotised by St Lucia’s magnificent Piton mountains.” The sublime beauty of this ethereal island is celebrated through the very stone, wood, flora and fauna that make up the hotel, inviting anyone who visits to become a warden of the regeneration and protection of the island and its people.
The natural world can often find its way into vibrant designs, starting as a seed of inspiration and growing into the biggest spectacle of a project. Interior designer Cate Simpson and founder of studio Reflecting Africa is remarkably perceptive of the wonders of nature. She has continued to create thoughtful, sensitive spaces ever since her first project on the private North Island resort in the Seychelles. “It must feel like you have arrived in such a special destination that everywhere you look, there is a new detail and a new reflection of where you are in this moment,” she says. “One cannot compete with natural beauty, so we must rather try and allow the design to complement and further enhance the unique aspects that nature is boasting in the particular situation.”
Akin to Jade Mountain, much of North Island’s appeal is its openness, vast spaces and seamless integration with nature. The roots of this destination can be felt in the hand-carved beds and weathered wood features, while the fine silverware and sumptuous linen make a stay simultaneously decadent. The palette changes with the sun – day is reflected coolly by teal-toned finishes, while island evenings are represented by fiery hues.
These innovative designers cleverly reflect the beauty of contrasts. Each space so intricate and precise that it simultaneously uplifts and soothes, exhilarates and calms. There isn’t much more that we can ask for from the places we stay.
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