Opened in 1978, London’s Blakes Hotel could justifiably claim to be the world’s first boutique hotel. Springing from a set of converted South Kensington Victorian townhouses, the luxurious lodgings brim with curiosities from the corners of the ancient world, collected by hotel founder and designer Anouska Hempel. However, it was the chic, minimalist approach of the Morgans Hotel, opened in New York six years later by developer Ian Schrager and designer Andree Putman, that truly captured the imagination—and the zeitgeist—and is generally credited with giving birth to the boutique hotel phenomenon that continues to this day.
Morgans closed in 2017 (to be turned into premium micro-apartments) but not before Schrager, this time with new designer Philippe Starck, established the Morgans Hotel Group, setting up further iconic boutique lodgings around the world. Now, design hotels take the boutique concept in another direction, with brand new (or, sometimes renovated) buildings boasting innovative, eye-catching exteriors, often with an environmentally-friendly slant, and always one-of-a-kind. Verve has whittled down a selection of some of the very best…
1. The Woodhouse, China
This incredible environmental-cum-art-like project comes courtesy of Shanghai-based architects ZJJZ and comprises a 10-strong collection of mountainside cabins surrounded by forest. The government-backed agricultural tourism endeavour seeks to “harmonise with the landscape and the rustic atmosphere”, state the arhitects, while “forming a contrast to the existing village buildings”. That remote village, Tuanjie, in Guizhou province, lacks traditional architecture so the designers used the rustic surroundings for inspiration. The Woodhouse cabins harmonise wonderfully with the woodland, their carbonised timber facades positioned to maximise views while minimising disturbance to rock formations, and charred on-site to reduce costs. Construction materials were also transported manually up the mountainside.
2. The Lindis, New Zealand
The low-slung, undulating timber roof is just one of an array of arresting design features of New Zealand’s latest uber-luxury lodging, The Lindis, positioned in north Otago’s Ahuriri Valley and seeming to almost bubble from beneath the earth. Set on a sprawling 6,000-acre site surrounded by three conservation parks, masses of glass allow guests uninterrupted views of some of Aotearoa’s most dramatic mountain landscapes while cattle and merino sheep roam in the immediate grounds. The isolated structure incorporates rock and timber, and there are plans to introduce glass-topped pods for star-gazing later this year.
3. Guntu Hotel, Japan
The delightful Guntu Hotel, named in honour of a species of local crab, merges a marine experience with Japan’s iconic minimalist aesthetics. Each surface is adorned with inviting pale timbers, with decks that beg to be walked barefoot and a silver hull that changes with the atmospheric tones of the ocean. Nineteen cabins, all with private terraces, offer spectacular views of the tranquil Seto Island Sea and its mountainous coastline, with amenities that include a treatment room, communal bath, and a sauna; while guests are also able to dine on sushi caught straight from the sea.
4. Pumphouse Point, Australia
Hotels don’t come much more isolated than Tasmania’s Pumphouse Point, positioned in the world heritage-listed Cradle Mountain, Lake St Clair National Park. Originally built during the 1930s and ‘40s—but never used—to pump water from Lake St Clair, the erstwhile hydroelectricity station to be offers floor to ceiling wraparound windows, some of which are right above the water to give guests the impression that they’re floating on it. Other cool design cues of this lichen covered concrete construction include exposed piping, oak cladding and industrial hanging lights. Ample luxury is proffered by way of a wood fire and mohair throws, while guests can borrow rowing boats or fishing rods—and the on-site chef can prepare any catch. You’ll be dying to Instagram this bucket list boutique, but you’ll have to wait as there’s strictly—and proudly—no Wi-Fi.
5. Katamama, Indonesia
Based in the beach resort of Seminyak on Bali’s southern coast, Katamata is a 57-suite lodging with sea views, surrounded by asam trees, coconut palms and frangipani bushes. The striking sun-kissed exterior comprises bricks that were hand-pressed by craftsmen in a local village while the interior sports custom-made teak furniture, hand-woven furnishings and original artworks. A celebration of all things Indonesian, the kitchen and bar sources fresh produce from next door for cocktails and fine dinging culinary creations.
6. Casa Bonay, Spain
Channelling the creative, and occasionally quirky spirit of Barcelona, Casa Bonay is set in a 19th-century neoclassical residential building and boasts the likes of glassed-in balconies and terraces with hammocks and outdoor showers. Cobbled floors outside give way to mosaic ones inside and there’s a wonderful sun trap rooftop that doubles as a bar during summer. Original masonry also still graces this now soundproofed city structure, further enhancing its character. A popular hangout for visitors and the super stylish Spanish locals alike.
7. Wuyuan Skywells, China
Springing from a 300-year-old mansion in the shadow of mountain ranges and rice paddies in the rural province of Jiangxi, Wuyuan Skywells is an astonishing feat of engineering and imagination. Having previously served as a merchants’ inn and military barracks, the mansion was left to crumble for decades until Anyscale Architecture Design restored the likes of its traditional latticework and timber frame—with the aid of local artisans—while introducing contemporary design elements like an all-glass eatery to complement its brick and clay walls. A time capsule to another era—with the comforts of the 21st century.
8. Treehotel, Sweden
No design feature would be complete without some Scandinavian input of course, and Treehotel offers seven of the very best. Inspired by The Tree Lover, a movie about three city slickers who built a treehouse to reconnect with nature, each unique structure is suspended 4-6 metres above ground in an Arctic Circle forest of lofty pines with views of the Lule River and, often the northern lights. Different architects designed the suites which include a birds nest, a UFO and a mirrored cube. The site, constructed using eco-friendly practices, uses hydroelectric power, electric toilets, has its own water system, and later this year will see the addition of a ‘floating’ open air bath.