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  • Andrea Black

Rooms of Her Own

Meet the women pushing boundaries in hotel design. By Andrea Black

The view from a suite at The BoTree, London, designed by the Amsterdam-based multidisciplinary design firm Concrete. Photography by Simon Brown.

Female designers are leading the way in the creation of innovative hotel spaces, though this hasn’t always been the case. In 1927, when Charlotte Perriand requested to join Le Corbusier’s studio and work in his architecture firm, his response was sharp — “We don’t embroider cushions here” — and he showed her the door. Months later, Le Corbusier apologised after seeing “Bar in the Attic”, a rooftop bar that Perriand had created in glass, steel and aluminium for the Salon d’Automne exhibition in Paris. She remained an influential figure, designing everything from furniture to a French ski resort, and was acclaimed as one of the very few women to have succeeded in the male-dominated domain.


Back then in the US, a female interior designer was known as a decorator. Dorothy Draper was one of the pioneers, who, from the 1930s, transformed such hotels as The Carlyle in New York and The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, with her signature Modern Baroque (otherwise known as Hollywood Regency) style, which is still on trend today. The lobby of The Carlyle still features Draper’s original streamlined motifs from the 1930s and her signature bulging bouquets of fresh blossoms. Today, at the opulent Greenbrier, the Draper Suites continue to sport decor featuring vibrant colours, floral patterns and bold contrasts.


Draper once said that “there seems to be within all of us an innate yearning to be lifted momentarily out of our own lives into the realm of charm and make-believe”, which is exactly what a beautifully designed hotel can do. Today, visionary female interior designers are creating enduring and significant spaces that are driving the hotel industry forward. And it’s something to be celebrated. As renowned British designer Ilse Crawford, the founder of design firm Studioilse, said: “We need to honour our heroines because unless they are visible, we will not encourage the next generation of female designers.”


These creatives are changing up hotel interiors and making a big impact.



The drawing room of an Ett Hem residence, designed by Studioilse. Photography by Magnus Mårding.
Ett Hem, Stockholm

When British designer Ilse Crawford collaborated with Swedish hotelier Jeanette Mix to design Ett Hem, in the Stockholm district of Lärkstaden, a decade ago, the hotel was heralded as one of the best in the world. After Mix bought two neighbouring townhouses, Crawford was called on to convert them into an extension of the much-loved establishment. One townhouse opened in 2022, offering 10 guest rooms and a welcoming kitchen. The other, conceived as three two-level residences, launched this year. 


The very name Ett Hem means “a home”, and that’s exactly the feel Crawford has gone for, albeit by creating luxurious, well-considered spaces featuring a carefully curated mix of vintage and custom-made furniture. With fine attention to detail, Crawford has played with a sense of balance and scale via chandeliers lit by real candles, an abundance of seasonal flowers and handpainted murals. Meanwhile, the core qualities of the architecture have been preserved. 


Crawford is renowned for her calming interiors. Anyone who has visited Cathay Pacific’s The Pier Business Class Lounge in Hong Kong would be familiar with her soothing aesthetic. It has a strong residential vibe, often featuring warm materials such as walnut, limestone, bronze and brass. Crawford’s Studioilse has set the blueprint for Cathay Pacific business lounges around the world. 


The new residences at Ett Hem are designed for long stays. On site is a wellness centre, a gym and a verdant garden connecting the properties.



Details in The BoTree’s interiors include custom woven headboards. Photography by Simon Brown
The BoTree, London

Opened in September, The BoTree, located in the heart of London’s West End, where Marylebone, Mayfair and Soho meet, was designed to capture the spirit of the area’s village life. The team at Amsterdam-based multidisciplinary design firm Concrete — including Melanie Knüwer, Hilka Ackermann and founder Rob Wagemans — have perfectly captured all that is vibrant about this charming little enclave. 


Every room features a custom-designed headboard with a floral design inspired by the flower displays that can be found outside many specialty shops in Marylebone. The meticulous weaving technique used to create the headboard gives added texture, which blends well with the ribbed wood and fluted glass elements throughout the space. 


One of the most unique and surprising features of the rooms at The BoTree is the layout. Immediately, the eye is drawn to the spacious dressing room, complete with marble finishes, mirrors and metallic touches. This transitions to the bedroom, where a cosy sofa situated in the bay window invites guests to relax and take in the beautifully framed views of London. The BoTree Suite features a private balcony and a ceiling elegantly adorned with artificial silk flowers. Vases of fresh flowers, a display of art books and bespoke Scandinavian furniture add to the relaxed yet sophisticated feel. 



Hotel Per La, Los Angeles

The opulent but breezy Ristorante Per L’Ora at Hotel Per La in Los Angeles. Photography by The Ingalls.

Tasked with reimagining the public spaces in Hotel Per La — previously known as the NoMad — in downtown Los Angeles, interior designer Jaqui Seerman aimed to infuse the establishment with the breezy, laidback vibe the city is known for. “This involved creating a botanical oasis at the entrance and introducing a mirrored portal for guest check-in,” says Seerman. “Our new design injected organic, elegant forms; soft ruffles replaced heavy tufting, and light linens were employed in place of formal pleats, brocades and rigid structures. These adjustments to the design not only captured the essence of Los Angeles but also enhanced the overall welcoming ambience of the space.”


Indeed, at Hotel Per La, floods of natural California light stream through the giant iron-framed windows. The high-vaulted Italianate ceiling, restored in swathes of blue and gold, adds to the unconstrained feel, and looks the way it may have when the building opened as the LA headquarters of the Bank of Italy in 1922.


This fresh iteration, which launched late last year, includes three eateries and 241 rooms and suites. The grand hall on street level is home to Per L’Ora, a restaurant that, like the hotel’s design, marries Italian and California fare. On the roof, the poolside Bar Clara serves Mediterranean-style small bites among a herb garden and potted orange trees.



Hotel Per La’s designer, Jaqui Seerman. Photography courtesy of Jaqui Seerman.
Hotel Alexandra, Copenhagen

The newest addition to Copenhagen’s Hotel Alexandra is a suite dedicated to the leading midcentury female Danish designers. The Q Suite features pieces by the esteemed designers Bodil Kjær, Nanna Ditzel and Tove Kindt-Larsen.


“We are looking back at a time when women became businesswomen in a male-dominated architect world, where the pursuit was to ratify the Danish female designers as equals to the male designers of the time,” says Hotel Alexandra’s general manager, Jeppe Mühlhausen. He began collecting Danish modern furniture in 2001, focusing on the kinds of pieces that are usually only on view in design museums or auction houses. They bring a distinctive look to the hotel, which also features spaces dedicated to designers including Finn Juhl, Arne Jacobsen and Verner Panton.


Hotel Alexandra in Copenhagen honours the legacy of female Danish designers. Photography courtesy of Hotel Alexandra

The centrepiece of the Q Suite is the sculptural Oda chair by Ditzel, sometimes nicknamed “The Nursing Chair” because of its spaciousness and comfortable support. Ditzel was a versatile designer whose work ranged from furniture to jewellery. In 1954 she began a long collaboration with Danish design house Georg Jensen, designing a number of classic silver earrings, rings, bracelets, necklaces and brooches.


The suite also features the famously angular designs of Kjær, created in materials such as glass and plexiglass, and the Pagode sofa by Kindt-Larsen and her husband, the designer Edvard Kindt-Larsen. 



Medici’s Debussy Room, named after the composer Claude Debussy, a former resident. Photography by François Halard.
Villa Medici, Rome

Anyone who saw the recent Pierre Bonnard exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria, or has dined among the otherworldly interiors of Sketch in London, will know that the creative brains behind both, India Mahdavi, loves colour. 


“I’m not scared of colours and that’s my big strength,” the Paris-based architect, designer and scenographer has said. Case in point: the spectacular Renaissance palace Villa Medici in Rome. Mahdavi was tasked with transforming six rooms within the French academy, which was founded in 1666 by Louis XIV and is surrounded by a seven-hectare park on Mount Pincio. Opened this year, three of the rooms have been transformed into spaces where geometry and bold hues complement the historic paintings and frescoes. It’s part of a three-year project called Re-enchanting Villa Medici, which began in 2022. 


Architect, designer and scenographer India Mahdavi. Photography by Alessia Calzecchi.

Mahdavi has the unique ability to combine a modern sense of elegance with vibrant design and humour. In the Chamber of the Muses, for example, a striking hand-tufted geometric rug in green, purple, pink and red, together with Mahdavi’s green Bishop stools, surprises while harmonising with the coffered ceiling. In the Lili Boulanger room, named after the first female composer to take up residence at the villa, bright yellow velvet sofas, sourced from the French conservation agency Mobilier National, positively pop. 


While the rooms are usually reserved for visiting artists, creators and historians, you can book Mahdavi’s Galileo or Debussy rooms (named after two of the villa’s famous former residents), which come with a view of either the city of Rome or Villa Medici’s gardens, or a standard room if the request is made at least two months before the desired stay. Tours are also available. 


This is an extract from an article that appears in print in our tenth edition, Page 138 of Winning Magazine with the headline: “Rooms of Her Own”. Subscribe to Winning Magazine today.  

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