Design Hotels’ top upcycled resorts


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What’s old is new again as five storied hotels breathe new life into ghosts of architecture past. From Dutch monasteries and Malaysian mansions to an abandoned inn set in the rugged wilderness of Iceland, Design Hotels™ presents the upcycling pioneers eschewing the temptation to pave over the past in favour of building on heritage to create definitive hotels du jour.

Macalister Mansion, Penang, Malaysia

Once a British shipping port, Penang’s George Town is now a vibrant international metropolis. A UNESCO World Heritage site city, George Town strikes the balance between past and future, preserving its heritage as it evolves into a lively hub of both industry and tourism. And it is this balance that the eight-room Macalister Mansion so aptly captures, infusing a 100-year-old landmark colonial mansion with its unique brand of quirky sophistication. Originals Dato Sean and Datin Karen – proud Penangites themselves – worked with Colin Seah of Singapore’s renowned Ministry of Design to re-imagine the heritage elements of the private house while adding modern-day amenities and contemporary design touches.

ION Luxury Adventure Hotel, Selfoss, Iceland

In Selfoss, an hour out of Reykjavik, set against the wild backdrop of the Icelandic landscape, an abandoned inn turned luxury hotel sits in all its rugged glory. Once the humble dwellings for workers of the nearby Nesjavellir Geothermal Power Plant, ION Luxury Adventure Hotel was acquired in 2011 and trusted to the care of Santa Monica-based design studio Minarc for the mother of all transformations. A new wing was added, using a prefabricated panelized system, which exceeds environmentally safe building standards. Inside, 45 rooms and public spaces are defined by the use of the original austere concrete, accented by locally salvaged driftwood. Keeping community ties at the forefront of the hotel’s concept, local farmers act as hiking guides, offering tours of a region packed full of folklore and stories, tying ION’S past to its present and future.

Kruisherenhotel Maastricht, Netherlands

Located in the city centre of Maastricht, roughly 200 kilometres southeast of Amsterdam, a renovated 15th century monastery of the ‘Crutched Friars’ houses the 60-room Kruisherenhotel Maastricht. Uninhabited since 1979, the Gothic exterior now plays host to a sleek, modernist interior. Early last century, Victor de Stuers and architect Cuypers sought to restore the cluster of buildings which had fallen into disrepair. Following major renovations, the buildings became the National Agricultural Research Station until the 1980s, when the empty building quickly became rundown again. Late in 2000, Camille Oostwegel took the initiative to save this unique property from ruin. Large-scale renovations were set in motion and the building has been transformed into a luxurious, contemporary design hotel, engrained with a deep respect for its storied past.

The QVEST, Cologne, Germany

With its provocative blend of Gothic design motifs – think vaulted ceilings, stone staircases, high window arches and solid columns – and 20th Century design classics from the likes of Gropius, Eames and van der Rohe; The QVEST Hideaway Hotel is the complete antithesis of the monotonous post-war architecture that punctuates the historic heart of Cologne. Within two years, owner and Original Michael Kaune (who also publishes QVEST magazine) transformed the former city archive building from 1897 into a 34-room urban retreat. No two rooms are the same, ranging from a cozy 8-sqm alcove under the roof to a majestic suite boasting a hand-painted ceiling frieze from 1390 – the oldest surviving example of its kind in the city – and views over the quiet square with plane trees. Kaune’s curated collection of mid-century and Bauhaus furniture has been collected over many decades and is displayed alongside hand-picked pieces of contemporary art (partly taken from his own neighboring gallery “Kaune Contemporary”), seamlessly marrying old and new in this historic landmark.

Vertigo Hotel, Dijon, France

Built in the popular Parisian style of the late 1800s, the Hausmann-esque building was constructed on Place Darcy, one of Dijon’s most beautiful squares. Named “Hôtel de la Cloche”, the owner Edmond Goisset opened his new luxury hotel in the very heart of “modern” Dijon. Having exchanged hands in 1902, the next owner Louis Gorges brought the hotel to a new level of fame, attracting a number of internationally celebrated artists such as Joan Baez, Joe Cocker, and Jean Reno to its doors. After careful restoration, the Vertigo Hotel is ready to reclaim its mantle as Dijon’s premier address. Staunchly proud of its roots, works from French designers grace the 42 rooms and guest areas, including “Nuage” lighting by Hervé Langlais, and “Circles” coffee tables by Maria Jeglinska. The sleek retro bar pays homage to Burgundy’s most famous export, with a carefully curated wine list showcasing the region’s very best vintages.

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