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Miami's New Standard Hotel

The Standard, in its own twisted fashion, actually honors the unhinged history of mid-century Miami Beach. Balazs retained the lobby's white-marble walls, terrazzo floors, and stainless-steel elevators, then added a row of Hans Wegner rocking chairs, as a camp homage to the widows of an earlier era. A decidedly personal vision reigns in the public areas, with the usual Modernist suspects—Aalto tea trolleys, vintage Danish furniture, Arne Jacobsen sconces from an old SAS hotel in Stockholm—counterpointed by riskier propositions such as beanbag coffee tables and a Hans Hopfer denim sectional sofa that sprawls out like an errant amoeba. Just off the lobby is the hotel library, where Robert Pirsig's bible of hippie-dippiedom, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, sits alongside Sex, Ecology, and Spirituality and The History of the Devil and the Idea of Evil. A sliding door emblazoned with a retro sunburst pattern leads to a lounge done up with Olewanscher easy chairs, walls covered with woven goat's wool, and a bar topped with polished Douglas fir. The entire package recalls a 1960's hippie mogul's house in California. In the bathrooms, rectangular sinks, diagonal strips of mirrors, and painted pine jump ahead to a 1970 Playboy After Dark effect.

Alongside a bank of epic windows is the airy in-house restaurant, supervised by Eric Ripert of New York's Le Bernardin, with a menu leaning toward fresh fish seasoned with herbs from the Standard's own gardens. The dining room, lined with slanted pine planks, looks like an overinflated Swedish sauna; a deep-blue, glazed-brick accent wall is pure Scandinavian summer.

In fact, despite all the whimsy and let's-lasso-the-zeitgeist in-jokes, the entire hotel was actually inspired by the simple and somber lodges of the Stockholm archipelago. Guest rooms evoke Swedish cottages with their whitewashed walls of sandblasted plywood and floors adorned with bright blue macramé rugs. Cotton tea cozies cover wall-mounted televisions, picnic baskets serve as bedside tables, and bathrooms are Shaker-plain but comfortable.

Scandinavian decorative conceits are not the usual Florida thing, but this is, after all, a spa hotel, and they work well with the Standard's inner-journey ambitions. The Esalen-like Standard Center for Integral Living provides naturopathic counseling, guided fasts and cleanses, even relationship workshops. Guest rooms are serviced by rolling Apothecarts bearing herbal teas and aromatherapy footbaths. Of course, the life of appetite being a Balazs trademark, mini-bars are also stocked with homeopathic DrinkEase hangover medication and Standard-brand condoms.

Every inch of the Standard plays with sin and redemption, excess and denial, in settings that alternately smack of Roman decadence and monastic purity. Next to a classic cedar sauna where guests can slap themselves silly with soapy birch branches, private nooks are set aside for "self-exploration and indulgence." The Turkish hammam has heated marble seats and a somewhat less traditional subwoofer mounted in the corner. Across the hall is a scrub room with enormous overhead hoses, the same kind used by butchers.

Many of the treatments are things guests do for themselves or each other: the high-pressure hoses, for instance, or—for those staying in the ground-level "Wet" rooms—a healing soak in an outdoor bathtub encircled by way-too-transparent curtains. A guest can also drop $165 on a Standard Spanking" (a cellulite-fighting massage) or $360 per couple for a K.I.S.S. scrub, a massage, and a Chinese "sex tonic." Yet for the most part, the Standard is keeping things cheap and easy.

The heart of the hotel is the pool and hydrotherapy area, an ode to communal bathing as social sacrament. The outdoor aquacade encompasses a plunge pool, a hot tub, and a 12-foot-tall, three-inch-wide column of falling water. DJ-spun music plays through underwater speakers in the chlorine-free Sound Pool. In the clothing-optional mud baths, guests can slather one another with "golden body mud." Arbors of sea-grape trees, night-blooming jasmine, and Moroccan palms are intended to create "pockets of contemplation." Scattered about the lawn are more convivial arenas, such as a set of immense, pie-shaped wicker lounges flanking a small fire pit. Just off the courtyard is a Tyrolean-style wishing well, a kitsch holdover from the Lido days. Back then it bore a perky little sign: HOME TO THE ADVENTURES IN BEAUTY.

Balazs, who began his career in the nightclub business, understands that the alchemy of chic is a delicate matter—and never more so than now, as corporations co-opt everything from punk imagery to the trappings of mysticism. With even pedestrian chain hotels installing hammams in an attempt to appear hip, the Standard's hydrotherapy-meets-holism concept is no longer so novel. Not long ago, when the vocabulary of the daring hadn't devolved into a barrage of visual clichés—when every trendy establishment around the globe didn't look exactly the same—it was far easier to make a mark. "Think of what Spiegel accomplished by hiring Verner Panton," Balazs says. "Now, every groovy designer doing some musician's house steals from Panton. Everything is known everywhere."

This co-opting of cool is especially prevalent in South Beach, where even the Lapidus-designed Ritz-Carlton has a drag-queen DJ spinning house music in—what else?—the Lapidus Lounge. Only here would the Hyatt brand, seeking an illusion of boutique edge, downplay its involvement in the new Victor Hotel and hire P. Diddy and a troop of penguins for the grand opening. In the golden age of Miami Beach, half-baked hucksters built larger and more outlandish hotels each year. Now, big money pretends to be small.

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