Coolest Hotel Lobbies
It’s evening when you arrive at your hotel. The doorman helps you with your bags as you enter the lobby. But instead of a reception area, you walk into a surreal campground fantasy—complete with a flowing stream, the glow of volcanic stone fire pits, and twinkling stars in the open night sky. Welcome to La Purificadora in historic Puebla, Mexico.
Forget tufted armchairs and stuffy flower arrangements. Hotels all around the world, from Budapest to Shanghai, are placing paramount importance on their lobbies, creating ultra-cool entrances intended to visually awe and transport guests when they first arrive—and linger in the mind long after they leave.
“The lobby is the first chapter in the story of your experience at the hotel. The design has to be incredibly thoughtful and also beautiful,” says star designer Kelly Wearstler, known for her high-drama color schemes. “Everything happens there. You arrive, you meet, you leave all through the lobby. It’s one of the souls of the hotel.”
Rafael Micha, a partner in Grupo Habita, the group behind La Purificadora and other super-hip Mexican properties like Condesa DF in Mexico City, calls the lobby the “focal point” of its hotels.
The hotels on our list have enlisted starchitects, star designers, and in one instance, a reluctant artist-turned-designer to provide their singular vision of what a lobby should be—whether an ingenious riff on the existing DNA of a property and its sense of place or an entirely over-the-top fairyland fantasy.
Wearstler debunked any stereotypical notions of what an island resort should look like in her dramatic lobby for the Viceroy Anguilla. “I wanted it to be rich and dark as a respite from the sun,” she says, shunning pastels in favor of browns and grays to create a cool refuge for guests after a day at the beach.
For the lobby at the Waterhouse at South Bund in Shanghai, architects Lyndon Neri and Rossana Hu blurred the notions of public and private (look up from the reception desk and you’ll see straight into Room #17, an exhibitionist’s dream booking).
Visionary Dutch designer Marcel Wanders claims he took Sleeping Beauty’s castle as inspiration for the Mondrian Miami. His fantastical-looking lobby has giant brass bell-shaped lights, oversize bright white plaster columns, and a grand black floating staircase.
So next time you check into a hotel, or just pass through en route to the bar, make sure to soak it all in.
The 26-room La Purificadora in Puebla’s historic city center has clear echoes of its past as a 19th-century water-bottling facility—nowhere more so than in its stunning open-air lobby. Renowned Mexican architect Ricardo Legorreta kept a portion of the original façade intact (including a masonry stone wall and arched gate) and fashioned a dramatic black volcanic stone staircase with a stream of water running down its middle. Legorreta also celebrates Puebla’s Catholic heritage: the sofas are a bold bishop purple.
GramercyPark Hotel, New York City
When Ian Schrager enlisted friend and artist Julian Schnabel to re-create the public spaces in the 185-room Gramercy Park Hotel, what he got was a far departure from the slick, ironic style of his previous properties. Instead, Schnabel’s vision was personal and textured; the lobby features a rotating collection of impressive 20th-century art—works by Twombly, Basquiat, Hirst, and of course, Schnabel’s own—mixed with Moroccan-tiled floors, hand-carved fireplaces, and a custom Venetian glass chandelier.
TheWaterhouse at South Bund, Shanghai
With its super-raw industrial look and modern trimmings, this 19-room hotel in the Shiliupu dockyard district mimics Shanghai’s old-new dichotomy. For its three-story-high lobby, architects Lyndon Neri and Rossana Hu kept the original 1930s warehouse concrete walls intact, added new steel columns and beams, and for a touch of anachronistic elegance, suspended a grand white paper chandelier designed by Studio Job for Moooi.
Designer Kelly Wearstler is known for favoring high-drama color schemes, but she chose a more subdued palette for the lobby of the 166-room Viceroy Anguilla. “I wanted it to be rich and dark as a respite from the sun,” says Wearstler, who based the lobby’s browns and grays off of beach finds like driftwood and oyster shells. Her fluid-seeming copper-and-brass ceiling light fixture was inspired by another beach item: seaweed.
TheStandard, Downtown L.A.
Hotelier André Balazs channeled mid-century corporate cool years before Don Draper became a household name. For the spacious two-story lobby of this enduring 205-room hot spot, design elements left over from the building’s 1950s tenant Superior Oil (a 15-time-zone clock, green marble floors) blend with new touches, like evocative olive ash burl wall panels and 150-foot-long hot pink Omnibus sofas by modernist master Vladimir Kagan.
Visionary Dutch designer Marcel Wanders’s first hotel in the U.S. had to be over-the-top fantastical. Taking Sleeping Beauty’s castle as inspiration, he achieved just that in the 335-room hotel, with outsized lobby features like an ornate laser-cut black steel staircase, brass bell-shaped lights, and bright white Baroque-inspired plaster columns.
With Gaudí masterpieces like Casa Milà (“La Pedrera”) and Casa Battló, Barcelona’s main thoroughfare, Passeig de Gràcia, has no shortage of architectural stunners. This 98-room hotel is one of its newest entrants, housed in a converted mid-century bank building that now boasts a soaring white atrium and floating “catwalk” leading up to its cream-and-gold-colored lobby. Spanish designer Patricia Urquiola plays with light and space with sliding crystal doors, mirrored ceilings, and intricate latticework.
FourSeasons Hotel Gresham Palace, Budapest
The Four Seasons had the prescience to meticulously restore this 1906 Art Nouveau landmark, previously an apartment complex during Hungarian Communist rule. The 179-room property is now one of the hotel group’s grandest, and its magnificent lobby the centerpiece with stained-glass windows and a soaring glass cupola from which hangs a custom-designed chandelier created from hundreds of hand-shaped crystal leaves. The lobby’s flooring is just as ornate: it’s covered with 1,021,200 mosaic tiles.
Giorgio Armani's debut in the hotel world occupies 10 floors in the Burj Khalifa, which, at 2,716 feet, stands as the world’s tallest building. The 160-room property’s curved lobby atrium has four interlocking steel arches that rise almost 40 feet against a refined backdrop of creams and grays. But it’s just for show (and a grand one at that); reception takes place in guest rooms with a “lifestyle manager”—think full-time personal concierge, dressed, of course, in Armani.
Two French hospitality heavyweights, former Club Med chief executive Serge Trigano and legendary designer Philippe Starck, paired up to turn a dilapidated parking garage in the far-from-charming 20th Arrondissement into an impossibly hip 172-room hotel. Starck’s whimsical design touches are on full display in the lobby, from the gold-and-silver tree-stump stools and curtains dotted with four-leaf clovers and floating eyes to the chalkboard ceiling covered with phrases and diagrams.