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Talk about eye candy. In our second-ever list of top hotel design firms, we spotlight the innovators responsible for interior designs and architectural masterworks. These all-stars are making hotels more comfortable, sustainable, and breathtaking.

-Carley Thornell, Skift

San Francisco

Nicole Hollis

Creative Director and Principal

NICOLEHOLLIS

Interior Design Interior Architecture Furniture Design

Notable Projects

  • Kona Village, a Rosewood Resort
  • 1Hotel Hanalei Bay
  • 1Hotel San Francisco
  • The Sea Ranch Lodge

Photo by Douglas Friedman

Kona Village’s hale bungalows.

Photo by Douglas Friedman

The ceiling at Moana restaurant at Kona Village.

Sea Ranch Lodge

Sea Ranch Lodge.

Photo by Douglas Friedman

Lobby at the 1 Hotel Hanalei Bay.

Photo by Douglas Friedman

Garden off the lobby at 1 Hotel Hanalei Bay.

1 Hotel SF - Front Desk

The front desk at 1 Hotel San Francisco.

Photo by Douglas Friedman

The Japanese-inspired Welina Terrace at 1 Hotel Hanalei Bay.

Nicole Hollis’s emphasis on locally resonant hotel design is amply on display at Rosewood Hotels & Resorts’ reimagined Kona Village — lauded extensively by Architectural Digest and Conde Nast Traveler. The creative director and principal of the firm NICOLEHOLLIS has a residence on the Big Island, and she knows the Hawaiian aesthetic well.

While many of Hollis’ hospitality projects are waterside — 1Hotels in San Francisco and Hanalei Bay, and The Sea Ranch Lodge among them — all avoid the generic resort hotel look of neutrals with blue accents.

Exhibit A: Kona Village’s 150 freestanding hale bungalows, designed in collaboration with Walker Warner Architects, feature three separate color schemes based on their location in three villages dotting the property. North Village has blacks and reds as a nod to the local black lava flows, while Fish Pond village rooms have deep greens and blues with darker wood tones, and South Village has vibrant yellows and blues. 

“Responding to each site and finding local artisans and craftspeople working with locally sourced materials is my way of finding a sense of place,” Hollis said. 

Rebuilding Kona Village — which was struck by a tsunami in 2011 — was a unique opportunity to “draw inspiration from the past while introducing a new generation of artists and craftspeople,” said Hollis. Accommodations and common areas feature bespoke furniture that draws inspiration from ancient Hawaiian fishing tools, knot tying, and carvings. Custom upholstery textures, rugs, and accessories were chosen or designed to pay homage to local culture, a process for which Hollis collaborated with or commissioned Hawaiian residents and native Hawaiians. 

Besides instilling an authentic sense of place, earth-friendly practices are Hollis’ other hallmark. At Kona Village, this includes recycled plastic bottle “thatch” on the hales. Hollis completed two projects in two years with 1Hotels, whose ethos is sustainable luxury.  The new 1Hotel Hanalei Bay, which opened earlier this year, includes 144.6 tons of material salvaged to make furniture and art.

Seattle

Shannon Suess

Principal

MG2

Architecture Interior Design

Notable Projects

  • Skamania Lodge Treehouse, Washington State
  • Four Seasons, Kyoto

Photo by Patrik Argast Source:

Skamania Lodge in Washington state.

Source: MG2

Indoor/outdoor fireplace at Skamania Lodge.

Source: MG2

At Four Seasons Kyoto, a centuries-old Shakusui-en pond garden.

Whether it’s as chic as the lakeside Four Seasons Kyoto or as “refined rustic” as the treehouse cabins of Skamania Lodge in southern Washington State, MG2 brings the outdoors in with aplomb. 

In the Columbia River Valley, post-and-beam knotty pine cabins are artfully nested among groves of Douglas Firs (none of which was cut). Unique indoor/outdoor fireplaces that double as windows can be enjoyed while on a porch rocker or while lying on a king bed. Newer treehouses include a “nook,” an extra bed with textured canvas drapes for privacy. Each nook evokes the nostalgic elements of communing with nature, excluding mosquitoes. 

Artwork with saturated colors — whether it’s mountains, concentric tree rings, or textiles from the Pacific Northwest’s Pendleton tribe — completes MG2’s integration of local culture, said Shannon Suess. (Through August, Suess was a principal at MG2.)

MG2 aims to incorporate elements of the local culture, history, and context into each of its hospitality projects. It strives to give each project an identity that resonates with its surrounding community as well as its guests.

Decatur, Georgia

Maria Gossett

Kendal Rogers

Pixel Design Collaborative

Interior Design

Notable Projects

  • Restoration Hotel, Asheville
  • Wylie Hotel, Atlanta

Source: Pixel Design Studio

Restoration Hotel in Asheville, N.C.

Source: Pixel Design Studio

Restoration Hotel in Asheville, N.C.

Source: Pixel Design Studio

A velour settee at the Wylie Hotel in Atlanta.

Source: Pixel Design Studio

Art Deco lighting fixtures at the Wylie Hotel’s bar.

Source: Pixel Design Studio

A 33-seat sunroom at the Wylie Hotel.

Source: Pixel Design Studio

The Wylie Hotel.

Source: Pixel Design Studio

Peacock drapes at the Wylie Hotel’s restaurant, Mrs. P’s Bar & Kitchen.

Source: Pixel Design Studio

The Wylie Hotel.

Kendal Rogers and Maria Gossett say they don’t design for transactional hotel stays but for guest experiences. 

Case in point: The Wylie Hotel Tapestry Collection by Hilton in Atlanta, where Pixel Design Collaborative’s signature “Easter eggs” are nestled throughout in the form of peacocks (furniture, tapestries, statues). The choice is also a subtle nod to the city’s LGBQT+ history, said Rogers, just one of the ways she and her business partner are able to imbue each of their projects with a sense of culture and context as residents of the South. Another is a funky mural of an astronaut at the front desk, which locals will recognize as an homage to artwork that was in the space when it was a nightclub. 

A boon in domestic tourism is serendipitous for the Pixel duo, who benefit from the Instagram and TikTok generation hitting the road. “With social media platforms, there’s much more access to information, and people are seeing places they want to experience,” said Rogers. “How good design contributes to the overall experience is so much more a part of the conversation than ever – and something people come to expect.”

Despite working in several historic properties with low ceilings that could inhibit proper lighting and camera friendliness, Pixel tackles the challenge with aplomb. At the Wylie, this includes Art Deco lighting fixtures and saturated colors and textures with dark wood stains. Velour couches, colorful bookshelves, and hidden nooks at the Restoration invite guests to hang out and stay awhile. 

In Savannah at the Presidents’ Quarters Inn, Pixel is redefining the B&B experience for the next generation with what Rogers and Gossett describe as a photo-friendly “funky Federal” concept.  

Tokyo

Yugo Usuda

General Manager, Project Management Division

Shinji Yanai

Project Manager, Project Management Division

KUME SEKKEI

Architectural Design • Engineering • Interior Design

Notable Projects

  • The Ritz-Carlton, Fukuoka
  • Bellustar Tokyo, A Pan Pacific Hotel

Source: The Ritz-Carlton

The Ritz-Carlton in Fukuoka, Japan.

Source: The Ritz-Carlton

The Ritz-Carlton in Fukuoka, Japan.

Source: The Ritz-Carlton

The pool at The Ritz-Carlton, Fukuoka.

Source: The Ritz-Carlton

Genjyu, the restaurant within The Ritz-Carlton, Fukuoka.

Source: The Ritz-Carlton

The higher floors at The Ritz-Carlton in Fukuoka.

Source: The Ritz-Carlton

Views of Hakata Bay from The Ritz-Carlton in Fukuoka.

Source: Tokyo Kabukicho Tower

Decor and lighting at Bellustar Tokyo.

Source: Tokyo Kabukicho Tower

Dark colors, rich fabrics, at Bellustar Tokyo.

Source: Tokyo Kabukicho Tower

Unique ceiling cutouts at Bellustar Tokyo.

No matter whether it’s a school, hospital, municipal building, or hotel, Kume Sekkei’s specialty is hospitality — what each member of the firm refers to as “social design.” 

“Kume Sekkei’s philosophy of being ‘user-first’ is very important to us,” said project manager Yugo Usuda, who recently worked on two openings — The Ritz-Carlton, Fukuoka, and Bellustar Tokyo — where that user is a lot less clear than the buildings’ curtain walls. Each is a mixed-use property that Usuda said included a lot of research and dialogue about creating one ecosystem that features offices, restaurants, entertainment complexes, and more. 

In Tokyo, the Bellustar is a contemporary urban oasis that occupies the uppermost 39th to 47th floors of Kabukicho Tower, a 2023 skyscraper devoted to entertainment and recreation. In Fukuoka, a city renowned for its startup culture — and history — Kume Sekkei design honors the past and the future cohesively at the new Ritz-Carlton, whose rooms occupy floors 19 through 23 of the main tower, with a lounge, fitness center, pool, and bar offering sweeping views of Hakata Bay on the 24th. 

“The overall image created by the glass curtain wall negates the solid, monotonous wall surfaces common to skyscrapers and allows a distinctive form to emerge in the cityscape,” said Usuda. “The symbolic exterior gives a progressive and global image to the streetscape and gives the hotel a distinctive identity.”

Besides the striking angled facade, Kume Sekkei also architected a central open “sliver” of an entryway to honor the site’s past while the region enters the future (and can enter the space itself). 

“The site was the former site of an elementary school with a 100-year history in Fukuoka. It was a school building for local residents and a place where community was nurtured through events such as Bon-odori (Bon dance) and sports festivals. The buildings are arranged around a plaza that carries on this memory, creating a comfortable plaza that is both a public space and a private atmosphere,” said Usuda. 

The concept applies a broader ideal at Kume Sekkei to nurture relationships between corporations and the community. The firm encourages its team to volunteer and is currently restoring Honda House in Zushi, a Tangible Cultural Property that was designed in the 1930s by Gonkuro Kume, the founder of Kume Sekkei. After restoration, the facility will be a “workcation” destination for employees.

Istanbul, Türkiye

Zeynep Fadıllıoğlu

Interior Designer

Zeynep Fadıllıoğlu Design

Architecture • Interior Design

Notable Projects

  • The Peninsula Istanbul
  • Six Senses Kocataş Mansions, Istanbul
  • Hotel Les Ottomans, Istanbul
  • Marti Istanbul Hotel

Source: Zeynap Fadıllıoğlu

The Peninsula Istanbul opened in 2023 on the Bosphorus Straight in Türkiye.

Source: Zeynap Fadıllıoğlu

A “glass textile effect” at The Peninsula Istanbul.

Source: Zeynap Fadıllıoğlu

A spa treatment room at The Peninsula Istanbul.

Source: Zeynap Fadıllıoğlu

A spa treatment room at The Peninsula Istanbul.

Source: Zeynap Fadıllıoğlu

Homage to Bauhaus decor at The Peninsula Istanbul.

Source: Zeynap Fadıllıoğlu

Six Senses Kocataş Mansions in Istanbul hugs the Bosphorus.

Source: Zeynap Fadıllıoğlu

A sultan suite at Hotel Les Ottomans.

Source: Zeynap Fadıllıoğlu

Marti Istanbul Hotel.

Illumination — on multiple levels — is the golden thread throughout Zeynep Fadıllıoğlu’s portfolio. 

The architect, interior designer, and founder of her eponymous Turkish atelier made history as her home country’s first female architect to build a mosque (Şakirin). Fadıllıoğlu’s most recent hotel build — the highly anticipated The Peninsula Istanbul, opened earlier this year — uses many of the same techniques. For the theological masterpiece, a glass craftsman created patterned, fenced panels that create a sense of openness and let in light, while also establishing a sense of privacy. At the Peninsula, guests will find a similar approach in suites, the upper mezzanine, and in the lobby.

“The lobby was an existing Bauhaus building, and what we did there excites me a lot,” Fadıllıoğlu said. “Although it was many more straight lines and geometric structure, using this glass textile effect, we were able to give the building a much softer, custom kind of feeling.”

Fadıllıoğlu said her signature for any project is using local craftspeople — including glass and metal workers, weavers, furniture makers, painters, and beyond — to give visitors a sense of culture and context. Istanbul’s geographic position straddling both Europe and Asia presents a unique opportunity for a commingling of styles and narratives. That’s reflected across her multidisciplinary team of architects, stage designers, artists, product designers, and painters. “It’s such a mixture of people, which makes it all the more different and exciting,” she said.

“We’re able to create individual atmospheres and can constantly evolve depending on the client.

Bangkok, Thailand

Stephen O’Dell

Director

SODA

Architecture • Landscape Architecture • Interior Design

Notable Projects

  • Mövenpick BDMS Wellness Resort Bangkok
  • Melia Mai Khao Beach, Phuket, Thailand 
  • Hilton Yala, Sri Lanka
  • Anantara Dhigu Maldives

Source: SODA

Mövenpick BDMS Wellness Resort Bangkok.

Source: SODA

Source: SODA Mövenpick BDMS Wellness Resort Bangkok.

Source: SODA

Source: SODA Melia Phuket Mai Khao Resort.

Source: SODA

Melia Phuket Mai Khao Resort.

Source: SODA

Hilton Yala Resort in Sri Lanka.

Source: SODA

The team restored the natural habitat at Hilton Yala Resort.

Source: SODA

Anantara Dhigu Maldives Resort.

Whether it’s the heart of bustling Bangkok or nestled next to a national park and elephant sanctuary, each SODA Thailand hospitality project provides a sense of escape. That’s more important than ever now, said director Stephen O’Dell, with the crossover between business and leisure travel. Spaces like bars and lobbies must be more like stage sets adaptable to different needs, for instance. 

No matter what the hotel — from Bangkok’s Mövenpick BDMS Wellness Resort or Riva Arun to Hilton Yala in Sri Lanka — it’s all about balance. At Mövenpick, a soaring biophilic wall complements glass balconies and creates harmony with geometric furniture and flooring. In Sri Lanka, “sharply chiseled modern architecture balances the primordial and rugged site, where elephants and wild animals great and small traverse,” said O’Dell. 

The Hilton Yala Resort is a prime example of SODA’s honoring of history while embracing a contemporary aesthetic — and doing so sustainably. The landscape architecture team accommodated a historic temple, bio-ponds, and local trees and plants to attract wildlife and restore the natural habitat. Meanwhile, the buildings stand in angular contrast. 

Although sustainability is a priority throughout each SODA project — primarily in Asia, but as far-reaching as the recent Hotel La Compañía in Panama — resorts often give the team more room to get creative, said O’Dell.

“Our resort projects offer the greatest opportunity for sustainable design and to get off the grid – figuratively and literally. Solar technology has finally become more economical,” he said.

“Most spaces can be open air, non-air-conditioned, have reduced lighting levels, use sustainable materials and sustainable hydrology designs, and the landscape spaces capture and enhance the natural environment.”