What is Luxe? Defining Luxury and its Role in Design

By David Ashen Principal and Founder, dash design | February 25, 2018

A year or two ago, I checked into a boutique hotel in Curacao. Our firm had a project in the area and even though it was a business trip, I decided to stay in a more local, boutique hotel; the Bijblauw, which featured a couple of houses with a combined dozen or so rooms or that were joined together on the water. My stay happened to be during the off-season, and I got a primo room with a private deck overlooking the ocean. The room was outfitted minimally with beautiful, white linens and plush towels. The hotel owner had a good eye; each room was furnished differently and with a sense of style. I remember looking around the space for the television but couldn’t find it. It wasn’t in the open, nor hidden as a pop-up device. Through a Google search, I realized the other rooms had a television. So, why didn’t mine?

The hotel’s receptionist told me I had the best room at the site and that the owners felt there was no need for a television since its magnificent views provided guests with an exceptional opportunity to disconnect and decompress from their daily lives. That, to me, was luxury. By disconnecting from our connected world, while re-connecting to myself and where I was, I was afforded an amazing experience. The private deck with its unforgettable vista, the large room and amazing bathroom - all of it brought me back to me.

Similarly, another hotel, the Natura Cabana in the Dominican Republic, evokes that feeling. It offers a minimalist, yet luxurious beachside setting for its guests. I first stayed at the boutique hotel and spa 14-plus years ago. The site, complete with 10 small cabanas, was built by an architect and his wife, a yoga teacher from Chile. None of the rooms is fitted with glass or screens. There’s no radio or television and dining is provided by two, small thatch-roofed structures - one for freshly made breakfasts and the other for sumptuous dinners. In addition, there is a small (and private) spa, and an amazing open air, ocean-front yoga studio. While the beach doesn’t lend itself to swimming, there’s something about the place’s few rooms, simplicity, rustic aesthetic, and personalized service that makes this place extraordinary. If a guest wants to go horseback riding, the horses magically show up on the beach and if a guest wants to have an intimate Indian meal, a private restaurant will open for a group of 10 (no worries for groups of less than 10, he staff will pull the group together). Primarily, the ability to disconnect from the outside world is the indulgent luxury this rustic resort provides.  

Another one of my favorite places to stay is the Pavillon de la Reine in Paris. It’s a select, 50-room, high-design hotel situated on the famed Place de Vosges in Paris. Housed in an old mansion, the Pavillon is entered through an exterior courtyard with an intangible grand, yet intimate ambiance. The hotel’s exceptional amenities and service are more than a nod to luxurious accommodations. Both provide guests with an uncommon sense of belonging and the sublime feeling of being in the home of their dreams. It has become the “in the know” hotel for the famous in fashion and film who want to be in the middle of Paris with anonymity.

I’ve stayed at the Pavillon many times in the past 20 years. Its level of service is memorable, as are the privacy and intimacy its rooms. They make you feel like you are at home and make that evident through small yet subtle touches such as the very simple honor bar in the salon. Unlike the limitations of 300-room hotels, this smaller one allows guests to come and go in the safety comfortable anonymity, making it a luxurious stay for celebrities and everyday guests.

Also notable is The PuLi Hotel in Shanghai. Built in nearly a decade ago by a Taiwanese company, the beautiful, minimal hotel is located amid the city’s busy comings and goings. I love staying there. There is a concierge floor that provides daily laundry, as well as a number of other services (for an extra $30 per day). Everytime I book a trip, the concierge e mails me before my arrive to ask if I wanted lemongrass scent in my room, along with orange juice and Diet Coke, like the last time I was there. In the past, I’d had a scotch at night - did I want a decanter in place when I arrived? What else would I like? I don’t live the same way at home, but being treated to that level of personalization while in a hotel? That’s luxury. 

The Magic Rat… live music and entertainment at The Elizabeth Hotel in Fort Collins, Colorado
Also at The Elizabeth Hotel is The Emporium Kitchen and Wine Market that features food from locally sourced farms. Photo Credits Daryl Love.
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Hotel Spa: Oasis Unplugged

The driving force in current hotel spa trends is the effort to manage unprecedented levels of stress experienced by their clients. Feeling increasingly overwhelmed by demanding careers and technology overload, people are craving places where they can go to momentarily escape the rigors of their daily lives. As a result, spas are positioning themselves as oases of unplugged human connection, where mindfulness and contemplation activities are becoming increasingly important. One leading hotel spa offers their clients the option to experience their treatments in total silence - no music, no talking, and no advice from the therapist - just pure unadulterated silence. Another leading hotel spa is working with a reputable medical clinic to develop a “digital detox” initiative, in which clients will be encouraged to unplug from their devices and engage in mindfulness activities to alleviate the stresses of excessive technology use. Similarly, other spas are counseling clients to resist allowing technology to monopolize their lives, and to engage in meditation and gratitude exercises in its place. The goal is to provide clients with a warm, inviting and tranquil sanctuary from the outside world, in addition to also providing genuine solutions for better sleep, proper nutrition, stress management and natural self-care. To accomplish this, some spas are incorporating a variety of new approaches - cryotherapy, Himalayan salt therapy and ayurveda treatments are becoming increasingly popular. Other spas are growing their own herbs and performing their treatments in lush outdoor gardens. Some spa therapists are being trained to assess a client's individual movement patterns to determine the most beneficial treatment specifically for them. The July issue of the Hotel Business Review will report on these trends and developments and examine how some hotel spas are integrating them into their operations.