Designer hotels dare to be different

The Baby Grand Hotel in Athens, Greece symbolizes a new genre in design hotels. From their legendary MINI Cooper reception desk to graffiti-inspired wall decor spread around 76 guestrooms, this boutique hotel has a definite sense of place. Courtesy of Classical Hotels

Designer hotels from Boston to Barcelona in the twenty-first century strive for unpredictable artistic statements that travelers either love or hate. It’s not easy to be neutral when you walk into a hotel in the center of Athens, Greece and not a person or reception area is in sight. But this was about a journey, not an ordinary check-in at the Baby Grand Hotel, part of the Classic Hotel Group.

I missed the neon sign that said “reception” because the ‘”avant-garde art garden” distracted me. This is the hotel where 14 international urban and graffiti artists blended their respective talents to create the hippest hotel I’ve ever seen in Athens.

This innovative energetic burst of creativity is displayed in 49 “graffiti rooms.” For those not a fan of Lucite chairs or Smurf characters peeking around the walls, there are also 25 classical rooms and 12 classical suites. One hotel publication, the Golden List, calls it “A sense of New York in Athens.” All I can say is when you arrive at the MINI Cooper reception desk, you can finally flash your credit card. Transitioning to a guestroom is another adventure.

Paintings of dolphins cavorting across the walls were in my room. Another room, in red and black, had a Spiderman-like image painted on the wall facing the bed. Enhancing the décor was the menu at entry-level restaurant called “Meat Me,” serving a breakfast buffet daily, which is included in the daily rate. Locally sourced specialties such as nougat pie from the islands of Syros and Tinos and homemade marmalades and refreshing drinks from lemons and sour cherry are on the menu.

The Baby Grand Hotel is a 15 minute walk to Syntagma Square where the more conservative Grand Bretagne and King George hotels remain intact, with their elegant tea service and museum style cases exhibiting their respective illustrious history.

A source for designer hotels around the world is Small Luxury Hotels, representing more than 440 hotels in 40 countries. Among the latter group is the Gran Derby Hotel in Barcelona, Spain, another hot bed of hip hotels. The interior is a work of art in itself with an admirable exhibit of lithographs by Picasso, Dali, Cuixart and Antonio Clave; guestrooms have open plan bathrooms. At the 22-room Hotel Square in Paris, one confronts fixtures and appointments by more than 40 French artisans. The four-story exhibition wall, which can be viewed from every floor, features changing exhibits of work by “leading edge” artists.

The Czech Republic now has the 71-room Hotel Maximilian, a bastion of Art Deco and contemporary design. Designed by Eva Jircicna, high ceilings mix with bold colors, deviating from the more traditional hotels in the heart of this city. The 29-room Parisi, a Feng Shui sanctuary in La Jolla, Calif. retains 20 holistic health practitioners just in case you need to get your act together before you begin your business or pleasure day. Their approach to wellness is based on Chinese elements. Of course, being in the center of La Jolla with the stunning beach across the street helps, too.

Staying in a hotel has become experiential in contrast to the endless litany of dormitory style hotels that crop up like weeds along the freeways. Make it a point to consider this latest entrée in the hotel world, where designers rule and art is more than a faded reproduction of Monet’s garden over your bed. You may have to search for the television and mini bar at these unconventional hotels, the bathroom sink could be square and black, and the bathtub might be in the center of the room, but that’s the joy of the journey. While I was aghast at the stranger-than-fiction reception at the Baby Grand Hotel in Athens, I came to appreciate it for the privacy it afforded and the gracious staff. The spanikopita and sugar doughnuts served for breakfast were fresh from the oven and the comfortable swing by the entrance where I waited for a taxi was something I didn’t expect to see in the heart of Athens. The only thing constant in life is change, and designer-inspired hotels are a definite U-turn for the hotel market. Expressing art on a global level, this journey is worth exploring, now.

Info: Small Luxury Hotels;; 800.525.4800