Decorating Styles

A Crop of International Hotels is Reviving History through New Design

These architectural marvels offer both an ode to the past and a celebration of the contemporary

From New Orleans to Paris to São Paulo to Rome, architects and hoteliers are reclaiming history through architecture. Whether in a former Brazilian maternity hospital, a Bahamian disco, or the American South's largest power plant, each of these new hotels has a story to tell. After years of painstaking renovations, these unlikely settings have been transformed into magnificent properties welcoming curious travelers, presenting a love letter to legacy, and an invitation for new stories to unfold.

Raffles London at The OWO

London's Old War Office experienced world-shaping events in the first half of the 20th century. Designed in 1906 by architect William Young, this stately office building once housed some of Britain's most important political figures, like Winston Churchill, Richard Haldane, and Herbert Asquith (and later provided a cinematic setting for multiple James Bond films). This summer, the OWO will open to the public for the first time in history, as Raffles London, with interiors by Thierry Despont. With its original rusticated masonry, large columns and arches, and corner arches, the building was originally designed to be impenetrable, and it took eight years to transform the structure into a luxury hotel. "The OWO is one of Britain's most architecturally important structures in history," said Geoff Hull, Director of EPR Architects, the hotel's agency of record. "Its restoration has been carried out with the utmost respect and with meticulous attention to detail." EPR worked with 37 consultants to ensure the historically important elements were preserved. Hundreds of artisan craftspeople were commissioned to restore the original oak paneling, the OWO's signature marble staircase, and 18,000 square yards of the original Roman cube mosaics.

The Eliza Jane Hotel in New Orleans

Named after America's first woman publishing giant, Eliza Jane Nicholson, the Eliza Jane Hotel rests in a quartet of warehouses in New Orleans' Central Business Distrcit. These buildings once served as the manufacturing houses of gunpowder, liquor, and newspapers for The Times Picayune, the Pulitzer Prize-winning daily that Nicholson helmed (the publisher also engaged female writers, a rarity in the nineteenth century). Today, The Eliza Jane Hotel retained many of its eclectic historic details, including a historic outhouse-turned-fireplace, a staircase to nowhere, a cast iron elevator lift, and exposed joists slicing through the hotel's soaring atrium. Stonehill Taylor, which designed the hotel interiors, cultivated a majestic atmosphere, with dark velvet curtains, Afghan craftsman rugs, and a stacked library, ideal for cozying up with a Sazerac by the fireplace. "We want to help people discover New Orleans stories, and also, to write their own," said Eliza Jane General Manager Michael Klein. The hotel's brasserie, Couvant, was formerly Antoine Peychaud's bitters factory, and boasts one of the city's best breakfasts, helmed by Chef Ryan Pearson, who trained under Daniel Boulud.

Rosewood São Paulo

This new hotel occupies one of the neighborhood's last standing landmark buildings: the historic hospital, Matarazzo Maternity, where half a million Brazilians were born. Architect Phillippe Starck designed the interiors and Pritzker Prize-winning architect Jean Nouvel created the vertical garden tower at this new luxury hotel. The massive renovation project utilized locally sourced materials and exhibits 450 art works by local artists. Rosewood São Paulo resides in the historical enclave, Cidade Matazzo, one of Brazil's largest upcycling projects.

The Cove in the Eleuthera, Bahamas

Resting in between two two cerulean coves in one of the Bahama's 700 coral islands, The Cove is a secluded getaway in northern Eleuthera. Once a pineapple farm cultivated by local farmers, these sugary beaches later housed an intimate disco in the 1980s and 1990s, where legends like Lenny Kravitz grooved. Now a resort property, the dance floor and disco became The Cove's Freedom Restaurant & Sushi Bar, and the disco's beach cottages became spacious guest lodging. This year, California-based BAR Architects & Interiors renovated The Cove's cottages, villas, and restaurants, using local materials like weathered driftwood and limestone. "From my first visit to Eleuthera and The Cove, I drew inspiration from the limestone cliffs, driftwood, vegetation; and the colors of the sea and ripening pineapples. The palette is neutral drawing from the colors and textures of the limestone cliffs, sandy beaches, driftwood with subtle of color from the vegetation and ripping pineapple," said Timothy Hepworth, Associate Principal and Director of Interiors at BAR. Behind the pristine cottages of this Caribbean retreat, a fecund farm grows fruit, herbs, and flowers for The Cove's treasured guests.


Anchoring Rome's city center, this reimagined sixteenth century palazzo is one of the last projects from the late architect, Zaha Hadid. Formerly the estate of the noble Serroberti-Capponi family, Hadid blended the palazzo's original historic elegance with the contemporary avant-garde, a Hadid signature. When ROMEO Roma opens in October 2023, it will be one of Rome's most spacious hotel properties, including a 13,000 square-foot wellness center.

Seesaw's Lodge in Peru, Vermont

Russian logger Ivan Sesow opened this over a century ago as a speakeasy and roadside dance hall, which later welcomed such guests as the Rothschilds and Rockefellers. In 2015, the property came up at auction and local family The Prins bought the seven-acre institution and revived it, piece by piece. "We wanted to keep as much of Seesaw's as we could. Anything we found we just reused. Craftsmanship has always been a cornerstone of Seesaw's, old and new," said co-owner Kim Prins. The restaurant, Johnny Seesaw's, once the dance hall, revived, even preserving the nostalgic mural and massive, round fireplace. The seven-guestroom Lodge was originally a ski warehouse; the Prins chose a different local wood for each guestroom. Three cabins on property are original.

Six Senses in Fort Barwara, India

Sitting on a walled hilltop 2.5 hours outside of Jaipur, this fourteenth century fort has been painstakingly restored and is now open to guests. After a decade-long renovation by Anika / Abhikram Architects, this majestic property is now Six Senses Fort Barwara. The ruins were restored applying a modern interpretation of ancient royal India. This luxury resort and wellness sanctuary still houses two palaces, two temples, and 48 well-appointed guest suites within these fort walls.

Airelles Pan Dei Palais in St-Tropez

French General Jean-François Allard built this spectacular Provençal home in 1835 for his Hindu wife, Princess Bannu Pan Deï of India. Though the general passed away soon after, the princess lived in this St-Tropez estate with her children until she died in 1884. In 2021, the princess' home reopened opened as a luxury hotel, Airelles Pan Deï Palais, which was renovated without changing the shape, style, or DNA of the original building. It boasts soaring ceilings, original parquet flooring, nineteenth century antiques, with design nods to an Indian palace. Pan Deï Palais General Manager Mauro Governato said, "With just ten rooms and two suites, it was important for us to retain the intimate feeling of an elegant family home with a strong Indian influence running through it."

Sofitel Legend Santa Clara in Cartagena

This hidden oasis inside Cartagena's walled city was once a convent where nuns lived. In 1949 Gabriel García Márquez was sent as a reporter to cover the story of a crypt found during one of the excavations made in the former convent, which inspired his book, "Of Love and Other Demons." The Sofitel Legend kept much of the original architecture intact: inside the chapel, an altar can still be seen on the wall, with paint made from eggshell. The hotel's restaurant, 1621, offers French haute cuisine and is one of Colombia's most renowned gastronomic dining establishments.

Fairmont Century Plaza in Los Angeles

Anchoring Avenue of the Stars, this crescent-shaped icon of midcentury modern design, architected by Minoru Yamasaki debuted as the "Hotel of the Future" in 1961. Originally, this land was silent film star Tom Mix's ranch, and later became home to the movie studio 20^th^ Century Fox. After the studio suffered a series of cinematic flops, Fox sold 180 acres to developers who transformed it into a Hollywood hotel. The iconic hotel hosted American presidents, Hollywood stars, as well as events, such as the Emmys, the Grammys, and presidential state dinners (it became known as the "Western White House," as every president since Ford has visited). It recently underwent a $2.5B renovation and reopened as a new luxury hotel under the Fairmont brand with one of Los Angeles' best spas, sprawling and serene at 14,000 square-feet.

JW Marriot Plant Riverside District in Savannah, Georgia

Set on the riverfront of one of America's most atmospheric cities, this industrial chic hotel rests in a former power plant built in 1912. When it came up for sale in 2012, the Kessler family bought it and reinvigorate the space into a 4.5-acre hotel and entertainment district. "This was a derelict, industrial area… It sat there dormant for years," said Mark Kessler, President and COO of The Kessler Group, which developed the $375 million project. Working with local architecture firmSottile & Sottile, the Kesslers removed hundreds of millions of tons of steel of the building, and then put hundreds of millions of tons back into it. "This building was not designed to house people. It was designed as a box to generate power. There was a lot of reengineering of the structure we had to do," Kessler said. Many of the powerplant's industrial elements are highlighted, including the smokestacks iconic to the city's skyline (guests can enjoy steak dinner in one of the smokestacks; several guestrooms integrate the smokestack into the design). The lobby of the former powerplant also serves as a natural history museum, with fossils, geodes, and crystals from Kessler's father Richard's own collection.

Hôtel Madame Rêve in Paris

This hip Parisian hotel once served as The Louvre's post office building built in 1888, towards the end of the Second Empire of Napoleon III. Hotel Madame Reve's Founder and Artistic Director, Laurent Taïeb was inspired by the Art Nouveau style, which picked up where the Second Empire style left off, and integrated moldings, tapestries, and chandeliers from this era. "The original architect was tasked with creating the most spectacular, largest, and most incredible Post Office so that it would remain an iconic structure of the Haussmann architectural period," said Taïeb. "When we were restructuring the former Louvre Post Office, we wanted to tell a contemporary tale, while also honoring the building's fascinating history." Hôtel Madame Rêve housestwo destination restaurants offering Mediterranean-style dining and Japanese-influenced cuisine.

Gleneagles Townhouse in Scotland Edinburgh

Once the Bank of Scotland, this stately building has opened its doors to hotel guests. Undergoing a five-year restoration, AIME Studio restored the structure to its original grandeur. "There are countless architectural elements that have been preserved from the original building…. The reception area includes historic tile flooring, stained glass windows, and an open staircase with an existing fireplace and memorial plaque gifted to the bank after WW1," said the VP of Interior Design at AIME Studious, Charlie North. The wellness facilities live in the old bank vault itself, with changing rooms flanked by vault doors. The hotel's all-day restaurant, Spence, features original fireplaces, granite columns, and a domed-ceiling with etched artwork. Large feature chandeliers and artwork by current Scottish artists give a contemporary nod.

One11Hotel in New Orleans

This old factory in New Orleans' Sugar District is the first hotel to open in the French Quarter in 50 years.Just off the Mississippi River, the One11Hotel is an ivy-walled oasis with a roof deck, and views of the Quarter's distinctive architecture. This adaptive reuse project with no demolition is one of the last four remaining buildings from New Orleans' Sugar District.

Passalacqua in Lake Como

A majestic celebration of Italian baroque, this hotel once served as a 1700s home, and is one of Lake Como's largest villas. Built on land originally owned by Pope Innocent XI and constructed by Count Andrea Lucini-Passalacqua, Passalacqua is today a hotel, run by the De Santis family since 2018. Meticulously restored at this eighteenth century villa are the original frescoes, antique fireplaces, terrazzo veneziano and rare traditional Cotto Lombardo floors, and the ornate bronze entry doors. "In the Palazz, the property's ancient stables, we refurbished the exposed wood beams to restore them to their original splendor," said Passalcqua's owner, Valentina De Santis. "All over the gardens, we have re-used the 200-year-old pietra di Moltrasio that was used to build the symmetric terraces and the secret tunnels of the villa, an incredible stone that made the history of Lake Como and that it is not anymore available nowadays." Composer Vincenzo Bellini lived at Passalacqua from 1829-1833. De Santis said, "It is told that Bellini was inspired by listening the soprano Giuditta Pasta singing from the opposite shore of the lake, where she lived. It was during these years that Bellini composed two of his most famous operas, Norma and Sonnambula."

Foter is a premier architecture, decoration, interiors and design website. We inspire and guide you to make your home a more attractive place.


Related content

Our Editors