Skift Take

Talk about eye candy. In our first-ever list of top hotel design firms, we spotlight the interior designs and architectural masterworks that are making hotels more comfortable, sustainable, and breathtaking.

The hotel industry is emerging from a rough pandemic, so it's a good time to celebrate a brighter future driven by hospitality innovation. We scoured the globe to find some of the best talents in hotel architecture and interior design. These 15 firms represent a diverse mix of influences and philosophies. Some are up-and-comers, while others are legends. All of them know how to use next-gen innovation to make travelers happier, whether it's at a limited service property, a luxury resort, or a tented hotel. Denniston Architects, planners, landscapers, and interior designers Location: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia Notable projects: Four Seasons Bangkok at Chao Phraya RiverSt. Regis LhasaAman Bora Bora (currently closed)Banyan Tree Shanghai on the Bund Key People: Jean-Michel Gathy, principal Success for Jean-Michel Gathy has always been a little bit about luck — and a lot about pluck. Just after graduating from college in the early ‘80s, his work caught the eye of Adrian Zecha, founder of Aman Resorts. Four decades later, the clientele of Gathy’s firm Denniston is a Who’s Who of the most esteemed brands in five-star hospitality, with 34 properties in 20 countries. Gathy, a native Belgian, has done most of his work in Asia, where he completed the Four Seasons Bangkok at Chao Phraya River in 2020. That property is one of the truest representations of a vision that’s difficult to achieve, in Gathy's view: the “urban resort.” Four large courtyards and a riverwalk provide guests with an oasis. “You completely forget you’re in the middle of Bangkok, one of the busiest, animated, lively cities in the world,” he said.  Four Seasons Bangkok at Chao Phraya River. Source: Four Seasons Hotels.Four Seasons Bangkok at Chao Phraya River. Source: Four Seasons Hotels.Four Seasons Bangkok at Chao Phraya River. Source: Four Seasons Hotels.Four Seasons Bangkok at Chao Phraya River. Source: Four Seasons Hotels. Elder & Ash Interior designers Location: Amesbury, Massachusetts Notable Projects: Lark Hotels, Bluebird by Lark Key People: Rob Blood, principal designerMegan Kennedy, principal designer There’s education, and then there’s instinct, according to Elder & Ash principals Robert Blood and Megan Kennedy. Neither half of the duo has formal design training. But what the business and life partners do have is many years of experience in working “almost every role in a hotel,” said Kennedy. For Blood, that included a post-college stint running a small inn; today, he’s just as comfortable running business operations as selecting and installing wallpaper or hauling furniture. Elder & Ash is the in-house design firm for Massachusetts-based boutique brand Lark Hotels, where a Scandinavian aesthetic is fused with millennial-friendly nostalgia. Guests frequently use QR codes with design notes for each property to imbue their homes with similar vintage finds, whimsical prints, and pops of color. “Because we have the opportunity to design spaces that people live in for only a short time, we’re able to push boundaries and spark people’s imaginations,” she said. “It’s really exciting to tell the story of a building/place through design.” This interior was designed by Elder & Ash for AWOL Kennebunkport B&B. Photo by Read McKendree. Source: Elder & Ash.This hotel interior was designed by the firm Elder & Ash for the Lark Hotel Blind Tiger in Portland. Photo by Read McKendree. Source: Elder & Ash.This interior was designed Elder & Ash for the AWOL Kennebunkport B&B. Photo: Read McKendree. Source: Elder & Ash. EDG Design Hotel and resort design, brand strategy, food and beverage Location: California, Texas, Singapore Notable projects: AppellationTerramor Outdoor ResortFour Seasons, Chiang Mai Key People: Jennifer Johanson, president and CEO Hospitality is no foreign concept to Jennifer Johanson. The president and CEO of EDG Design cut her teeth designing restaurants, and her career – and firm – have evolved globally after working on Four Seasons F&B projects in Prague, Riyadh, Budapest, and Shanghai. Those made EDG the favored choice to bring Appellation to life, a new “culinary-first” hotel brand from celebrated chef Charlie Palmer and former Four Seasons executive Christopher Hunsberger. The partnership reflects her ethos and “experiential storytelling,” Johanson said. An open kitchen and floor-to-ceiling windows with panoramas of Sonoma wine country in Healdsburg, California, provide an immersion of the senses. Bringing the outdoors in is one of EDG’s hallmarks, whether it’s Luxury Suites — “cabins” dappling the verdant landscape in Chiang Mai – or five-star glamping at Terramor Outdoor Resort in Maine. Good design is an artful “narrative,” said Johanson. “A compelling script sets the tone for the whole story. Design touches ever