When it comes to the latest crop of “design” hotels, the kind that consider the look of the lobby as much an amenity as a mint on the pillow, designers are taking a more accessible approach. Looking at The Gray in Milan and The Inn at Price Tower in Bartlesville, Okla., it appears that minimalism, now considered a classic in the realm of hotel design, has evolved into something with a little more substance. In Montecatini Terme, Italy, a group of hotels has gone so far as to establish a festival of local culture and design that kicked off last month, as part of an overall mission to improve tourism in the region.


Gray, often the adjective most associated with the city of Milan, whether in describing its wanting cityscape or perpetually covered skies, is no longer just another four-letter word.

The dreary color, if it can be called that, has taken on a sunny posture thanks to the recent opening of a 21-room luxury hotel located in a tiny via just off Milan’s Piazza del Duomo. Aptly called The Gray, the designer hotel is anything but drab with its sophisticated lighting systems, intimate bar, fusion restaurant “Le Noir” and individually styled rooms, which start at $322.

“Gray is the color of Milan, but it’s not a negative thing,” said Guido Ciompi, the hotel’s architect and interior designer. “It’s actually the base for all the other colors I’ve used in the hotel.”

Rusted iron floors are spiked with soft lighting and rich touches, like a purple shantung swing hanging in the lobby or cream leather panels framing a circular bed in one the master suites. With an airy cocktail bar on the ground floor and a dark intimate restaurant on the mezzanine, The Gray strikes a balance between cool modernism and sentimental warmth.

The building even has a split personality, with one facade in an 18th century Liberty style and the other covered in green diorite and crystals.

“We really wanted to render a product that was new for Milan,” says Bernabo Bocca, owner of SINA Hotel, The Gray’s parent company. “We wanted something that was contemporary yet not too minimal as some of these [design] hotels tend to be because for me, it’s a thin line between minimal and sadness.”— Courtney Colavita


Frank Lloyd Wright’s imprimatur on American architecture is taking new shape in Bartlesville, Okla., at a hotel called The Inn at Price Tower.

Yes, Bartlesville. The tiny town of 34,000 in northeastern Oklahoma, close to Tulsa, is home to revered architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s only skyscraper, which this spring was converted into a boutique hotel.

Originally commissioned in 1952 as an iconic gift to the city by Harold C. Price, who made a fortune in the oil and gas pipeline business, the 19-story green, gray and copper Lego-style building with cantilevered floors was first designed as an apartment and office building, and Price occupied the penthouse office. He sold it to Conoco/Phillips Petroleum, which had headquarters there until 2001.

Since then, it has been home to Price Tower Arts Center, a non-profit institution for contemporary art and architecture. The center plans to use revenue from the hotel and restaurant for upkeep on the building. It’s also trying to raise $15 million for a nearby museum to be designed by Zaha Hadid.

New York architect Wendy Evans Joseph, who also designed the Women’s Museum at Fair Park in Dallas, and Ambler Architects in Bartlesville were retained to transform Price Tower into a boutique hotel. Their $2.1 million revisions made no structural changes to the building, but deftly converted many of the offices into hotel rooms, which go for $125 to $250 a night, and designed a new two-level restaurant called Copper. Also restored were the lobby and benefactor Price’s office on the top floor.

— Rusty Williamson


The soft-spoken, reserved Simone Galligani would be the first to shy away from any comparison with Lorenzo il Magnifico, the 15th-century patron of the arts, also from Tuscany. However, those associated with Galligani are full of admiration for his efforts of turning the town of Montecatini Terme into an artistic hub.

“None of this would exist if it weren’t for Simone and his love of contemporary art,” said Daniela Ivanova, curator of the year-long art and design exhibition “Natura & Artificio,” held in this medieval town about an hour away from Florence and instigated by the Galligani family.Together with his sisters, Simonetta and Cristina, Galligani owns five prestigious hotels in Montecatini, the location for the art, design, sculpture and photographic exhibitions scheduled this year.

“I think a hotel should be an open space and guests should be stimulated as much as possible in many different ways, from aromatherapy or massages in their rooms to looking at beautiful glass sculptures in the hall,” Galligani said.

Ivanova, whose company Locart organizes the exhibitions, said galleries are often “too static” and that hotels are “symbols of movement and make contemporary art more accessible.” According to Ivanova, the purpose of these events is to “promote, provoke and educate.” Ivanova said the artists are “inspired by the locations, and their projects vary according to the locations.”

Natura & Artificio was inaugurated in April with glass-blown sculptures by Maria Grazia Rosin. Following events include Cetza Georgieva’s sculptures and Daniel Canogar’s photo exhibition “Dream Landscape” at the end of May, the Bulgarian Nikolay Sardamov’s jewelry show in September; and book presentations and cultural debates in September and October. The event concludes with a “Sweet Brunch,” where food is seen as art, together with movie presentations centered on the theme.

“Montecatini is just buzzing now,” Ivanova said.

In addition to the art exhibitions, the renowned city spas were made private this year, acquired by the health and fitness group Vitawell, which is investing $40 million in new equipment, beauty and well-being treatments. The city boasts nine spas, Liberty-style buildings that offer natural spring water that helps treat various ailments. Giuseppe Verdi, René Magritte, Grace Kelly and Woody Allen are some of those who have stopped at Montecatini’s spas.

— Luisa Zargani

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