DIVINE ACCOMMODATIONS: How fitting that a hotel revolving around the concept of hell and paradise should be located in the Eternal City. Designer Adam Tihany, however, played with these immortal ideas and turned them upside down at Rome’s Aleph Hotel, so that hell is on the ground floor, while paradise — a spa — is on the floor below. Two stone lions guard the entrance of the stately structure, which was formerly a bank, symmetric to two prodigious wooden samurai warriors in the hall. Lit by blue and red lights, the warriors symbolize goodness and evil, respectively.

Or, as Gilles Stellardo, the hotel’s general manager puts it, “the primitive forces of heaven and earth in eternal conflict.”

As eerie and outlandish as all this might sound, Tihany balanced daring suggestions, such as the huge bell hanging from the ceiling opposite the reception, a reminder of the city’s countless churches, with cozy red leather couches and exquisite, translucent red Venini glass lamps. Red Paduk-wood walls, carpets in red and gold embroidered patterns, and old tomes casually lying on the ground of the library add warmth and create a welcoming atmosphere.

“The design is not totally modern, in a cold and minimalist way — these are classic materials for a timeless look,” said Stellardo.

Red is the dominant color on the ground floor, which houses the wine bar, the library lounge and the reception, where staff is rigidly dressed in black and red, and the “Sin” restaurant, where it would be a sin not to eat. Chefs Alessio Biondi and Giovanni Scomazzon update staples from the traditional Roman cuisine and add their own personal touch, such as in the spaghetti with caciotta cheese and ground pepper revisited with the addition of zucchini cream and salted mullet role.

“We like to blend unusual flavors, lentils with vanilla, for example, served with calamari filled with lobster, a shellfish sauce and thyme,” Biondi said.

The white marble spa, which is not yet completed since the hotel will officially be inaugurated in September, will be modeled after the antique Roman baths, with saunas and a gym. The spa will be located in the bank’s safety vault. The 96 rooms are a take on Thirties and Forties Italian design, with airy, white, azure and blue color palettes. Each room is adorned with a different photo of Rome by Bram Tihany, the architect’s son and a New York street photographer.The five-star hotel is located in Via San Basilio, a few steps off the famous “Dolce Vita” street, Via Veneto. Prices per room range from $421 to $655 a night, with the five suites ranging from $877 to $1,755. The group invested $70.2 million to restructure the hotel over 11 months. The name Aleph comes from that of the first letter in the Hebrew alphabet.

“It marks the beginning of everything, but it’s also the name of a story by Jorge Luis Borges on the ideal world that does not exist,” Stellardo added.

POP GOES THE HOUSE: As central figures in the early British Pop Art movement, the careers of the late husband-and-wife architect team Alison and Peter Smithson will be the focus of an exhibition at London’s Design Museum this winter. “The Smithsons — The House of The Future to a House For Today,” will run from Dec. 6 of this year to Feb. 29, 2004, at the museum on the Thames. Drawing on the architects’ private archive, the exhibition will focus on the duo’s innovative designs for the home in the late 20th century, as well as two specific projects: the House of the Future, which they designed for the 1956 Daily Mail Ideal Home Exhibition in London, and a privately commissioned house near Lauenforde in Germany, constructed over 15 years starting in 1985.

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