Passport to Design

Wanderlusting for beautiful design? Marshall Erb shares why—and a carefully curated hotlist of hotels that deliver top-drawer service and inspired interiors.

By Elise Hofer Shaw

The post-COVID spending boom is in full swing: Live entertainment is up 60 percent, recreation is up 54 percent, membership clubs are up 45 percent, and hotels are up 33 percent (according to Bureau of Economic Analysis data). And, according to Marshall Erb, owner and lead designer at Marshall Erb Design in Chicago, the spike in luxury travel is a clear sign of a seismic lifestyle shift. “People are antsy, and ready for a change of scenery,” says Erb. “And because travel budgets were squirreled away during the pandemic, everyone is planning bigger, more lavish trips for the second half of 2021 and next year.”

Gotta get away? We hear you. But where, exactly, can one get the most atmospheric bang for their surplus bucks? “If high design is up there on your list of things that define a first-rate travel experience, then seeking out chic retreats is likely a favored pastime,” says Erb. “Our clients use their vacations, in part, to collect ideas for their homes and closer-to-home vacation properties. We’ll get glimpses in the form of phone pics—a fibrous chair from the lobby of a boutique hotel in Merida, an avant-garde light fixture from a water closet in Paris—that inform their ideal home design. While function and flow are always key, at the end of the day it’s the curated details that make jaws drop. Our clients love being a part of that hunt. And then they pass the sourcing and execution to us.”

So it comes as no surprise that originality is driving the luxury travel market, too. “After a year of being glued to our screens, seeing only what the algorithms were feeding us, everyone is craving new content—things we haven’t seen before,” says Erb. “And this trend 100 percent spills over into the travel sector. Hotel chains are all the same. Discerning travelers want to stay somewhere that’s singular, with a cool vibe and a super unique personality—and then bring those bespoke moments home in little pieces to create an authentic design for their homes.”

Here, Erb shares his top picks for design-forward destinations that delight and inspire.

J.K. Place, Rome

Housed in Rome’s former school of architecture, J.K. Place Roma is all about polished impressions: Personalized hospitality, stunning facilities, top-notch food, and the perfect central location for exploring the heart of the Roman Empire, just to name a few. But it’s this hotel’s abundance of elegance that leaves an everlasting impression. “The design by acclaimed Florentine architect Michele Bönan is a rich hybrid of modern style and classical opulence—think saturated color ways, stately mahogany four-poster beds, Berber rugs, gilded chandeliers, and personally monogrammed pillows, of course,” shares Erb. “Here’s the thing: Discerning travelers don’t want to go to Italy and stay in a sterile glass box. You go to Rome to be enveloped by the Old World architecture—the Colosseum, the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain… J.K. Place Roma is a rare breed of boutique hotel that harnesses the charm of Rome’s Borghese neighborhood while honoring the capital city’s history with a sophisticatedly modern take on interior design, all in a home-like atmosphere where you’ll never want for pampering.” Insider tip: Don’t miss Sunday brunch at the J.K. Lounge Café for market-fresh pastries and potent drip espresso, all served up in a glamorous cafe setting that’s frequented by Rome’s fashion set. Via di Monte d’Oro, 30, Rome, Italy

Ballyfin Demense, Ireland

Set at the foot of the Slieve Bloom Mountains in the central plains of Ireland, Ballyfin is a five-star luxury country house hotel that is equal parts history, romance, tranquility and beauty. A Relais & Chateaux property, the house has long been admired as the most lavish Regency mansion in all of Ireland. True, it took an eight-year restoration by more than 100 craftspeople to get there—and garner Condé Nast Traveler’s nod as “the best hotel in the world.” But now, Ballyfin is a handsome retreat for the modern age that hasn’t lost an ounce of its neoclassical charm. “Ballyfin is like the Downton Abbey of Ireland,” says Erb. “Burnished silks, Flemish tapestries, inlaid floors… I mean, there are antlers on the wall from a 10,000-year-old elk! It offers the very best of Irish hospitality in the most beautiful surroundings imaginable. And with only twenty bedrooms—and a private one-bedroom Gardeners Cottage that’s also available to guests—the 614 acre estate provides peace, privacy and an abundance of outdoor pursuits. Although, if you’re like me, you’ll be content curling up with a book and a dram of whisky beside a crackling fireplace.” Insider tip: Should you find yourself motivated to venture out, quintessential country activities such as fishing, horseback riding, clay pigeon shooting, archery and falconry can fill your days. Or, take a day trip to one of the quaint nearby villages. “Grab a pint at a pub—any pub—and strike up a conversation with a local,” suggests Erb. “These are the places where people will take the time to talk to you, will listen to your stories, and enjoy telling you theirs.” Ballyfin, County Laois, R32 PN34, Ireland

Shore Club, South Beach

A luxurious playground for the jet-set just steps from Miami’s Art Deco District, Shore Club South Beach is a boutique oceanside resort hotel that throws a lot of designer punches. Designed by famed British modernist David Chipperfield, the landmarked Art Deco hotel lobby hits visitors with a glossy white canvas, amorphous shapes and contemporary art before connecting to the hotel’s labyrinthine gardens inspired by Jardin Majorelle in Marrakech—a chic study of contrasts for sure. And while the guest rooms are minimalist by design to let the ocean views work their calming magic, Diez y Seis, Shore Club’s main restaurant by Chef Jose Icardi, and Skybar, including the Redroom Garden and Rum Bar, all deliver mega-watt impact. “Its escapist design is a sensorial celebration of both tradition and rebellion,” says Erb. “Oversize floor pillows, perfectly placed palm fronds, cobalt cafe stools, brass tea tables, and a litany of lanterns… It’s a fantastical mashup-style tribute to Yves Saint Laurent’s Morocco of the 1970s and Icardi’s Latin-themed menu—and a swell spot for sipping a ‘Cold Fashioned’ by candlelight.” Insider tip: Families (and ballers) will want to book the World Penthouse, a stunning three-level, 6,000-square-foot suite with two King bedrooms, a living room, dining space, and an epic spiral staircase that leads to a private rooftop pool with panoramic views of the Miami skyline and Atlantic Ocean. 1901 Collins Ave., Miami Beach, Florida

To be continued…`