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Handcrafted hotels: the boltholes telling stories through craft

Forever championing human creativity

As the craft resurgence picks up pace, hotel designers are increasingly commissioning makers to bring bespoke elements to their interiors. ‘A hotel is a gateway to a new city or region, and travellers are seeking distinct experiences,’ observes Ambrish Arora, principal at Studio Lotus. ‘Craft is one of the most evocative mediums for capturing the spirit of a place and can be a powerful storytelling device.’

For the New Delhi-based design practice, the process involves working in tandem with artisans to bring a contemporary dimension to their skills. ‘The idea is not to replicate crafts, but to reinterpret them in a way that remains in context, yet looks forward,’ says Arora. ‘We’re challenging them and ourselves to create pieces that are anything but traditional, but that can’t be achieved with mechanised processes. Our engagement with craft communities has greatly informed and enriched the way we design.’

At RAAS Chhatrasagar hotel, which the studio recently completed in the historic town of Nimaj in Rajasthan, guests sleep in tented pods featuring fabric made by printmaker Dhvani Behl’s studio Flora For Fauna and block-printed with designs celebrating local plants and wildlife. Doors are carved by artisans from Uttar Pradesh, while the bespoke Acacia wood consoles by furniture studio Mangrove Collective feature berries from native trees. Even the patterns of the hand-chiselled stone panels reference the local biodiversity.

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RAAS Hotel - Chhatrasagar

‘The motifs heighten guests’ connection with their surroundings, creating an experience that’s memorable and unique to the area,’ continues Arora, whose team has designed three other hotels for the RAAS group, each referencing their locales in Devigarh, Kangra and Jodhpur. ‘It also redefines luxury as something that’s made by investing care, skill and time.’

For multidisciplinary studio Autoban, designing hotels also begins with telling stories. ‘Through research rooted in history, we try to create spaces that are immersive, surprising and memorable. What makes them intriguing is when every element is infused with feeling – and that often comes from a human touch,’ says Seyhan Özdemir Sarper, co-founder and head of design at Autoban. ‘This is why craft and bespoke elements are so important – they’re what makes each corner unique. We want guests to discover a new detail each time they enter a space, and to feel the layers of narratives and their makers in every piece.’

When the Istanbul-based studio designed Joali, a forward-thinking luxury resort in the Maldives, they worked with Turkish art curators No LaB and a roster of global and local craftspeople to bring together one-of-a-kind art, surfaces, structures and custom furniture. Among these pieces are exquisitely carved bamboo sofas, benches and bedside tables, handsome Brancusi-inspired wooden columns and palm braiding on roofs and structures. South African studio (and Hermes collaborator) Ardmore made carved wood panels featuring lush Maldivian vegetation, while Brooklyn-based artist Doug Johnston created a series of light sculptures made from rope. Guests can enjoy dinner in a woven ‘Manta Ray’ hideaway suspended amid the trees by Porky Hefer – just one of the internationally renowned artists whose work can be found on the immersive art trail.

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Joali - Luxury Resort

Over in Botswana, visitors to Xigera lodge in the Okavango Delta will find themselves on a craft and design safari, as well as the animal kind. When South Africa curator Trevyn McGowan – the co-founder and CEO of Cape Town’s Southern Guild gallery – was approached by the founders of Xigera to curate artwork, the remit of the partnership soon expanded. ‘We became very involved in executing [design director] Toni Tollman’s vision about what Xigera could be,’ explains McGowan. Working with over 84 craftspeople, they amassed not only the largest collection of collectable African design in the world, but a full assemblage of bespoke bedding, tableware, furniture, objets, stationery and even books. ‘It goes beyond collectible design pieces, to nearly every single item you use or see, and almost everything has been made by hand in Africa,’ continues McGowan. ‘So many pairs of hands were involved and everything holds the vibration of the maker.’

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Xigera lodge - Okavango

Key collaborators include Botswana-born furniture designer Peter Mabeo, who crafted contemporary timber pieces just a few hundred miles from the lodge, and blacksmith Conrad Hicks, whose powerful forged steel ‘Structure of Self’ sculpture houses an outdoor fire. Meanwhile, ceramicist Madoda Fani’s hand-coiled, burnished and smoke-fired pieces draw inspiration from his Xhosa heritage. The sculptor and arborist Adam Birch even lived on site for months, making pieces from fallen timber and teaching local craftspeople to produce work under his guidance.

‘A tree grows, it falls, it dies, and is transformed into something that lasts forever by a maker handing down their skill,’ says McGowan. ‘We live in a disposable society so when you really consider what’s important, that includes the preservation of nature as well as crafts and traditions, all of which connect us and place importance on what we should be putting into the world. These pieces have a narrative and will last for generations.’

What unifies all of these handmade hotels is that they are not just comfortable and stylish; thanks to the vision of their founders and the expertise of the designers and craftspeople involved, they are imbued with contemporary, multi-layered design stories and support local tradition and skills, while also being luxurious and unforgettable places to stay.

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