Inside the Race to Design the World’s Most Over-the-Top Penthouse Suite

From palatial bedrooms to private butlers, the sky's the limit.

The Business Super-Suite Courtesy of Israel G. Vargas

Guests returning to the most elite suite at Paris’s Prince de Galles Hotel last holiday season wouldn’t have recognized their surroundings. During the preceding six months, the duplex had been stripped and reimagined, its decor entirely replaced with custom creations and fine art, its entry staircase grandly redone in black lacquer and bronze and its windows extended to create panoramic views of the Eiffel Tower and Sacré-Coeur.

The Art Deco landmark partnered with French crystal house Lalique and Berlin-based designer Patrick Hellmann to transform the three-bedroom space and create one of the city’s most lavish getaways. And it embarked on the project somewhat out of necessity: In Paris’s increasingly crowded luxury hotel market, the Prince de Galles, a member of Marriott’s Luxury Collection, needs to stand out if it wants to succeed. It’s counting on Lalique’s cachet in China, Hellmann’s popularity in Russia and the hotel’s contemporary Art Deco design, for which it is internationally known, to attract ultra-affluent guests from around the world.

The space—some 1,900 square feet on the hotel’s highest floors plus a 1,050-square-foot terrace with 280-degree city views—now includes such knockout features as crystal wall panels and bedside lamps based on Lalique’s iconic Masque de Femme, a door with a golden mosaic in a herringbone pattern and bathrooms of dark Grigio Carnico marble, their crystal taps echoing the bubbled surface of Lalique’s Mossi vases. It pushes the design envelope in every way and nudges the outlay to $17,300.

The latest in a spate of new Parisian premium accommodations, the Suite Lalique by Patrick Hellmann is part of a rising trend in the French capital and worldwide: To keep up with ever-increasing competition, hotels must radically remaster and expand their penthouse suites—and create new ones—or face the consequences. And they are turning to in-demand designers and collaborations with need-no- introduction brands to do so.

Ty Warner penthouse Four Seasons

The vast Ty Warner Penthouse at the Four Seasons in Midtown Manhattan.  Courtesy of Four Seasons

The hotels hope these projects will help enhance their image and boost their bottom lines. The drive to do both has created something of an arms race in the luxury sector: Battling to outdo one another, hotels are creating an embarrassment of riches to impress the extraordinarily wealthy.

Hotels lavish attention—and budget—on these accommodations because they’re a calling card. “They help define the hotel’s personality and create a true unique selling point,” says Jack Ezon, founder and managing partner of Embark, a travel advisory that creates high-end bespoke trips.

They also have the potential to be cash cows. “The return per square foot on these suites can be 5 to 100 times what’s garnered by a regular room,” Ezon continues. “Hotels that are looking to keep their average daily rates high bank on mega-suites to attract royals, oligarchs and other ultra-high-net-worth multi-generational families.”

Another part of the economic appeal: When such a suite is booked, so are a fleet of additional rooms to house the guest’s entourage of security detail, assistants and other professional and personal staff. The largest recent party to book the Suite Lalique, for example— whose prominent guests have so far included a head of state—took nine rooms in addition to the suite itself.

“Travelers are spending a lot more on lodging these days, so we’re seeing a big increase in luxury development,” says Matt Arrants, of hospitality consultancy Pinnacle Advisory Group. It bears out in the data. According to information gathered by the Global Business Travel Association and CWT (formerly Carlson Wagonlit Travel), average daily rates have steadily risen over the last six years, by as much as 3.7 percent in 2018 and 2019. And when new hotels enter a market, Arrants says, “existing properties definitely have to up their game. They know the consumer is going to be drawn to the shiny new object.”

Boston Harbor Hotel John Adams Presidential Suite

Boston Harbor Hotel’s John Adams Presidential Suite.  Courtesy of Boston Harbor Hotel

“Suites are key for hotels here,” says Philippe Leboeuf, general manager of the Mandarin Oriental Paris, which opened in 2011. He notes that competition has increased dramatically in his city: In the last decade, a Peninsula and Shangri-La have arrived, the Crillon and Le Meurice were majorly renovated, and a Bulgari and Cheval Blanc, from LVMH, will soon launch. “Creating more luxurious and spectacular suites is a way to differentiate,” Leboeuf says. To that end, last June his hotel debuted the four-bedroom, 4,600-square-foot Parisian Apartment suite, a $35,300-a-night penthouse by sought-after French studio Gilles & Boissier.

Paris may be emblematic of this phenomenon, but there are plenty of other cities experiencing this change. In London—expected to add 8,000 hotel rooms this year, 10 percent of them luxury—the six-year-old Rosewood launched its three-bedroom, 2,700-square-foot, $14,300-a-night Lincoln House this past fall in a former private event space. The project came about “to ensure we stay innovative and relevant,” says managing director Michael Bonsor, “and that we continue to exceed expectations.” Despite other similar spaces in the city—such as the 2,850-square-foot Royal Suite at the Savoy and the 4,850-square-foot Sterling Suite at the Langham—the Rosewood has recently had so many requests for large suites that it couldn’t keep up with demand.

In Boston—whose hotel boom will see the luxury-room count doubling—the city’s longstanding Boston Harbor Hotel (BHH) carved its new penthouse-floor John Adams Presidential Suite out of former event space too. The room opened months before the city’s Four Seasons One Dalton Street debuted. “We knew our existing top suite product just didn’t compete,” says general manager Stephen Johnston. The new 4,800-square-foot, $15,000-a-night Adams suite—set under the hotel’s iconic rotunda, with a private elevator, a service kitchen and waterfront views through double-height glass walls—now very much does.

Manhattan, meanwhile, may well be the only city to give Paris a run for its money as the place plus ultra of this phenomenon. The arms race arguably began here a few years back, in Midtown, when the Four Seasons debuted the 4,300-square-foot, $50,000-a-night one-bedroom Ty Warner Penthouse, designed in collaboration by Peter Marino, I. M. Pei and Ty Warner himself, the hotel’s billionaire owner. And now the Park Hyatt has a similarly priced, similarly sized super-suite: the three-bedroom, 59th-floor Manhattan Sky Suite, designed by Jeffrey Beers, with floor-to-ceiling windows and 360-degree views, plus an art collection that includes originals by the likes of Philip Guston and Sarah Sze.

Beyond abundant bedrooms, extensive square footage and high-touch furnishings, these suites also convey a certain home-away-from-home feeling. BHH, for its part, even turned to a firm with experience in both hospitality and residential interiors, Los Angeles’s SFA Design, which had created a house for the property’s owners. Not only did the hoteliers “want to have the best suite in town,” confirms SFA principal Rosie Feinberg, who led the project, but “they wanted to have the most residential one, too.”

Prince de Galles’s Suite Lalique

The Prince de Galles’s Suite Lalique by Patrick Hellmann.  Courtesy of Prince de Galles

That meant making it unique, incorporating unusually large amounts of inlaid stone, for example, and hanging a 1,200-piece, eight-foot-long custom crystal chandelier from the living area’s glass ceiling. Framed Hermès scarves decorate the walls, along with original works from local artists. Boston’s best florist handles the fresh flowers and plants, both inside and on the 1,000-square-foot terrace. The space includes a kitchen for a personal chef or one brought in for dinners (along with a dedicated, private service elevator), a cozy cinema room and a separate wing suitable for children and their caregivers or other members of a guest’s staff.

In another hallmark of this new generation of super-suites, the Adams’s open floor plan echoes au courant residential design, creating a flowing space meant for entertaining as well as relaxing. At Rosewood London’s Lincoln House, the flexible living, dining and entertainment area unfolds across a wing on the third floor of the hotel’s landmarked 1914 Edwardian-style building. “It has the feel of a series of apartments that were brought together” to create a floor-through sense of space, says William Paley, who’s a longtime associate of legendary designer Tony Chi and oversaw this suite.

It’s not just the physical space that’s getting bigger and bolder. The hotels are raising the stakes on included services and amenities, too. When you’re operating in this stratosphere, butlers are all but de rigueur, so for guests of the Manhattan Sky Suite, Park Hyatt added a personal chef, airport transfers via Blade helicopters and hour-long spa services for up to six people. In addition to airport transfers, the Prince de Galles’s Suite Lalique comes with a personal assistant at your request 24/7 and, even more enjoyably, an on-call private bartender.

It may be the result of cutthroat competition, but this luxury-suite arms race ultimately produces something entirely pleasant, begetting what Prince de Galles general manager Gerald Krischek calls “a transformational experience” for guests. The Suite Lalique offers them the ability to “live in this unique space in this great city” as if it’s their own capacious and cosseting apartment, and perhaps its design might even inspire the renovation of a space within one of their homes or yachts. And it’s that sort of experience—and creative spark of originality—that may ultimately be the greatest luxury money can buy.

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