From the Introspective Archives: Designer Michele Bönan

This Thursday, we’re throwing back—but only a little bit. The below piece by writer Sara Bliss ran as a feature story on June 4, 2014 in our Introspective Magazine. Read on for a condensed version of the original profile.


For celebrated Italian architect and interior designer Michele Bönan, designing a hotel, a restaurant or a house is a cinematic undertaking. “I am the director of a movie,” Bönan explains. “The property, the location, the client: they all become parts of a film—all equally important.” Whether it is at the new Hotel Marquis, in Paris, or the Cipriani restaurant in Miami, Bönan delights in seeing his spaces come to Technicolor life. A lifelong Florentine who designs everything from yachts to furniture to residences for an international roster of fashionable clients, Bönan says “I knew all along that I wanted to be a designer and architect,” he proclaims. “I never had any doubt.”

Classic-contemporary interior at Florence's Palazzo Tornabuoni, a member's only residence club.  Palazzo Tornabuoni, Florence

Classic-contemporary interior at Florence’s Palazzo Tornabuoni, a member’s only residence club. Palazzo Tornabuoni, Florence

Bönan’s prolific career in hospitality architecture began in 1995, when he created Florence’s Hotel Lungarno, the first of 10 Italian projects that he has done for the Ferragamo family’s Lungarno Collection of hotels, suites and yachts. Designing for a centuries-old townhouse overlooking the Arno, Bönan gave the Hotel Lungarno a crisp blue-and-white palette to “accentuate the sense of endlessly drifting on the Arno, with the Ponte Vecchio as your point of reference,” he says. But while the view from the hotel is captivating, Bönan made sure the interiors were just as enticing, designing his own custom furniture and accessories and hanging more than 400 works of modern art, including pieces by Picasso and Cocteau, throughout.

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The J.K. Place Roma—whose skylight-lit living room-like lobby is shown here—draws inspiration from ancient Rome. The J.K. Place Roma

To date, Bönan has designed more than a dozen hotels throughout Europe and the U.S., every one of them unique and more evocative of staying at someone’s glamorous villa than an anonymous lodging. Often the standard lobby is nixed in favor of intimate communal spaces that look and feel like living rooms, complete with roaring fireplaces, interesting books and sofas piled high with pillows. At Casa Tua, in Miami, each of the five unique rooms is stocked beforehand with the guests’ preferred flowers, films, snacks and more. “I like to say that everyone should live at home like they’re in a hotel, and in a hotel like they’re at home,” Bönan explains. “You want the best of both, hotel service and home comfort.”

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Bönan both owns and designed the Jagdgut Wachtelhof, a 17-room ski lodge in the Austrian Alps. Jagdgut Watchtelhof

Bönan latest hotel is Rome’s new J.K, which opened this fall in a 17th-century building near the famed Spanish Steps just off Via Condotti. The 30 guestrooms are painted a vibrant teal or a glamorous slate gray, many have upholstered beds with a slight wing-back design and graphic, mid-century inspired chairs. “The J.K. Rome is completely different from the hotels in Florence and Capri,” Bönan explains. “The inspiration is the dolce vita of the nineteen-fifties and sixties, and the Tom Ford movie The Single Man influenced the concept, too. I wanted to created an iconic place, a real Roman hotel.”

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“I like to say that everyone should live at home like they’re in a hotel, and in a hotel like they’re at home.” Interior from the J.K. Place Roma

Bönan tends to custom-design furniture for each new project. “I started designing because I couldn’t find what I needed,” he explains. Two properties that Bönan both designed and owns are the Heidelberg Suites, a 26-suite hotel housed in a series of beautifully restored 19th-century villas in the picturesque town of Heidelberg and the Jagdgut Wachtelhof, a 31-room ski lodge in the Austrian Alps. He feels particularly connected to both of these hotels since his German-born wife, Christene, an interior stylist with whom he has collaborated for 15 years, has family roots in both locales. At the Heidelberg Suites, Bönan, a passionate boat lover, has provided a floating restaurant for guests: The Patria, a fully restored and revamped 1930s yacht done in a crisp red-and-white palette. “These two hotels really show our style,” he states.

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