If you have ever wondered how Alice in Wonderland meets the Dutch Golden Age could be interpreted in a contemporary hospitality design aesthetic, then look no further than the wondrous Andaz Amsterdam. Alex Benasuli wanders through the looking glass into the hotel’s indulgent yet fun presidential suite and is somewhat reluctant to re-enter the real world afterwards.
When Andaz Amsterdam opened in late 2012 – slap bang in the heart of the city’s fabled canal belt, in a former library on Prinsengracht – the hotel reimagined the contemporary hotel bar with an interior design that evokes fantasy and romance, creatively linking past, present and future in a visual feast that stimulates every sense. In less capable hands the results could have been awful – tacky and ugly, trying too hard and not getting it right. However, in the hands of Marcel Wanders, the globally acclaimed Dutch designer, something magical and show-stopping was created. In Andaz Amsterdam Wanders turned form, function, colour and texture on its head in a truly original yet mind mending style, with enough nods to the past and convention to even keep the traditionalists amongst us happy.
The New York Times once referred to Wanders as the Lady Gaga of the design world and it’s not difficult to see why. There is a flamboyance and theatricality to his vision. He is truly a free spirit, letting his imagination run riot in forging an aesthetic that not only is a visual splendour to behold but also tells an enchanting story. Wanders first gained notoriety in the mid 1990s with his award winning Knotted Chair, constructed of aramid and carbon fibres, knotted into the shape of a chair and then impregnated with epoxy resin and hung in a frame to dry, leaving the final form in the hands of gravity. The chair brought together technology, innovation, lightness and durability in a cutting-edge piece that was both practical and pleasing to look at. Under Dutch design brand Moooi, which Wanders co-founded with Casper Vissers at the turn of the new millennium, and via various high-profile collaborations with the likes of Alessi, Bisazza, Swarovski and Puma, Wanders has been catapulted to the pinnacle of the design world, a perch that he has helped to define.
Wanders was the perfect choice of design visionary to conceptualise Hyatt’s Amsterdam outpost of its upscale boutique Andaz hotel brand. Andaz strives to bridge the worlds of creativity and luxury. Integrating and re-interpreting local culture through the interiors and artwork is a fundamental component of the Andaz DNA. Open common areas that seamlessly join lounges, restaurants and bars are designed to be reflections of the cities and neighbourhoods in which they are situated.
In Amsterdam – one of the most cosmopolitan, diverse and libertine cities on the planet, as famous for its highbrow culture and for its lowbrow sin – the incarnation of the Andaz brand is truly extraordinary. At 587 Prinsengracht, housed in the former library building designed forty years earlier and occupying almost an entire block of prime Amsterdam real estate, Wanders has realised a hospitality destination that is exciting and eclectic, indulgent and fun. And some six years after it opened, Andaz Amsterdam continues to hold its own in the city’s hospitality landscape, despite the recent addition of a much-hyped W Hotel and the uber-cool refurbishment of the famed Hotel Pulitzer very close by.
The reason for Andaz Amsterdam’s success (notwithstanding its impeccable central location) is that the hotel possesses all the design and exclusivity credentials of a boutique property, married with the creature comforts of a five-star global brand. Multiple lounging, eating and drinking areas, coupled with 122 guest rooms and suites, a spa and gym, event spaces and even a secret courtyard garden offer a decadent and fun all-round Amsterdam experience.
Stepping off the Prinsengracht to enter through the hotel’s main doors, onto a gangplank-like platform, is akin to boarding one of the great maritime vessels that propelled Holland to the pinnacle of global trade. The feeling of being at sea continues in the front facing lounge area, with over-sized windows opening onto picturesque canal vistas.
A giant constellation of planetary-inspired sculptural lighting hanging from the ceiling of the lobby area evokes the science and adventure of exploration. Dutch cartographers were the most revered in Europe – their maps powering the navigation that helped to discover the New World. In reverence, Wanders has woven astronomical and terrestrial lines in-and-out of furniture, wallpaper and floor coverings throughout the hotel.
Giant white ceramic cow bells, containing chandeliers, highlight individual high-top reception and concierge desks. The deconstruction of the famous blue and white Delft pottery style is also a theme that runs throughout and appears on carpets, upholstery and other fittings in forms for which it was not originally intended. This reimagining and incorporating of the traditional in new, contemporary purposes is classic Wanders. Ruby red high-backed tulip armchairs – an ode to this most Dutch of symbols – are another Wanders innovation that offset the blue colour tones and dark wood panelling that is prevalent in the public spaces.
Life-sized crown prince sculptural effigies – looking a little like court jesters – greet guests by the elevators. Just in case you were wondering which century you were in, a collection of video and digital art is liberally scattered on permanent display throughout the property. Indeed, the sensory experiences at Andaz Amsterdam are alone worthy of visiting, there literally being something to gaze or wonder at around every corner. For me, the pièce de résistance is the mural spanning the length and height of the building, that can be viewed as guests ride the glass-fronted elevator. It is actually bespoke hand-painted wallpaper, that begins with medieval illustrative depictions of hell and devils on the ground floor, becoming heaven and angels towards the roof of the hotel. In between are obvious and subtle references to the most important periods of Dutch history and heritage. Overall the installation is a mesmerising Wanders masterpiece of metaphor, visual imagery and story-telling.
Heaven is certainly your destination if you are fortunate enough to be staying in the hotel’s top floor presidential suite. Like a posh Amsterdam apartment, decorated by one of the world’s leading designers (which it is), the Prinsengracht Suite is more than 140 square meters of perfectly proportioned space, liberally adorned with equal measures of elegance, flair and fun.
Dark herringbone floors, large elegant rooms and an oversized bookcase featuring photos of the Dutch royal family are the suite’s historical backbone, while Wanders’ creative use of materials, colour and funky accent pieces add the just the right amount of flamboyance and amusement.
An embroidered sofa sounds formal, but when yellow threads combine to create delicate patterns of human faces the result is quite different. A statement ceramic chandelier hanging above the dining room table – with Delft pottery detailing and golden cherubs on each arc – is truly something to behold. The Delft follow-through to a blue living room carpet, depicting a giant map of the Netherlands, is pure genius. A classic Wanders-designed Alice in Wonderland-inspired metre-high crocheted mushroom lamp, with a dreamy lattice-style design, casts a slightly hallucinatory shadow over the conventional angles of the room.
A floor-to-ceiling Dutch Golden Age-style still life painting – replete with wine goblets, a vase full of flowers and a dead pheasant, evocative of abundance, prosperity and status – marks the beginning of a long hallway leading to the more private parts of the suite. To the right is a master bedroom with sleeping and sitting areas, separated from each other by a television console that swivels to face either the bed of the sofa. An over-sized goldfish-headed golden spoon, painted on to patterned wallpaper behind the bed, is a kaleidoscopic twist to the mostly white décor. Of course, anyone so privileged as to stay in the Prinsengracht Suite would surely have been born with a golden spoon in his or her mouth. To the left is a wall of wardrobes leading to a cavernous master bathroom, whose centrepiece is a huge, futuristic white part space capsule part egg bathtub. Red faucets, one of Wanders signature Delft blue ceramic chandeliers and the continuation of the golden spoon from the bedroom to bathroom add whimsical splashes of technicolour.
A state-of-the-art double rain shower room and separate WC occupy one end of the master bathroom suite, while a wall of glass obscured by a retractable sheer curtain separates one side from the other. As if all this wasn’t enough, off the main hallway, a pair of double doors reveals a stylish office cum library with all the AV accoutrements to host an intimate high-level board meeting. The icing on the cake of this truly fabulous suite is private outdoor space that runs the entire length of the apartment and can be accessed from the living room as well the bedroom. Fully landscaped and staged, with different seating areas and ambient lighting, this private penthouse garden looks out over Amsterdam’s rooftops and canals below. In mid-summer, when daylight lingers through to late evening, spending time on the suite’s terrace is a really special treat, as is spending time in any part of this super stylish Amsterdam pied-à-terre. The Prinsengracht Suite is, without doubt, the perfect place for a supremely decadent stay in the most decadent of capital cities.
Does surreal and imaginative design exist that is both intelligent and luxurious? Can one respect classical forms and tradition yet innovate with fantasy and fun, whilst creating something ground-breaking without sacrificing function and comfort? Wanders routinely achieves all of this and so much more. He pushes the envelope and takes risks, but not for the sake of shock value or ego. Andaz Amsterdam is Wanders’ love letter to the Dutch capital, and the world within the hotel is a psychedelic reinterpretation of what has made and continues to make the city so great outside its walls. There is passion and romance in every detail. Heart, soul and intellect as well as beauty and imagination are woven into every fibre of the hotel.
Visitors to Andaz Amsterdam should be prepared to slide down the rabbit hole into a strange yet novel and wonderful hospitality world. Perhaps we should be referring to Lady Gaga as the Marcel Wanders of the performance art world.
Alex Benasuli stayed in the Prinsengracht Suite at Andaz Amsterdam in February 2018. The average
nightly rate for the suite June – August 2018 is EUR 2,800 including breakfast and airport transportation.