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Natural Habitats

Sprouting up in Miami and New York City, the new green-leaning design-centric hotel brand 1 Hotels celebrates nature’s beauty and brings high-end eco-friendliness to the world of luxury hospitality.

1 Hotel South Beach’s main tension-edge pool is flanked by SoBe chic teak cabanas.

When Barry Sternlicht, the chairman and CEO of Starwood Capital Group, formed 1 Hotels, a new brand of SH Group, he knew exactly what was missing from the market: luxury hotels that are also environmentally conscious but far from rustic. As Starwood Capital Group Senior Vice President of Design Kemper Hyers explains, “Luxury has transformed to focus more and more on the senses—tactile, living things. Travelers want to know the story of an object and feel the authenticity behind the design.” Hyers should know: His team of top interior designers scoured the country for green, reclaimed, repurposed materials that convey refinement yet still carry natural imperfections that make them unique.

Miami Beach, with its vibrant, burgeoning hotel scene, was the perfect place to begin. With the help of New York-based design boutique Meyer Davis Studio, the SH Group team set about transforming the former Gansevoort Miami Beach into a sleek, contemporary, oceanfront hotel that brings the outside in. The firm “was tasked with breathing new life into an existing, outdated hotel,” explains Meyer Davis Studio co-founder Gray Davis. “1 Hotel South Beach was the debut property of a brand inspired by the beauty of nature, with the design mantra that true luxury is both simple and comfortable. The softness of the color palette was created with natural materials, which bring the environment of the sea inside.”

In contrast to the art deco style that dominates South Beach, 1 Hotel South Beach (room rates from $699, suite rates from $899) has a pared-down surf-shack aesthetic. Beyond the hotel’s exterior regional coral stone sculpture and 11,000-tropical-plant facade, the lobby features polished concrete floors; a color scheme of natural woods, whites and beige; and a host of reclaimed woods, from Javanese teak root and driftwood to reclaimed Western redwood. Most striking is the profusion of greenery—living art installations created by Miami-based Plant the Future. There’s a mural made of moss in collaboration with artist 2Atlas, a grotto garden straight out of Alice in Wonderland and a plant gallery with seasonally changing displays.

The hotel’s 425 rooms and suites are light and airy, with rough-hewn planks of salvaged Colorado beetle kill wood on walls, glass terrariums, 100 percent organic cotton sheets and hemp-filled mattresses. Bathrooms feature reclaimed Calacatta marble, handmade concrete trough sinks, teak vanities and handblown glass pendant lights. Four distinctive outdoor swimming pools include a main tension-edge pool with beachy-chic teak sun loungers and daybeds, and SoBe’s largest rooftop pool, where cabanas have built-in Champagne buckets. Farm-to-table food and drink are provided by Top Chef’s Tom Colicchio in the Tom on Collins lobby bar and restaurants Beachcraft and The Sandbox. In addition, the concepts of sustainability and luxury also extend to guests’ convenience: A fleet of Tesla premium electric vehicles are available on a first come, first served basis for complimentary rides within 3 miles of the hotel.

Exposed beams and brick conjure the industrial appeal of a loft at 1 Hotel Central Park, while Stilliani Moulinos’ “Balls of Earth,” a dialogue between the sky and plants, hangs overhead.

After finding success with the new brand in Miami Beach, SH Group tapped the talents of award-winning New York-based AvroKO to design 1 Hotel Central Park (room rates from $499), located one block south of Manhattan’s verdant 843-acre centerpiece, Central Park. First, the design team stripped the industrial building down to its riveted steel beams. Then, they sourced materials that would “leave the space feeling somewhat unadorned,” notes AvroKO principal Greg Bradshaw. An English ivy-clad exterior and two doors constructed with 16,000 fallen twigs embedded into steel provide entree into the lobby, which is decked out with reclaimed woods, bricks, marble, stone and locally sourced glass. Kokedama strung gardens are suspended from the repurposed oak ceiling, while a 6-foot maple-tree root functions as a piece of sculpture. In an effort to conserve energy, during monthly Dark Sky nights, lobby lights are turned off and the space illuminated by candles.

The hotel’s 229 rooms each feature handcrafted furniture and custom terrariums fashioned by Brooklyn’s Sprout Home, with select rooms showcasing a wall paneled with redwood salvaged from the the city’s iconic rooftop water tanks. Hyers’ favorite design element at 1 Hotel Central Park? “The elevator landing at each floor is unique and incorporates every kind of ‘obsolete’ material,” he says. There’s an old factory window on floor 17, while a piece of wood ripped from its original structure during Superstorm Sandy is on the ninth floor.

Both the Miami Beach and New York properties have furnishings and infrastructure elements that adhere to green building and LEED standards. Of course a hotel concept this ambitious doesn’t come without challenges, such as working with plants—living, breathing decorative elements. “We love nature and we use it liberally, but nature is an outdoor material and doesn’t love to be controlled,” Hyers explains. “Green walls are an ecosystem, and, like any system, even a simple terrarium, they take time to establish and find their biosphere. We are using really specific engineered systems that require patience, experimentation and a willingness to let nature find its way. I think it’s safe to say we have far more plant material in our hotels than your typical hotel, and we all have become very well-versed in what works best.”

Next up for the eco-chic hotel brand is the 194-room 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge (nightly rates from $350), set to open later this year in Brooklyn’s riverfront park. “We have a very clean new building, so the soul is much more in the furniture and finishes,” Hyers says. “We are tapped into a big community of suppliers and artists who share our spirit. And then, of course, Brooklyn’s maker culture fits right into the world of 1 Hotels.” Perched on the edge of the East River, the hotel will pay homage to Brooklyn’s past as a key shipping hub, with a design that utilizes reclaimed shipping containers and pallets, pilings and pier structures.

The instant popularity of 1 Hotels is proof positive that green architecture and eco-friendly design truly have a place in the crowded world of luxury hotels.