Image: La Purificadora, Puebla
Courtesy of La Purificadora
The La Purificadora in Puebla's historic city center has clear echoes of its past as a 19th-century water-bottling facility, nowhere more so than in its stunning open-air lobby. Mexican architect Ricardo Legorreta kept part of the original facade intact and fashioned a dramatic black volcanic stone staircase with a stream of water running down its middle.
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updated 3/14/2011 11:24:22 AM ET 2011-03-14T15:24:22

It’s evening when you arrive at your hotel. The doorman helps you with your bags as you enter the lobby. But instead of a reception area, you walk into a surreal campground fantasy —complete with a flowing stream, the glow of volcanic stone fire pits and twinkling stars in the open night sky. Welcome to La Purificadora in historic Puebla, Mexico.

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Forget tufted armchairs and stuffy flower arrangements. Hotels all around the world, from Budapest to Shanghai, are placing paramount importance on their lobbies, creating ultra-cool entrances intended to visually awe and transport guests when they first arrive—and linger in their minds long after they leave.

Slideshow: The coolest hotel lobbies

“The lobby is the first chapter in the story of your experience at the hotel. The design has to be incredibly thoughtful and also beautiful,” says star designer Kelly Wearstler, known for her high-drama color schemes. “Everything happens there. You arrive, you meet, you leave all through the lobby. It’s one of the souls of the hotel.”

Rafael Micha, a partner in Grupo Habita, the group behind La Purificadora and other superhip Mexican properties such as Condesa DF in Mexico City, calls the lobby the “focal point” of its hotels.

The hotels on our list have enlisted starchitects, star designers and in one instance, a reluctant artist-turned-designer to provide their singular vision of what a lobby should be—whether an ingenious riff on the existing DNA of a property and its sense of place or an entirely over-the-top fairyland fantasy.

Wearstler debunked any stereotypical notions of what an island resort should look like in her dramatic lobby for the Viceroy Anguilla. “I wanted it to be rich and dark as a respite from the sun,” she says, shunning pastels in favor of browns and grays to create a cool refuge for guests after a day at the beach.

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For the lobby at the Waterhouse at South Bund in Shanghai, architects Lyndon Neri and Rossana Hu blurred the notions of public and private (look up from the reception desk and you’ll see straight into Room #17, an exhibitionist’s dream booking).

Visionary Dutch designer Marcel Wanders claims he took Sleeping Beauty’s castle as inspiration for the Mondrian Miami. His fantastical-looking lobby has giant brass bell-shaped lights, oversize bright white plaster columns and a grand black floating staircase.

So next time you check into a hotel, or just pass through en route to the bar, make sure to soak it all in.

Copyright © 2012 American Express Publishing Corporation

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