Larry Ellison's Designer Reveals How to Know If You're in a Truly Top-Notch Hotel

Le Sirenuse in Positano Italy View - Publicity - H 2017
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Four Seasons Lanai's luxury pro Todd-Avery Lenahan shares five telltale signs that your lodgings are in a class of their own.

International hotel and resort designer Todd-Avery Lenahan is founder of TAL Studio, with residential clients that include 12 of Forbes' 1,000 wealthiest people in the world, and CEO of 7-Star Czar International Consulting, where he creates luxury experiences for leading hotels and hospitality businesses. He offers his ultra-luxe property checklist:


For the Four Seasons Resort Lanai in Hawaii, it was understood the effort would be well-funded and the design team would present only the best to Larry Ellison. The investment is evident in every nuanced element, but not for the sake of being lavish. Evidence of too much money is a turnoff. Take the showerhead: My gold standard is Speakman, relatively unchanged for years, while modern, esoteric fixtures that are exponentially more expensive don't deliver control of the spray that discerning guests prefer. Some of the most exquisite properties — like the Inn at Little Washington in Virginia and Blackberry Farm in Walland, Tennessee — are humble in their facilities, but the service and delivery are extraordinary. Conversely, some of the most expensive hotels are mediocre experiences. You can make vanities out of lapis lazuli for $8,000, but that's not as impressive as care, craft and rarity.


The staff is respectful of your patronage by using the internet to glean a basic knowledge of you and your passion points. The finest hotels know that with every meal, I drink tap water, no ice. Extra hangers are in the closet. They have one-pagers on guests that act as contract riders. When I went to Le Sirenuse in Positano, Italy, I sent requests beforehand. The concierge sent me beautifully written descriptions of dining venues unknown to the average traveler that offered stunning experiences, completely overshooting what I'd asked of them.


A common arrival walks into the lobby, stands at reception, is greeted anonymously and asked for a credit card and ID. If someone asks me where I'm coming from or how my trip was, I know this is formulaic and insincere; these people are not artisans. In Lanai, you're greeted at the airport, given a wristband encoded with all your information and you're done. It eliminates that inhumane interaction with front desk staff. (The Walt Disney World Resort has them, too.) Many other top-tier properties have now migrated their pre-arrival outreach to an app. A guest at a hotel will get a message within 30 minutes of landing saying, "Roberto will be in the lobby looking for you. Would you like us to set a dinner table?" Raffles Singapore, Four Seasons Tented Camp Golden Triangle and The Dorchester are extraordinary with that. As for front desks, the grand, memorial-like lobby of the past has given way to a discreet, modern reception area and greater focus on spaces where people can create connections or tuck away.


Design teams are extremely thoughtful about every square inch of a room's utility, ergonomics and responsiveness; not even elegant private residences have enjoyed that same rigor. If the room doesn't instantly afford you the opportunity to drop your stuff and have a moment of retreat, then it's not of the proper strata. If the nightstand has a huge Bose system and there's no place for your Birkin bag, you haven't been accommodated. There shouldn't be any fumbling around. I just stayed at Le Royal Monceau Raffles Paris, designed by Philippe Starck, and the water closet — toilet and hand sink — was 29 feet away in a room separate from the shower, vanity and tub. Can you imagine the inefficiency? A room efficient in its design demonstrates respect for your time, and Aman Tokyo and Four Seasons are doing it best.


With the onslaught of social media, privacy is evaporating more every year, so in the spa there is now a focus on personal modesty and dis­cretion. We're getting people out of communal environments, instead creating micro-­environments delivered to you on your own terms. At Wynn Palace Macau, each incredible spa suite contains a plunge pool, massage and changing areas, tea service, relaxation room, barber station and mani-pedi. If you have dinner after your service, they'll press your garments and have them waiting.

This story first appeared in the June 21 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.