Compared with the elegant narrow 17th-century gabled canal houses that line the neighbouring stretch of Amsterdam’s Prinsengracht, number 587 comes as a disappointment, a sturdy 1970s brown-brick building originally created as a municipal library.
Step over its unassuming threshold, however, and it feels as though you’ve found a portal to another world: a low-ceilinged, narrow corridor plastered in exuberant rococo stucco of the sort that the wealthiest merchants who lived on this canal might have opted for in centuries past. But there is light at the end as you enter a huge atrium. Cast your eyes down, and there’s a vast carpet printed, in Delft blue, with a Dutch East India Company map of the world, as it was in the Golden Age.
Look up, and your gaze is met by an extraordinary installation of stylised celestial orbs and spheres, illuminated rings and neon shooting stars to suggest the heavens by which the nation’s traders navigated.
Andaz Amsterdam Prinsengracht, to give it its unwieldy title, is the creation of Marcel Wanders, whom the New York Times has called the “Lady Gaga of the design world”, and its decor is both outlandish and engagingly Dutch. There is dark carved wood, buttoned black leather, pewter and Delft china to put one in mind of its great 17th-century paintings, and “tulip” chairs, elongated, tapered versions of Arne Jacobsen’s Egg chair.
Meanwhile, the corridor that leads to the basement spa is lined with 25 huge images of Japanese beckoning-cat figurines that appear to wave as you pass. Cats, the story goes, were introduced to Japan by the Dutch.
In contrast to the rest of the hotel, the 122 bedrooms are an exercise in comfortable minimalist restraint, the sleeping and washing areas divided only by a dressing table on which sits an illuminated mirror and a plumbed-in Delft-inspired ceramic bowl, each individually painted by Wanders himself. There are more references to Delft in the fabulously busy wallpaper in the WC, a riot of historic images and lettering, from which two quotes stand out: one attributed to Spinoza, the other to football legend Johan Cruyff, both Dutch philosophers if you will.
Every detail in the hotel’s fantastical decorative scheme has a resonance. “When you design a hotel, you don’t need one idea, you need thousands,” Wanders told me. “And then you have to make them connect.” But he hasn’t merely designed the hotel, he co-owns it and likes to eat in its restaurant, Bluespoon (where, yes, the spoons are blue). When I visit, it is buzzing with an egalitarian group of guests dining on wholesome but delicious Dutch dishes: a cayenne-spiced cocktail of little brown North Sea shrimps, a casserole of dark veal and chestnuts. Wherever possible, ingredients are sourced in the Netherlands, even a wine, a Dutch pinot blanc, fresh and citrusy Kleine Schorre from Zeeland.
The good, straightforward cooking aside, one senses the whole place is suffused with Wanders’ wildly imaginative influence. It was he, along with the hotel’s majority owner, Paul Geertman of Aedes Real Estate, who chose the intriguing selection of Dutch- and English-language books in the bedrooms: histories of the city, the diary of Anne Frank along with fiction by Julian Barnes and Roald Dahl, and non-fiction by Tony Judt, Edmund de Waal and others.
“We wanted to make it feel like staying in the home of friends,” says Wanders. Super-fashionable friends with eccentric taste, admittedly, but the Andaz has a conviviality that makes it feel more like a club than a hotel.
There are more complimentary drinks for guests in the library in the early evening, as well as coffee and muffins in the early morning, though every room has a Nespresso maker. And there’s no charge for anything non-alcoholic from the minibar. WiFi and local phone calls are free too.
It may come as a surprise, that Andaz is the “lifestyle” brand of the Hyatt Hotels Corporation, whose 500th hotel it is, for it could not feel less cookie-cutter. But it’s a good fit all the same, for no major brand rivals Hyatt when it comes to in-hotel art collections: think of the Gerhard Richter in the lobby of the Park Hyatt Chicago. Here, the arresting work that greets you on arrival is a vast video installation by Ryan Gander, one of more than 40 video works by artists such as Yael Bartana, Meiro Koizumi, Erwin Olaf and Mark Titchner shown across 40 video screens hung mostly in the hotel’s corridors.
The collection belongs to The Mind’s Eye, a company founded by Wanders and Geertman, which will continue to acquire work, some of which it plans to donate to the De Hallen gallery in Haarlem and the Stedelijk, Amsterdam’s modern-art museum, which reopened in September with a futuristic white extension.
But then art will be the compelling reason to travel to Amsterdam in 2013. In April, the Rijksmuseum, which closed for refurbishment in 2003, finally reopens. And on May 1 the Van Gogh Museum should unveil the results of its own refit. In which case, I can’t think where I’d rather stay than the Andaz, a brisk 15-minute walk from the main museums. It has warmth, wit and vivacity and feels like a true original.
Hotels with masterpieces: Check in and check out the art
Over the past decade, it has become increasingly common for top hotels to boast of their art collections. In London alone, both the Connaught and 45 Park Lane have Damien Hirst butterfly paintings in their restaurants. In New York, the Carlyle has two panels by the 17th-century Dutch master Jan Weenix, formerly the property of William Randolph Hearst, hanging by the lifts (another from the same series belongs to the National Gallery of Scotland in Edinburgh).
And it’s not the only Manhattan hotel to be hung with museum-quality work. The Taj-run Pierre displays a fine canvas by the revered Indian modernist MF Husain, in the corridor that runs from the secondary Fifth Avenue entrance to the lifts, on loan from the Sir Ratan Tata art collection. And then there is the Gramercy Park Hotel, where a changing exhibition of works by Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Fernando Botero, George Condo, Keith Haring, Enoc Perez, Richard Prince and others is hung in the lobby.
In Europe, the supremely opulent Tiepolo Lounge at the Waldorf Astoria in Rome is named in honour of the rococo triptych by the Venetian artist on the wall to the right of the bar. And the Dolder Grand in Zurich has four works by Pissarro, Les Quatre saisons, as well has sculpture by Henry Moore, Fernando Botero, Dali and Joan Miró, among 100-plus works.
But perhaps the most intriguing hotel art collection is the one at the Colombe d’Or in Saint-Paul-de-Vence in France, where even the swimming pool is surrounded by works by Alexander Calder, Georges Braque (a mosaic wall panel) and a 2007 2.36m-long mural of glazed ceramic lava tiles by the Irish artist Sean Scully – its medium a nod to the faience mural by Fernand Léger on the terrace. Most famous, however, are the numerous works by Dufy, Miró, Matisse, Modigliani, Picasso et al, who dined here and donated works in lieu of paying their bills.