Eclecticism and energy have always set this city apart. And now more than ever, the capital is abuzz, with a resurgent art scene fed by a worldly, diverse population that pays respect to the past while vibrantly moving forward. This year, for instance, the Serpentine Gallery's annual pavilion in Kensington Gardens is by noted Japanese firm SANAA (architects of the New Museum in New York). Stir in two major exhibitions—"Telling Tales" at the Victoria and Albert and "Super Contemporary" at the Design Museum—and you've got a compelling cultural itinerary.
Rabih Hage, architect and art dealer
Lebanese-born Hage studied architecture in Paris in the early '90s before moving to London, where he opened his own studio and a gallery that showcases emerging artists. Hage's projects tell stories—he mixes eras, materials, and styles and isn't afraid of chipping, flaking, or unfinished surfaces. Top project Near King's Cross station, the nine-room Rough Luxe Hotel inhabits a Georgian town house in which auction finds like chrome light fixtures from the art deco Savoy hotel are paired with modern photography. History is written on the walls: Blotches of plaster show through patches of uncovered 19th-century wallpaper, while elsewhere the bare plaster bears the ghostly pattern of wallpaper that once covered it. Added throughout are rich touches like Italian mosaic tiles and Louis XIV-style headboards. On the horizon A growing network of Rough Luxe-branded hotels, restaurants, and shops that demonstrate Hage's old-meets-new philosophy. He's already expanded with such properties as the artful Cape Heritage Hotel in Cape Town, South Africa.
His London favorites
Hage loves the structure housing the Bibendum, the century-old Michelin House, originally built by the tire company as its London headquarters. Current co-owner Terence Conran kept details like stained-glass windows decorated with the Michelin Man, while adding curvy armchairs and a bright color palette to the light-flooded space. The adjoining oyster bar and café has salads, sandwiches, and 12 house wines by the glass.
Formerly a haven for immigrant Jews, this thriving street in East London now hosts a Bangladeshi community. Brick Lane is known for its curry shops and, more recently, an influx of artists. On Sundays, it erupts into a flea market where you can pick up anything from handmade jewelry to a mango lassi. "You won't be disappointed," promises Hage.
John Sandoe Books Ltd.
Every surface in this Regency-era building is covered with books—almost 25,000 of them, including an impressive selection on design. Hage likes the old-fashioned service; the staff gives recommendations and can point you in the direction of out-of-print classics like Allure by Diana Vreeland. Fans include Manolo Blahnik and decorator Rita Konig.
Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2009
Kensington Gardens, serpentinegallery.org, free
"Telling Tales" at the Victoria and Albert Museum
Cromwell Rd., 011-44/207-942-2000, vam.ac.uk, free
"Super Contemporary" at the Design Museum
28 Shad Thames, 011-44/870-833-9955, designmuseum.org, tickets $12.50
Rabih Hage Ltd.
69-71 Sloane Ave., 011-44/207-823-8288, rabih-hage.com
Rough Luxe Hotel
1 Birkenhead St., 011-44/207-837-5338, roughluxe.co.uk, from $230
81 Fulham Rd., 011-44/207-589-1480, bibendum.co.uk, sandwiches from $5.25, entrées from $22
Between Swanfield St. and Whitechapel High St., East End, sundayupmarket.co.uk for market info
John Sandoe Books Ltd.
10 Blacklands Terrace, 011-44/207-589-9473, johnsandoe.com
Rethink your assumptions of Lone Star style: For a region that prides itself on an over-the-top approach—from toast to shoulder pads—Texas is a haven for idiosyncratic design. Worthy attractions dot the state. Outside Amarillo, an American icon is turned on its head at Cadillac Ranch, where 10 Caddies are buried backseat-deep in the sand. The small desert town of Marfa draws thousands of pilgrims each year, who flock to the center of art that the famous minimalist Donald Judd began forming in the late '70s. Whether it's the cluster of culture presented by Houston's Museum District or the all-star architecture on display in downtown Dallas (I. M. Pei's Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center, Renzo Piano's Nasher Sculpture Center), Texas's take on design is as expansive as its borders.
Liz Lambert, former Manhattan district attorney turned hotelier
Born to a West Texas ranching family, Lambert is the visionary behind Bunkhouse Management, a hotel development team that has defined its own breezy brand of cool. Lambert's aesthetic pulls the beauty of the outdoors in—and combines it with a sense of play. Top projects The 40-room bungalow-style Hotel San José, a spare oasis that matches Austin's funky sensibility; the glamorously high-end 14-room Hotel Saint Cecilia, which reopened in 2008; and two characterful Jo's coffee shops (Bertoia stools, vintage signage). On the horizon A redesign of the swank Belmont Hotel in Dallas, and this summer, Lambert plans to open the El Cosmico compound in Marfa, where guests can choose from yurts, tents, and six vintage Airstream trailers.
Her Texas favorites
The Menil Collection, Houston
"This place feels like the house of an uncle who has traveled the world throughout his life and collected random beautiful objects along the way," says Lambert. The museum, founded in Houston by philanthropists John and Dominique de Menil, has a mix of antiquities, minimalist works, and African art. "I am always so inspired by what I see in there."
Marburger Farm Antique Show, Round Top
"Twice a year I head about an hour and a half outside Austin to the small town of Round Top—population 77—for one of the biggest antiques markets in the country," says Lambert. Vendors set up their booths in barns and fields that stretch for miles, and you can find anything from French stone gargoyles to Turkish rugs to taxidermy. "They also sell the best fried chicken on a stick you've ever had."
Balmorhea State Park, Toyahvale
"Growing up in West Texas, I spent a lot of time at the artesian spring pool at Balmorhea," says Lambert. Apache Indians once frequented the oasis to water their horses, and the bathhouses, adobe cabins, and huge, one-and-three-quarter-acre pool were built in the 1930s as part of a New Deal public works project. "The architecture is beautiful in its stark, utilitarian simplicity. Look for the cottonwood trees—that's how you can always find water in the Texas desert. It's a really magical place."
Interstate 40, between Arnot and Hope Rds., Amarillo, antfarm.org
Houston Museum District
The Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center
2301 Flora St., Dallas, meyersonsymphonycenter.com
Nasher Sculpture Center
2001 Flora St., Dallas, nashersculpturecenter.org, tickets $10
Hotel San José
1316 S. Congress Ave., Austin, 512/852-2350, sanjosehotel.com, from $95
242 W. 2nd St., Austin, 512/469-9003; 1300 S. Congress Ave., 512/444-3800, joscoffee.com
The Menil Collection
1515 Sul Ross St., Houston, 713/525-9400, menil.org, free
Marfa, 512/852-2331, elcosmico.com
901 Fort Worth Ave., Dallas, 214/393-2300, belmontdallas.com, from $109
Marburger Farm Antique Show
2248 S. Hwy. 237, Round Top, 713/622-0300, roundtop-marburger.com, next show begins Sept. 29, tickets $10
Balmorhea State Park
9207 Hwy. 17 S., Toyahvale, 432/375-2370, tpwd.state.tx.us, tickets $7
NEW YORK CITY
Design is woven into the daily fabric of New York. Its layout is largely based on an easy-to-understand grid; perhaps no other city in the world has a topography so user-friendly, navigable, and distinct. The city's relationship with design is intrinsic and fully about embracing both the high and the low. At SoHo design shop Moss, Alessi teapots are elevated to the level of a museum exhibition. Meanwhile, all around town, cast-off Eames chairs and funky 1970s lamps are reincarnated at the Housing Works and City Opera thrift stores—some of the most reliable troves. The key thing to understand is this: You don't need a Manhattan address to take advantage of this bounty—you just need to know where to look.
Alex Calderwood, music impresario and partner in the Ace Hotel Group
In 1999, using the skills he honed as the head of record label Sweet Mother, Calderwood and friends launched the Ace Hotel Group, combining two BT-friendly goals: stylishness and affordability. The first site was a renovated Seattle flophouse, and today their vision is a proven success, with Ace Hotel locations in four cities, including a new outpost in Manhattan's Flatiron neighborhood. Each property reflects a sense of place—green woolen blankets in Seattle; cowskin rugs in Palm Springs, Calif.; garment racks used as closets in New York—while a cool practicality threads them together. Top projects The Ace Seattle flagship made a hot commodity of $99 rooms that don't skimp on visual appeal; branches in Portland, Ore., and Palm Springs expanded on that formula. Last February, Ace New York transformed the turn-of-the-century Hotel Breslin into a contemporary refuge, with ebonized wood, shiny subway tiles, and retro-looking Smeg fridges. This fall, the Breslin, a restaurant run by the owners of the downtown gastropub Spotted Pig will open off the lobby.
His NYC favorites
Project No. 8
In the newly booming area where Chinatown meets the Lower East Side, this 2-year-old boutique stocks clothing, accessories, drawing tools, and a random assortment of items from around the world. "It's one of those unique places that you have to go and discover to understand," says Calderwood, who recently reached out to Project No. 8's owners to open a second store—called No. 8a—on the ground floor of Ace New York later this year.
A "young, independent spirit" attracted Calderwood to the wood-paneled café, which opened this past spring in the garden level of a 19th-century NoHo town house. Co-owner Carlos Quirarte, formerly of Earnest Sewn jeans, has covered the honey-colored shelves with the kind of gear he loves—everything from soaps to knitting needles to teas.
At this tiny second-story, gallery-like shop downtown, owner Alisa Grifo displays each utilitarian piece—like rubber stamps of President Obama's smiling face or simple birch-and-pine baskets from Finland—with a witty description. "It's all so cleverly curated," Calderwood says.
150 Greene St., 212/204-7100, mossonline.com
Housing Works Thrift Shops
housingworks.org for locations
City Opera Thrift Shop
222 E. 23rd St., 212/684-5344, nycopera.com
Ace Hotel New York
20 W. 29th St., 212/679-2222, acehotel.com, from $169
The Breslin Bar & Dining Room
16 W. 29th St., 212/679-2222, thebreslin.com, entrées from $20
Project No. 8
138 Division St., 212/925-5599, projectno8.com
26 Bond St., thesmilenyc.com
95 Spring St., 212/226-8601, kioskkiosk.com
In the aftermath of Argentina's 2001 financial crash, a storm of factors—expensive imports, a culture of craft—caused design to blossom throughout the country. Now aided by an influx of expats, it continues to flourish in Buenos Aires: Browse shops like Tienda Puro Diseño, an outpost of furniture and accessories by up-and-comers, or take a street-art tour with Graffitimundo. At day's end you'll deserve a meal at Tegui, a restaurant with updated Argentine cuisine where the strict black-and-white design makes for an art deco effect.
Patricia O'Shea and Tom Rixton, a PR executive and a music producer turned hoteliers
When they opened Home Hotel in 2005, O'Shea, a B.A. native, and Rixton, a Brit, were blazing a trail with one of the city's first boutique hotels. The entrepreneurs are lifelong collectors (mid-century modern furniture, vintage wallpapers), and the interiors they create are eclectic reflections of those passions. Top project Home Hotel uses glass and cement throughout the airy 20-room property. Severe lines are softened by the couple's own floral wallpapers, and there's a pool and garden on-site. On the horizon The recession has stalled plans for a countryside or beach branch, but in the meantime, they've unveiled two loft-style rooms with kitchens.
Their Buenos Aires favorites
"An urban art scene rivaling New York's or Berlin's has sprung up," says Rixton. "Loveyou, Turbo, and L'Inc are galleries devoted to it, where you can buy a beautiful screen print for something like 30 dollars."
"This men's store is owned by fashion and industrial designers," says Rixton. "They use good materials, and the clothes are amazing." Rixton swears by the socks and underwear made with breathable panels—"the best in the world"—and recently purchased a snowboarding jacket that folds into a bag.
Traditional Argentine objects and iconography are given a new face at Nobrand. "They reimagine these classic items in a totally modern way," says O'Shea. Here, the gaucho espadrilles known as alpargatas gain a printed cow motif, while the updated visage of Che Guevara is emblazoned on T-shirts in graphic, minimalist strokes.
Tienda Puro Diseño
Gorriti 5953, 011-54/11-4776-8037, purodiseno.com.ar
011-54/9-11-3309-7462, graffitimundo.com, tours from $20
Costa Rica 5852, 011-54/11-5291-3333, tegui.com.ar, entrées from $19, three courses for $43
Honduras 5860, 011-54/11-4778-1008, homebuenosaires.com, from $122
Paraguay 5335, 011-54/11-4774-1170, loveyouweb.com.ar
Costa Rica 5827, 011-54/11-4776-8762, turbogaleria.com
Amenabar 93, 011-54/11-4776-2348, l-inc.com.ar
El Salvador 5960, 011-54/11-4772-2145, hermanosestebecorena.com
Gorriti 5876, 011-54/11-4776-7288, nobrand.com.ar
The city is modernist at its core, in the 1960s-era Zona Rosa. It's also colonial. And beaux arts. And a wild hybrid called Colonial Californiano, a mission-revival style that owes more to Hollywood than to Cortés. It's huge, it's sceney, it's noisy, it's cutting-edge. Get the picture? Mexico City isn't any one thing—it's way more than the sum of its parts. At the Museo de Arte Popular in Centro Histórico, you can look at displays of folk art—carved Oaxacan figurines and papier-mâché skeletons for Day of the Dead. Meanwhile, the boutique Naco Miscelánea, in trendy Condesa, sells kitsch raised to the rank of fashion, such as T-shirts printed to look like a mariachi suit. There's something for everyone, and after recent setbacks, it's more accessible than ever.
Carlos Couturier, managing partner at Grupo Habita, a Mexico City-based boutique hotel group
Couturier and his partners, the Micha brothers—Rafael, Moisés, and Jaime—burst onto the hotel scene in 2000 when they opened Mexico City's Hotel Habita, a 36-room lodge built in a gutted 1950s apartment building that was enclosed with a box of sandblasted aquamarine glass. Travelers (and fashion photographers) flocked. Top projects Each hotel in their growing stable is authentically Mexican in its own way. Playa del Carmen's Hotel Básico is a paean to industrial design, with exposed plumbing and hot tubs made from old water tanks on the roof; Puebla's La Purificadora was built in a soaring 19th-century water purification plant, with bits of the original signage left intact. The newest, Mexico City's Distrito Capital, has a black-and-white lobby and furniture by Carl Hansen. The common drivers of all of them are public spaces with active bar and restaurant scenes designed to make visitors feel like locals. On the horizon This year, the group is opening two hotels in Acapulco, including a renovation of the iconic 1950s Hotel Boca Chica. And a New York hotel by Enrique Norten, planned for 2011, will take things international.
His Mexico City favorites
Casa Luis Barragán
According to Couturier, no visit is complete without seeing the private house of the iconic architect. "It's the perfect example of a balanced space and displays the best of Mexico: an amazing use of materials, volume, and natural light. It's as colorful as Mexico itself but in a refined and elegant way."
"Every exhibition the gallery produces is a source of inspiration," says Couturier. "It has a top selection of the best contemporary Mexican artists. Some of my new favorites are Carlos Amorales, Dr. Lakra, Jonathan Hernández, and Miguel Calderón—all are young and have a great future."
The city's huge Sunday flea market is a grab bag of anything and everything you can think of: plastic robots, clay masks, tacos. "It has all sorts of items from all sorts of times and sources, and qualifies as one of the best in the world," says Couturier.
Museo de Arte Popular
Revillagigedo 11, Centro Histórico, 011-52/55-5510-2201, map.df.gob.mx, tickets $3
Yautepec 126-B, Condesa, 011-52/55-5286-1343, usanaco.com
Juan Salvador Agraz 37, Santa Fé, 011-52/55-5257-1300, hoteldistritocapital.com, from $130
Casa Luis Barragán
General Francisco Ramírez 14, Daniel Garza, 011-52/55-5515-4908, casaluisbarragan.org, tickets $9
Gobernador Rafael Rebollar, San Miguel Chapultepec, 011-52/55-5256-2408, kurimanzutto.com
República de Honduras, between República de Chile and Allende, Centro