Gio Ponti's Parco dei Principi Hotel

Gio Ponti's Parco dei Principi Hotel

With the opening of the Royalton Hotel in 1988, Phillippe Starck ushered in the new age of boutique design hotels. But long before a front-desk-to-fourteenth-floor-faucets commission was de rigueur resume fodder for A-list designers, there were a handful of notable 20th century hotel designs by world-famous architects. The first to come to mind is likely Frank Lloyd Wright's sumptuous Imperial Hotel, a benchmark design from the middle phase of his epic career. The other is likely Arne Jacobsen's SAS Hotel in Copenhagen, the modernist 1960 design that spawned both the Egg and Swan chairs. But booking a room in these masterpieces isn't quite so simple. Visitors to Tokyo will be saddened to learn that although Wright's design survived both the Great Kanto earthquake of 1923 and World War II, it was demolished in 1968; meanwhile design geeks headed to Copenhagen will have to jockey for a stay in room 606, the single space in the SAS hotel that maintains Jacobsen's original design. In order to experience what may well be the only extant 20th century design hotel by a master architect, one has to book a fare to Sorrento, Italy, where Gio Ponti's Parco die Principi is very much alive and well. That's just what I did last February after a business trip to Milan. Although it was the off season (and this is very much a place to be enjoyed with warmth and sun), Parco dei Principi is a total design that doesn't disappoint.

Click through the slideshow for more images of the hotel.

A fitting crown tops the Parco dei Principi hotel, Gio Ponti's Sorrento masterpiece.


Located on the grounds of the 1792 Villa Siracusa, Ponti's 1961 design is set amidst a tropical garden featuring dozens of species of rare and exotic palms. Roberto Fernandes commissioned Ponti to design the 96-room hotel atop the ruins of a nineteenth century English Gothic castle. In many respects, the design feels at once hypermodern (for 1961 perhaps) while maintaining cognizance of its regal heritage—Ponti would write, "For life to be great and full we have to combine the past with the future."

Parco dei Principi Sorrento
Via Rota 1
80067 Sorrento (NA)
Tel. + 39-081-8784644
Fax + 39-081-8783786

The lobby gives visitors an immediate sense of the hotel's design vocabulary. With the exception of some wood accents, almost every surface is either blue or white. Thousands of ceramic "pebbles" are set into the walls, adding an almost unbelievable level of workmanship and craft to the interior.

The lobby's waiting area includes a few vignettes of Ponti's original furnishings, which are clad in their original upholstery (though restored in a recent renovation). This set-up includes the 899 armchair and sofa.

Although the elevators' interiors were one of the few things to be upgraded in a recent renovation, Ponti's elaborate graphic designs for the ceramic pebble surfaces remain intact.

Small details—such as the hallway's square overhead lights set at an angle to create a diamond pattern—make the most of the prosaic materials available in post-war Italy.

The 96 rooms face either the park or the ocean, and they are all outfitted with nearly identical furnishings, including these custom-designed headboards covered in blue laminate. Buttons to the side operate the mechanical louvers and bedside lights.

Blue laminate is also featured prominently in the built-in cabinetry.

Our room was also outfitted with this custom designed desk with attached mirror and an iconic Superleggera chair.

Even the reading light was worth writing home about—and of course fit the color palette.

A view of the sea through the wrought iron balustrade on our room's balcony.

Perhaps the hotel's most distinctive features are the 30 custom tile patterns, which Ponti designed; they were executed by a local producer, Ceramica D'Agostino, in nearby Salerno. Our room featured the first pattern he conceptualized, which was purportedly his favorite.

On a tour, we got the chance to see a number of the other patterns used throughout the hotel. With variations in their placement, almost every room has a unique tile layout.

Almost all the patterns feature the same shades of blue and white, thought by the architect to produce a calming effect.

This design was only used in the main dining room.

A design from one of the park-facing guest rooms.

By rotating the individual tiles, this pattern alone could create four distinct layout configurations.

The impression of a 3D relief was overwhelming with this pattern.

In the lobby, marble frames the laurel-like pattern.

In this tessellation, crescent moons form circles.

This starburst pattern graces the downstairs bar.

The bar itself is faced with more ceramic pebbles with the lobby's color scheme in reverse. One can only imagine how swinging it must have been in 1962.

The lounge is faced with more sculptural tiles by Fausto Melotti and furnished with a few of the only non-Ponti-designed pieces in the hotel. The seats are the 865 series by Ico Parisi.

Throughout the first floor lounge and lobby areas, clever lamps made from folded metal are set atop Melotti's tiles.

Giant pillars in the lobby are reminiscent of Ponti's faceted design for the Pirrelli tower in Milan.

Even the mailbox is of original vintage. Modernist postcard enthusiasts rejoice!

One of the hotel's most celebrated features—a free-form pool with a swim-through island and diving board rising from its depths—was closed during our February stay.

Our view across the Bay of Naples to Vesuvius has been enjoyed since Roman times. Incredible!

What better way to end the day than with an Amalfi sunset. Ciao!

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