Just over a decade ago, the historic spa town of Baden-Baden, in Germany’s Black Forest mountains near France, was starting to look sleepy and neglected. Much of its 19th-century Belle Époque architecture, including the Old World casino and its grand resorts, was in need of polish. “It’s where wealthy families and important entrepreneurs have always been based,” says Micky Rosen, cofounder of the Gekko Group, which owns the Roomers properties in Frankfurt and, opening this spring, Munich. “The money is still there, but there was nowhere for the younger generation to meet or international travelers to stay.”
Baden-Baden’s revival slowly began with the 2004 opening of media magnate Frieder Burda’s contemporary museum in the Kurpark, designed by Richard Meier. It continued a few years later with the opening of Russian art collector Alexander Ivanov’s Fabergé Museum. The casino, which Marlene Dietrich dubbed the most beautiful in the world, was next, with the renovation of several of its halls. But the true tipping point happened this past fall, when Rosen and his partner Alex Urseanu opened Roomers Baden-Baden, a 130-room property by the Milan-based architect and designer Piero Lissoni, known for his award-winning projects such as the Conservatorium Hotel in Amsterdam.
Next to the Oos River and Festspielhaus concert hall, the new six-story building is adorned with elements that reference the region, though almost everything about it is meant to inject some modern energy into the traditional town. The facade, which looks like it’s made of piano keys, shifts constantly as guests move the screens on their room windows, changing the position of the outer panels. “It’s a communal decision as to what the facade looks like,” Lissoni says.
The public spaces are equally dynamic. Lissoni eschewed the expected reception desk and designed three circular tables instead to set a relaxed tone from the moment guests check in. He mixed his own sleek furniture designs with low-slung midcentury pieces from Eames, Knoll, and Flos, and added patterned floor-to-ceiling timber screens. “I like the capacity to combine many ambiances and thoughts together in one space,” Lissoni says. “Simplicity with modernity with something completely wrong, like an odd chair or portrait. Having enough good taste to take a design risk is the secret to being elegant.”
Those “wrong” objects might include a wall lined with traditional cuckoo clocks in the library, or street art murals by Stefan Strumbel in the Moriki restaurant. The venue is equipped with an open kitchen that serves contemporary pan-Asian cuisine like green-tea soba noodles and orange-teriyaki grilled duck. In the rooms, a more organic feel takes hold, with stone bathrooms, floors of polished wood planks, and thick Moroccan carpets. Lissoni-designed ebony lacquered cabinets “look like they could have existed 200 years ago in the Black Forest, but are new and Chinese-inspired.”
Nightlife spaces function as the heart of the hotel. They include the light-flooded showcase bar on the ground floor, where a rectangular luminescent box made of shimmering panels hangs over the counter, adding a sense of intimacy and glamour, and the rooftop lounge outfitted with Chinese tube stools and potted trees. The drink menus are unconventional and playful—mescal and pumpkin soup; lavender sweet wine with lemon, honey, and goat cheese—an antidote to the seriousness Lissoni feels is too prevalent in after-dark culture these days. “People drink and feel guilty. I designed this bar as a beautiful place to be guilty—it should be all about alcohol, smoke, noise, and music.” Even in the land of rejuvenating thermal baths, there’s no shame in that.