La Playa Hotel in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California.

Hotel of the Week: This Carmel-by-the-Sea Landmark Gets a Spirited Restoration

Once a bohemian haven for a California cool art crowd, La Playa Hotel underwent a refresh to its period perfect interiors

Aerial view of the gardens at La Playa Hotel in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California. Photo: Marc Rose

In the effortlessly chic Carmel-by-the-Sea, where the architecture is as storied as the town’s bohemian legacy, La Playa Hotel—affectionately dubbed “The Grand Dame of Carmel”—is back and bolder than ever. Fresh off a $15 million refresh, this storied sanctuary, nestled amidst the idyllic landscapes of California’s coastline, has been reimagined, blending its historic allure with a flourish of modern sophistication.

The resort traces its roots back to 1905, when Chris Jorgensen, a landscape artist with an eye for beauty and an itch for creativity, decided that Carmel-by-the-Sea needed a dash of his flair. So, he took a picturesque slice of this coastal paradise and turned it into his personal art studio, with Angela Ghirardelli (heiress of the chocolate dynasty) by his side. What started as a workspace for their artistic musings became the go-to spot for the who’s-who of the creative world.

By 1922, the property morphed into a hotel while still retaining its avant-garde soul. In the 60s, owner Howard “Bud” Allen opened his namesake watering hole on site, and in 1983, La Playa vaulted into tech history as the launch pad for Steve Jobs’ first Macintosh computer.

The cozy lobby lounge at La Playa Hotel is layered with ornate textiles and expressive period details that surround an elegant wood-burning fireplace. Photo: Marc Rose

Just as La Playa Hotel was approaching its 100th birthday, Marc & Rose Hospitality entered the scene, ready to write its next chapter. The group, with 14 hotels and restaurants across the American West, masterminded a grand renaissance in 2012, and eventually its 2023 refurbishment. “As only the fifth owners in its more than 115-year history, we want the building to lead the guest experience, supporting the stories of the past while infusing thoughtful amenities to meet the expectations of the modern traveler,” says the firm’s CEO Josh Grossman.

In orchestrating La Playa Hotel’s transformation, Marc & Rose recruited Jou-Yie Chou, Leigh Salem, and Ruben Caldwell of Brooklyn’s Post Company. The studio’s approach was both an homage to the luminaries who have graced its corridors and a reinvention, enveloping the premises in a mantle of modern elegance.

Brooklyn’s Post Company’s Jou-Yie Chou, Leigh Salem, and Ruben Caldwell oversaw the $15 million renovation of the Carmel-by-the-Sea resort, La Playa Hotel. Photo: Marc Rose

The refresh of La Playa Hotel marries the destination’s storied heritage with contemporary design. Photo: Marc Rose

“This project is as eclectic and varied as anything we’ve designed,” explains Salem. “One of the greatest challenges was creating a destination where the history and surrounding landscape could be understood and communicated right away, while still feeling contemporary.”

In the glow of the lobby’s wood fireplace, classical grace and modern flair unite. Terracotta floors and wooden beams are rooted in tradition, while a curated mix of textiles and geometric furniture take a page from current fashion. The guest rooms, too, are a study in elegance and restraint, with each space thoughtfully designed to reflect the hotel’s coastal heritage. Custom furnishings are complemented by details that nod to the property’s original craftsmanship: Think tasseled cabinet pulls, cast brass doorknobs, and plein-air paintings—every detail a bridge between the hotel’s storied past and its forward-looking future.

A terrace with picturesque views at La Playa Hotel in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California. Photo: Marc Rose

Bud’s Bar, a cornerstone of La Playa’s social scene, was re-envisioned as a dark, atmospheric space where old and new converge. The use of natural wood and unlacquered brass throughout allows for a patina that speaks to the bar’s lineage. In another nod to the address’s cocktail culture, dark wooden “barmoires” host reinvented drink recipes by San Francisco’s renowned West Bev team, Nora Furst, Stephanie Gonnet, and Christopher Longoria.

Stunning garden landscape at La Playa Hotel in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California. Photo: Marc Rose

Beyond its fabled walls, La Playa boasts outdoor areas designed for discovery and contemplation, featuring paths paved with basket-woven brick and illuminated by lanterns. Poolside terraces make the ideal locale for basking in Carmel’s famed sunsets. “The outdoor space has a quintessential California sun-faded palette with shaded arcades that provide reprieve from the hot sun,” notes Salem.

As La Playa emerges anew, it’s riding a wave of creativity where the past, present, and future’s brightest literati, artists, bohemians, and innovators will find their anchor—a true home away from home, where every tide brings in a fresh burst of inspiration.

Pool terrace at La Playa Hotel in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California. Photo: Marc Rose

Cover: La Playa Hotel in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California.


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