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Unique boutique: a pharmaceutical heir chooses risk over easy reward, making a name in hotels.

San Paulos Hotel Unique is not just the talk of the town but a sign that this city of 10 million is continuing to emerge from the architectural hinterlands. In a metropolis marked by a 130-kilometer east-west sprawl of drab apartment buildings and standard-issue office towers, the metallic green half moon of the Unique, studded with huge porthole windows, sparkles like a jewel. It looks more like a ship than a place to sleep.

Upscale U.S. travel magazine Conde Naste Traveler ranked it among the world's 80 "hottest" hotels in 2003. The US$300 a-night average price is the highest in the city, but all that money seems well spent upon entering the rooms. Because of the exterior's inverted are, the hotel's prized corner rooms have one curving-wood, floor-turned-wall Like a skateboard ramp, the floor and wall flow seamlessly together. The violet-hued corridors undulate, a wave-like touch that allows the interior design to reflect the curves of the exterior.

The bathrooms are big enough to include a Jacuzzi-type bathtub and a separate shower stall. Making the bathroom even more expansive is a pop-up, vertically sliding wall that "allows you to soak in the tub while watching flat-screen television or gaze out of a huge, circular window. The builders chose soundproofing and a blackout window shade, to keep the room silent and pitch dark for travelers wanting to sleep late. The front desk is almost a joke: After walking through a three-story-high side door (there is no front door) and into a spare, orchestra-stage-sized lobby, you spot it. Just a lone wooden desk with a computer and phone atop it and two chairs, one of them for the guest. Beside the chair sits a bucket of chilled champagne.

"I find your typical, counter-topped hotel front desk both bureaucratic and uncomfortable, forcing a guest to stand and face a lot of administrative clutter," says the Unique's developer, pharmaceutical heir Jonas Siaulys. "I wanted something more comfortable, clean and inviting;' he says. 'And what's more inviting than offering guests a seat and a glass of champagne."

The hotel's crowning feature is a red-tiled, rooftop pool that pipes in underwater music. The adjacent Skye restaurant offers everything from pizza to sushi. The always-packed restaurant's hard-to-get reservations are only one sign of its success. The hotel's guest list has included heiress Athina Onassis, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, She Paulo mayor Marta Suplicy, the English rock band Coldplay and many of Wall Street's elite.

The Unique's architectural daring is the result of the collaborative efforts of Siaulys, architect Ruy Ohtake and architect and interior designer Joao Armentano. In 1999, Siaulys, then nearing 30, took a gamble and scrapped the idea of giving the city one more shopping mall, because, he says, building and running a boutique hotel presented a greater challenge. "Building a shopping mall would have made me a mere rent collector, an effortless job," Siaulys says. "I was young and energetic and wanted the hands-on challenge of running something."

Siaulys, a globetrotter who prefers the intimacy and the stylistic irreverence of boutique hotels like the Mondrian in Los Angeles, the Mercer ha New York and the Delano in Miami, tapped Buy Ohtake as his architect. Ohtake is the elderly, venerated disciple of Oscar Niemeyer, whose reinforced-concrete curves have given Brazil its most striking structures, such as Sao Paulos S shaped Copan apartment building, the city's top architectural landmark.

Ohtake, a childhood friend of Siaulys' farther had also designed everything from the family's pharmaceutical plant, with its curvilinear interiors, to Siaulys' home, where young Jonas grew up in an oval-shaped room. Ohtake met the city's restrictive building limits by choosing the inverted-arc shape, not just for its iconoclasm but because it allowed the eight-story hotel to have more rooms with views of the city skyline. As a result, the top story has 40 rooms while the second floor has only four. "Sao Paulo has little daring architecture," says Ohtako. "My job was to, within my building-code limits, give the city a truly memorable structure, some thing thai the carve helps create."

Overload. Siaulys then chose Armentano, the in-vogue, just-over-40 designer of homes for TV stars, socialites, and politicians, for the interior, even though Ohtake wanted that job, too. "Ohtake is a true innovator, but his interiors, rather than being low-key and inviting, are as daring as his exteriors," Siaulys says. "I needed more intimate interiors, which is why I chose Armentano."

Armentano chose a more relaxed, minimalist interior design, featuring rooms with wooden floors and sandy-white walls, since the exterior was already rich in architectural design. Armentano's backlit, black-wood-walled elevators are even cozier. "Ohtake's exterior was so rich in information that I needed to create an interior space that had a scarcity of information. Otherwise the hotel's visual aspect would be over the top, an information overload," Armentano says.

The Unique's occupancy rate in 2003 was around 45%, the same as most of Silo Paulos five-star hotels and far higher than some recently built Sao Paulo luxury hotels like the Hilton Morumbi and Grand Hyatt Sao Paulo, each of which has 400 to 500 rooms and opened at roughly the same time as the Hotel Unique, at the end of 2002, according to figures provided by hotel auditing and consulting firm Boucinhas & Soteconti.

"The Sao Paulo hotel market is facing one of its most difficult periods ever because a stagnant economy and a recent boom in luxutry and apartment-hotels has caused the city's hotel room supply to far surpass demand," says Marcelo Conti, a Boucinhas & Soteconti partner and consultant. "The fact that the Unique Hotel has a 45% occupancy rate this soon after it opened is a clear sign of its success" Siaulys agrees, but sees things more sire ply. With 95 rooms, a boutique hotel is "easier to fill up," he says. Siaulys expects the Unique to break even in its sixth year, normal for luxury hotels. "I knew this would be a long-term investment," he says. "If I wanted a shorter-term return on my investment, free of challenge, I would have built a shopping mall."
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Title Annotation:San Paulos Hotel Unique, Brazil
Comment:Unique boutique: a pharmaceutical heir chooses risk over easy reward, making a name in hotels.(San Paulos Hotel Unique, Brazil)
Author:Kepp, Michael
Publication:Latin Trade
Geographic Code:3BRAZ
Date:Jan 1, 2004
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