Wish We Were Here: The Buchanan Hotel, San Francisco

Designer Nicole Hollis transforms a hotel with little local personality into a unique—and chic—stay for the design set.

A leather banquette and gallery wall are focal points in the lobby at The Buchanan, a new hotel by San Francisco designer Nicole Hollis.
A leather banquette and gallery wall are focal points in the lobby at The Buchanan, a new hotel by San Francisco designer Nicole Hollis.

Ask any traveler worth her salt what the most important element of a trip is, and she'll tell you: sense of place. It's the difference between visiting an iconic destination and taking a jaunt through the countries in Epcot Center. It was with this idea in mind that San Francisco–based designer Nicole Hollis set out to reinvent a dated hotel with little local character as an authentic and endlessly chic stay that effortlessly incorporates its surroundings. 

Wish We Were Here: The Buchanan Hotel, San Francisco
ELA Lighting created a custom lighting installation in the lobby, made with recycled whiskey bottles and designed by the team at Nicole Hollis.
ELA Lighting created a custom lighting installation in the lobby, made with recycled whiskey bottles and designed by the team at Nicole Hollis.
With accents such as Asian pottery, the hotel incorporates elements of its location—at the crossroads of Japantown and Pacific Heights—at every turn.
With accents such as Asian pottery, the hotel incorporates elements of its location—at the crossroads of Japantown and Pacific Heights—at every turn.

Located at the nexus of tony Pacific Heights and historic Japantown, The Buchanan is a thoughtful mix of Eastern design traditions and Western luxury. "The hotel balances city sophistication with a local perspective," says Hollis of the blended aesthetic. "Our goal was to celebrate street life, urban culture, and artistic virtuosity." To do that, Hollis imbued both public and private spaces with subtle nods to Japanese craft, from the shibori-dyed throw pillows on the guest beds to the repurposed whiskey-barrel staves, which were elegantly scorched using a traditional Japanese technique known as shou-sugi ban, that create the accent wall in the lobby. Another creative use of resources: the 3,100 whiskey bottle–strong light installation that illuminates the space. "I think the main challenge was developing a concept that spoke to all aspects of the surrounding neighborhood and community and respected its history and culture," says Hollis. "We addressed it by avoiding any literal or one-note design interpretations, and by letting materials be our guiding and organizing principle."

Local artist Aleksandra Zee created artwork for the communal table area in the lobby.
Local artist Aleksandra Zee created artwork for the communal table area in the lobby.
Wish We Were Here: The Buchanan Hotel, San Francisco
A curvilinear leather sofa in the lobby. The accent wall that backs the room's seating was made with repurposed staves from whiskey barrels, which are charred using a traditional Japanese process to imbue the spirit with flavor. A communal table recalls a masculine wood-toned library. Black-and-white tiling in a public restroom gets a jolt from vibrant artwork.
A curvilinear leather sofa in the lobby. The accent wall that backs the room's seating was made with repurposed staves from whiskey barrels, which are charred using a traditional Japanese process to imbue the spirit with flavor. A communal table recalls a masculine wood-toned library. Black-and-white tiling in a public restroom gets a jolt from vibrant artwork.

Rustic natural elements, including warm wood, leather, and linen, combine with sleek black quartz, white marble, and brass accents to create an aesthetic Hollis describes as "gritty elegance." A masculine color scheme of browns, blues, greens, and blacks unifies the competing textures with dark glamour. "The materials palette is sultry," says Hollis. "We envisioned the hotel as a dynamic urban destination with a welcoming, bohemian feel." As a subtle introduction to the neighborhood, Hollis commissioned work from local artists to hang on the walls in the guest rooms and common areas. Meanwhile, furnishings and textiles, many of them custom, blur the line between comfort and style.

Custom platform beds designed by Hollis are topped with shibori-dyed throw pillows. Hollis worked with Julie Coyle Art Associates to curate pieces throughout the hotel. Sleek hardware by Waterworks maintains the clean lines and elegant aesthetic that characterizes each of the 131 guest rooms. A teak chair by House of Mann adds rusticity to a glossy-black bistro table. 
Custom platform beds designed by Hollis are topped with shibori-dyed throw pillows. Hollis worked with Julie Coyle Art Associates to curate pieces throughout the hotel. Sleek hardware by Waterworks maintains the clean lines and elegant aesthetic that characterizes each of the 131 guest rooms. A teak chair by House of Mann adds rusticity to a glossy-black bistro table. 

With its new design in place, The Buchanan has become a singular reflection of its environment at every level, from the neighborhoods that surround it to San Francisco at large. "I’m proud to be a local firm, as the city itself was such a big source of inspiration for this project," says Hollis. That kind of authenticity is what will keep guests coming back.

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