The best design hotels in Chicago

Stunning suites and jaw-dropping interiors make these pads a step above the rest
Thompson Hotel
Thompson Hotel
By Cate Huguelet |
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Birthplace of the modern skyscraper and home base of such notables as Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies van der Rohe, Chicago knows a thing or two about design, and the city’s hotel scene is no exception. From imaginatively-restored historic properties to brand-new builds, show-stopping interiors to mind-bending facades, these hotels represent the best in Chicago design.

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best hotels in Chicago

Best design hotels

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Photograph: Chicago Athletic Association
Hotels, Boutique hotels

Chicago Athletic Association

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This Michigan Avenue stunner takes for its setting an 1890 neo-Venetian Gothic structure conceived as a gentlemen’s athletic club (and used as such until 2007, when it fell vacant). Following a painstaking restoration, the property was reborn in 2105 as a 241-room hotel that pays homage to its past without feeling like a set piece. Shared leisure areas such as the Drawing Room and the Game Room demand slow exploration to appreciate their mix of modern playfulness and Gilded Age splendor, while guest rooms cleverly integrate period sports equipment into their design (think touches like rich leather pommel horses repurposed as benches). More than just a gorgeous face, the hotel offers amenities like complimentary cruisers from Heritage Bicycles and top-notch dining and drinking options like Milk Bar, Paul McGee’s eight-seat vintage spirits temple, and Cindy’s, a rooftop restaurant with lakefront views for days.

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Hotels, Boutique hotels

Godfrey Hotel Chicago

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For design enthusiasts, it’s all about the exterior of this 16-story River North property. Dreamed up by homegrown architectural firm Valerio Dewalt Train, the structure’s visually-arresting effect derives from staggered steel trusses that create a facade intended to echo the forms of Cubism. Inside, the lobby sports a cool elliptical shape and a recessed ceiling hung with a light fixture that recalls planetary rings, while up on the fourth floor, a sleek lounge (I|O) is fitted with a retractable roof, affording impressive city vistas no matter the weather. Guest rooms, if not the property’s highlight, feature a modern aesthetic and welcome little comforts like L’Occitane bath products and complimentary Wi-Fi.

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Hotels, Boutique hotels

The Kimpton Gray Hotel

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Kimpton’s newest entry onto the Chicago hotel scene is also its most elegant. Situated in the landmark 1894 New York Life Insurance Building, the property seamlessly melds historical design elements, such as a grand lobby clad in opulent gray marble and a richly-paneled bar presided over by vintage encyclopedias unearthed during renovations, with amenities for the new millennium, like lifestyle coaching and a 15th floor restaurant (the South American-leaning Boleo) topped with a retractable glass roof. In a nod to the surrounding neighborhood’s legacy as a major national financial engine, rooms take a cue from men’s tailoring, a conceit realized in details like wallpaper that resembles gray suiting.

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Hotels, Chain hotels

LondonHouse Chicago

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The 1923 birthdate of the structure in which it’s housed provided the design inspiration for this newly-launched riverside property. And indeed, from top to toe, little hints of Jazz Age drama are everywhere--see, for instance, the lobby chandelier, hung like a flapper’s dress with fringe, the Art Deco graphic motifs peppered throughout, and the daubs of lacquered black and gold that embellish each luxe-feeling room with a grace note of glam. The jewel in the tiara is LH Rooftop, the three-story bar whose outdoor terrace, capped by a private cupola that’s proposal ready (albeit at a $1,000 premium), affords a breathtaking eyeful of iconic Chicago architecture, like the Wrigley Building and Marina City.

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Hotels, Chain hotels

Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel Chicago

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It’s from its base in Studio Gang’s undulating, otherworldly Aqua Tower—thus far, perhaps the 21st century’s boldest entry into Chicago’s architectural lexicon—that this 334-room property (situated on the first 18 floors of the 82-story scraper) derives its design bonafides. During the warmer months, guests will appreciate one design attribute in particular: an 80,000-square-foot, third-floor green roof that boasts a running track, fire pits, and a junior Olympic-sized pool. As one might expect from Blu, Radisson’s upscale arm, guest rooms aren’t too shabby either. Modern yet comfortable, most are accented with gradations of cool blue; some feature balconies with awe-inspiring cityscape views.

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Thompson Hotel
Hotels, Boutique hotels

Thompson Chicago

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British designer Tara Bernerd furnished the vision for this spot in the tony Gold Coast neighborhood; the results feel stylish yet comfortable, beginning with the lobby, done up from floor to ceiling beams in warm shades of wood. Here, a large central bookcase inset at its base with a fireplace invites guests to linger in the nearby seating clusters. Up in the guest rooms, the easy-chic aesthetic continues; the palette is pleasantly neutral, save the occasional bright color pop that comes (depending on the room) courtesy of a plush velvet armchair here or a quirky piece of art there. Salone Nico, the cocktail and light bites component of on-site Italian restaurant Nico Osteria, is well worth a visit both for Erling Wu-Bower’s menu and for the verdant vertical garden wall.

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W Chicago Lakeshore

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Fans of glossy, contemporary design will be favorably disposed toward this 520-room Streeterville property, well positioned just across Lake Shore Drive from Ohio Street Beach. There’s a sci-fi impulse to the interiors here, but one that’s checked before it veers into staginess. On the lobby level, this undercurrent shows in swathes of chrome and copper and circular couches edged with shimmering fringe curtains; in guest rooms it manifests in spacey light fixtures and accent walls of lustrous tile. 

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