Picture Venice in the mind’s eye, and you’ll likely envision the city’s spectacular design and architectural heritage: the glittering mosaics that line the interior of the cupola in San Marco, the delicate traceries and quatrefoils that decorate the Doge’s Palace and the palazzi that line the Grand Canal, the dazzling coloured marble facades that cover jewel-box churches like Santa Maria dei Miracoli or San Zaccaria. When it comes to contemporary design, though? Clean, minimalist lines or more playful, postmodernist touches are probably not what you imagine stumbling across during a visit to the City of Angels.
Yet—as with so many of the best things about the city—dig a little deeper, and you’ll find just that. Sure, Venice has long been an under-the-radar locus for cutting-edge design: There’s a reason the modernist genius of architect Carlo Scarpa is held in such high esteem, and why titans of the creative world first came flocking to visit Peggy Guggenheim at her single-story palazzo, where Alexander Calder mobiles hung above wonky terrazzo floors. Then, there’s the fact the city plays host every year to art and architecture cognoscenti at the Biennale, with some of the most radical and groundbreaking work in either discipline debuting across the Giardini and the Arsenale over the decades—often in pavilions designed by the likes of Josef Hoffmann and Alvar Aalto.
But for return visitors who have already soaked up plenty of Venice’s classic Gothic splendor, there’s a new guard of design must-visits—from makers putting a contemporary spin on the traditions of Murano glass, to restaurants playfully updating Venetian staples with interiors to match—that are marking the city out as a year-round destination for design lovers. Best of all? There’s a whole fleet of sleek and stylish hotels where you can lay your head between visits.
Here, read Vogue’s guide to the very best of design-forward Venice, from under-the-radar classics to cutting-edge arrivistes.
Where to stay
The Venice Venice Hotel
It’s always worth splashing out the extra euros to make the journey from Marco Polo airport to your hotel via water taxi—and even more so if you’re lucky enough to stay at one of the imposing hotels that line the Grand Canal. But pull up to The Venice Venice Hotel, which sits just around the corner from the Rialto Bridge, and it becomes immediately apparent that this isn’t your average Venetian palace.
Stepping onto the jetty, you’ll spot a surprisingly cosmopolitan crowd filling the tables on the bustling terrace, many of them young, affluent locals. Then, walk into the entrance lobby and it becomes immediately clear that the hotel offers tradition with a twist: an enormous marble sculpture of a Pietà is bisected to sit across two halves of the room, with Carlo Scarpa-inspired slabs of suspended concrete appearing to hover around it; meanwhile, the elegant brass geometry of the doors that slide to one side, leading you further into the building, are picked out by candlelight.
The hotel is the brainchild of Alessandro Gallo and Francesca Rinaldo, the couple behind the cult sneaker company Golden Goose, and the artful clashes between the classic and the contemporary continue as you wander through to the expansive restaurant, with a quirky menu that offers unexpected twists on classic cicchetti. Head up to the lobby and bar on the piano nobile, and you’ll find a bespoke tapestry hung across the walls—which at first looks medieval, but upon closer inspection reveals plenty of nods to the hotel’s recurring motif of a rose—as well as a bar in the centre with boombox speakers and a red LED ticker light.
Avant-garde design doesn’t mean the team here has skimped on luxury, however. The hotel boasts some of the best views in the city, and if you snag a corner room, you’ll find they’ve installed windows that stretch across both sides. Larger suites come with expansive bathrooms featuring standalone tubs (stocked with plenty of fragrant lotions and potions for soaking, all from the in-house brand The Erose) as well as your very own steam room, with a window that glimpses across the rooftops of Venice. With an expansion into a second, neighboring palazzo set to open soon, expect this to become a Biennale hotspot when next spring rolls around.
Il Palazzo Experimental
In 2019, the Experimental Group—the French team behind the beloved Grand Pigalle Hotel and Hotel des Grands Boulevards in Paris—debuted Il Palazzo Experimental. And despite the brand’s signature offbeat decor, it couldn’t fit more seamlessly if it tried. That’s partly down to the thoughtful choice of location: Il Palazzo Experimental is housed in a 16th-century building on the waterside walkway of Zattere, one of Venice’s liveliest (well, by Venice standards, anyway) neighborhoods. A mere 10-minute walk to the Accademia, its outlook across to Giudecca provides a less familiar—yet equally striking—view of the city, while its buzzing, friendly atmosphere in the afternoons speaks to its location near a branch of the city’s Ca’ Foscari university.
Still, the standout feature here is the daring, delightful interior decor, which takes its cues from the building blocks of the city’s historic architecture—arched doorways, marble floors, and a color scheme that balances deep Venetian red with powder blues that echo the shimmering surface of the Adriatic beyond the lagoon—then lends them a firmly of-the-moment update. Across the hotel’s 32 guest suites, you’ll find the nooks and crannies of the building have been inventively reconfigured by regular Experimental Group collaborator Dorothée Meilichzon into rhythmic alcoves and tucked-away bathrooms, while the shapes that define the custom furnishings—in particular, the striking arched bedheads—whisper of the heady heights of the Memphis design movement that blossomed in 1980s Italy.
Top marks for the food here, too: Overseen by chefs Silvio Pezzana and Stefano ‘Toto’ Dell’Aringa, the menu riffs on plenty of Venetian classics while also touching on culinary traditions spanning the Adriatic coast, whether delicately flavored cicchetti—chickpea and parmesan fritters, say, or fried pizzette smothered in stracciatella, peas, and mint—to snack on at lunchtime, or a heartier meal at dinner of duck and ricotta-stuffed agnolotti or grilled seabass. But the best thing of all? Il Palazzo Experimental offers design-forward digs without breaking the bank. Given the notoriously hefty prices of hotels in Venice, come the next Biennale, don’t be surprised if Il Palazzo Experimental attracts the most vibrant crowd—and plenty of late-night cocktails whipped up by the resident mixologists in its low-lit Experimental Cocktail Club.
The St. Regis Venice
Venice has its fair share of historic, grande dame hotels offering unbeatable service and unabashed luxury—even if their decorative schemes typically adhere to the formula of heavy velvet drapes, gilded details, and damask wallpapers evoking the golden age of Casanova’s city. It takes some courage to break from that mold, but that’s exactly what The St. Regis has done with their first outpost in the city, which opened in 2019 following the top-to-toe refurbishment of an enormous U-shaped complex that features two canal-facing facades (meaning more balconies than any other hotel in the city)—and sits in a prime location, right in the heart of San Marco.
Yet while it may appear, from the outside, to echo the somber opulence of many of its peers along the stretch of Grand Canal surrounding St. Mark’s Square, it doesn’t take long for a visitor to The St. Regis to register that the vision for this hotel was something more upbeat. Wander down the alleyways that lead to its street entrance, and you’ll find an airy lobby that leads into an expansive drawing room, all decorated in a bright, breezy mode—think lashings of white and powder blue alongside light wooden veneers—that opens up the previously stuffy corridors of the building, taking cues from the subdued details of Scarpa. (Yes, him again.) Meanwhile, contemporary art is woven into the very fabric of the hotel, with a head-spinning array of paintings and sculptures lining its walls, an artist-in-residence program, and even a dazzling Murano glass chandelier as the drawing room centrepiece, designed specifically for the property by none other than Ai Weiwei.
The fact that the rooms have all been freshly refurbished also means they’re fitted out with all the mod-cons you could dream of, from tablets to control the blinds and lights to enormous, flat-screen TVs—if you can peel your eyes away from those views for a few moments, that is. There’s even a plush spa and a small but well-equipped gym: the latter a real rarity in Venice’s city centre. Plus, service here is top-tier while feeling a little less fussy, somehow—an effect possibly helped by the generously proportioned outdoor terraces, whether in the cozy garden space in the centre of the building or on the waterfront terrace that serves as the defining feature of its flagship restaurant, Gio’s.
On the subject of Gio’s, it wouldn’t be a proper stay here without enjoying a meal of tuna sashimi with bottarga or fresh sea bass from the lagoon, served with aglio, olio, e peperoncino—all while sipping a refreshing botanical cocktail, of course. As the sun dips below the Baroque dome of the Santa Maria della Salute church on the opposite bank of the Grand Canal, and the gondolas lazily drift by, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more picturesque dining spot in all of Venice.
While I might have said at the beginning of this article that it’s a new wave of hotels leading the charge when it comes to design-forward stays, this isn’t strictly true: Since it first opened back in 2010, Palazzina Grassi has established itself as one of the city’s rare havens of playful, provocative design.
Housed in what was once a 16th-century aristocratic home overlooking the Grand Canal, Palazzina Grassi’s location is hard to beat: While it’s still within easy walking distance of all the major sights (and sits right next to the François-Henri Pinault-owned Palazzo Grassi, which hosts some of the city’s most exciting contemporary art exhibitions), it also resides in one of the quieter, more neighborhood-y feeling corners of central Venice, with your journey on foot taking you past the charming shopping street of Salizada San Samuele, where you’ll find the quirky boutique Caigo da Mar, the home textiles store Chiarastella Cattana, and an outpost of the Florentine apothecary Santa Maria Novella.
Step through the sliding glass doors of Palazzina Grassi, however, and you’ll find the experience akin to tumbling down a rabbit hole, as the central restaurant and bar reveals itself to be one of the wackiest and most wonderful spaces in all of Venice. The skeleton of the building is still visible in the original Corinthian columns that demarcate the central dining space, designed by Phillipe Starck as his first-ever hospitality project in Italy—all diagonal banquettes and sleek, sculptural armchairs—but the details nod to a more sideways take on Venetian design history, from the gloopy Murano glass vases to custom Fornasetti lampshades decorated with the hotel’s motif of a seductive carnival eyemask. (It’s little wonder that from its opening onwards, Palazzina Grassi has served as one of Venice’s rare late-night hotspots, becoming especially star-studded during the Biennale and the film festival.)
Despite the carefully considered chaos of the interiors downstairs, however, each jewel box of a room feels like its own quiet haven, with plaster-white walls, decorative mirrored panels, and sleek chrome details—as well as a network of outdoor terraces providing the perfect vantage point to sip your morning coffee with the distant sound of vaporetti chugging down the Grand Canal. It’s a case study in opposites—and a masterclass in how to bring said opposites together in sleek, self-assured style.
Where to eat
If there’s one name that dominates Venetian haute cuisine, it’s Massimiliano Alajmo. The Padua-born culinary mastermind, who became the youngest chef in history to be awarded three Michelin stars back in 2002, at the age of 28, has—along with his brother Raffaele, and various other members of their food-obsessed family—developed a small empire of unmissable restaurants across the Veneto. (And indeed, further beyond, with outposts now being found in Paris and Marrakech.)
His flagship Venice restaurant, however, is Quadri, which is located within the grand arcade of the Procuratie Vecchie on the north side of Piazza San Marco and was revamped in 2018 with Philippe Starck, who lent a playful and more personal touch to the interiors. Stepping inside is a journey in and of itself, beginning with the café on the ground floor that features pistachio-coloured stucco walls and vibrant frescos depicting scenes of Venetian life; look closer, and you’ll notice that the legs of all the furniture have been crafted from unvarnished brass, meaning that when acqua alta (or the high tide) comes in, each piece develops its own unique patina in response to its contact with water.
Head upstairs, and an even more dazzling interior narrative unfolds, in the form of the opulent main dining room whose walls have been lavished in extraordinarily intricate fabrics from the Venetian textile institution Bevilacqua. (In a twist, the elaborate floral motifs are actually studded with portraits of the Alajmo brothers.) Once you pull your eyes away from those quietly fantastical surroundings, it’s worth splurging on one of the restaurant’s delicately beautiful (and endlessly delicious) four-act, 16-part tasting menus, which pay tribute to lesser-known corners of Venetian culinary tradition: You’re likely to find new riffs on fried moeche (Venetian soft shell crab) or a “cappuccino” made from potato foam and mussels from the lagoon, served in a translucent glass bowl. Within Venice, there’s no experience that blends dining and design quite like it.
A beloved institution within the neighborhood of San Giacomo dell’Orio (stop in the square for an aperitivo before dinner, and you’re likely to find kids after school kicking a ball around, or an elderly nonna carting groceries back to her apartment), La Zucca is that rare thing in a city overflowing with seafood: a place that does genuinely fantastic vegetarian dishes foregrounding local produce from the island of Sant’Erasmo, alongside the usual generous helpings of meat and fish. Equally delightful as its ever-changing menu (although the pumpkin flan is a staple, and not to be missed) are the stylish interiors, which feature sleek diagonal wooden slats and artfully placed contemporary art prints. On a chilly winter night in Venice, you won’t find anywhere more cozy.
A relative newcomer to the Venice restaurant scene (at least within the context of the city’s many decades-old restaurants) is Local, which opened in 2015, tucked away among the back alleys and bridges that surround Campo Bandiera e Moro, roughly halfway between Piazza San Marco and the Arsenale. Just as the menu balances a respectful yet lightly iconoclastic approach to Venetian culinary tradition, with an emphasis on seasonal ingredients from across the Veneto, the interiors honor the bones of the building while also celebrating the ingenuity of craftspeople working in the city today, from the handmade terrazzo floors to the exquisite custom furniture carved by Pasquini Marino.
Up in the Cannareggio district, an area where you’re more likely to bump into locals than tourists swarming around the many cicchetterie that line its picturesque, canalside streets, this sleek (if low-key) wine bar specializes in natural and biodynamic pours—all served by an impressively knowledgable staff.
What to do
Museo Querini Stampalia
If one name has come up more than any other while surveying Venice’s design hotspots, it’s Carlo Scarpa—and for good reason, too. The various projects dotted around the city by this titan of 20th-century Venetian architecture are as wildly ambitious as they are beloved by the city’s inhabitants, but nowhere provides greater insight than Museo Querini Stampalia. Located on the charming square of Santa Maria Formosa, this shape-shifting cultural institution—at once a museum, library, and events space—is a fascinating microcosm of Scarpa’s wide-ranging architectural ambitions, with its porous design artfully blending inside and out, water and brick.
For those whose appetite for Scarpa remains unsated after a visit here, make sure to stop by the Olivetti typewriter showroom on Piazza San Marco; and if you’re willing to travel further afield, head out of the city to the Tomba Brion cemetery near Treviso or to visit the architectural treasure chest that is the Castelvecchio museum in Verona.
Fondaco dei Tedeschi
With the scores of well-heeled tourists that pass through its calle and fondamente every year, it’s little wonder that Venice offers a luxury shopper’s dream along the temples of high fashion that stretch all the way from San Marco to Santa Maria del Giglio. But as of 2016, there’s been a new monument to commerce, housed in one of the city’s oldest monuments to commerce: the Fondaco dei Tedeschi. While the building takes its name from its origins as a trading post for German merchants (it’s situated right next to the Rialto bridge), its interiors have had a stylish revamp courtesy of Rem Koolhaas’s OMA, and it boasts a wide-ranging buy that includes both the most storied Italian fashion houses and a handful of buzzy, next-gen brands like Jacquemus, Ganni, and The Attico. An added bonus? In the central atrium, you’ll find another arm of chef Massimiliano Alajmo’s mini-empire in the form of Amo, a charming café-style eatery with the signature dish being his (more delicious than it sounds, I promise) steamed pizza.
While Laguna~B was first founded by the late Marie Brandolini in 1994, after she was inspired by the strange and seductive cups Murano glassblowers would create from their leftover materials, it was when her son (and scion of the aristocratic Brandolini dynasty) Marcantonio took over in 2019 that the brand became a low-key design powerhouse, welcoming an impressive array of collaborators into the fold for limited-edition collections and putting a renewed focus on sustainability. Earlier this year, Laguna~B opened its first store in the city’s lively Dorsoduro district, marking a major milestone for the brand.
San Michele Cemetery
One of Venice’s greatest architectural masterpieces lies deep in the lagoon, over on the cemetery island of San Michele. (Its unmistakable silhouette can be spotted from the north side of the city, marked by its tall, slightly ominous-looking cypress trees.) Wander through the historic part of the island—and past the scores of plague victims from centuries past buried there—and you’ll find the striking minimalist cloisters designed by British architect David Chipperfield; a quiet, meditative corner of design wonder within an always-bustling city.
This article was first published on Vogue.com.