Interview with Design Hotels’ founder Claus Sendlinger

Claus Sendlinger

“With the FK chair, every point is defined. It just radiates a timeless power. And in this way every good design has its own energy, its own character.”

Claus Sendlinger on personality: buildings with a special vibe. Employees with minds of their own. Accidents that become opportunities. An interview.

Mr Sendlinger, what is more important: personality or price?

Personality. The world is already gray enough.

Twenty-five years ago, you founded Design Hotels, a portal for select hotels. In 2011, you started your own project. Was that because you wanted to do yourself what you’d been encouraging others to do?

Exactly. It started with the Papaya Playa Project in Tulum, Mexico, beach huts for the digital community. We’re particularly proud of our most recent project, the La Granja organic farm on Ibiza.

How important is personality in projects like this?

It’s essential – just like it is anywhere else. If you want to stand out, you need character. We only find twenty cool hoteliers for our portfolio in a year. They’re often career jumpers, but they know their way around music and art and the place where they live. Ideally, they’re already doing good things in their current field – exhibitions, DJ sessions. The important thing is the user experience of our guests.

You’re now moving away from Design Hotels and developing something new, the Marina Marina in Berlin. It has a… what do you call it?

A ritual space.

Aren’t you afraid that’s going to be too weird?

Rituals are exactly what people today lack.

How can you prevent yourself from losing contact with reality out of sheer originality – becoming untethered from the base?

The people who meet on the farm are exactly the people we want to reach. They’re all working with sustainability, they want to work the land together, cook, eat, meditate together. We’re doing all this entirely without social media. If you want to book, you write an email. Mystery of mysteries.

Is it working?

It’s working like a charm.

Will you be founding more farms like this?

Definitely not. The era of global franchises is over. A good product can’t be multiplied endlessly. Otherwise it can’t become a classic, a legend. This leather chair, FK, by Walter Knoll, the chair I’m sitting on now, is a classic. Every point is defined. It radiates a timeless power. And in this way every good design has its own energy, its own character.

Bucket chair FK

This all sounds very spiritual.

The trend forecaster Li Edelkoort says that in the next five years, we’re all going to be yearning for spirituality and indigenous craft products. And for wabi-sabi. Which comes from Zen Buddhism, and means the beauty of imperfection, transience. Everything changes, and the beauty is in the ageing.

Workers at Walter Knoll also talk about imperfection in perfection. They work with natural materials, leather, wool, wood. They take the natural variations of those materials into account …

… and so they play with the quirks instead of cutting them out.

How do you think products with character are made?

I think you have to understand that every object basically has only one fundamental function to fulfill. A chair is a chair. A hotel is a hotel. So that’s your foundation, and then on top of that there’s a kind of play, with undefined spaces, niches, positions, horizons, and so on, to be explored and defined.

How do you find the right people to involve in your projects?

By accident and through friends. The team on the farm has just surprised me with a new chef. This guy had completely redesigned the whole kitchen. Great haircut, the right sneakers – he looked fantastic. Then he cooked for us: panzerotti, ceviche and a lamb that was brought in on a gigantic wooden tray. And I’m asking, who is this guy? (laughs) He used to be a waiter. Came from South America, and in his first year with us he got us three people from Francis Mallmann’s kitchen in Uruguay.

I’m afraid I don’t know anything about Mallmann.

He’s from Patagonia, and he won the Grand Prix de l’Art de la Cuisine one time, in Kronberg – with potatoes. Because he wasn’t allowed to import them into Germany from Argentina, he smuggled them in. Thirty varieties. Weighing one tonne.

He won the gastronomic Oscars with potatoes?

Nine courses of potatoes! That’s personality.


Claus Sendlinger is one of the most innovative entrepreneurs in the international hotel business. Design Hotels AG, which he founded, lists over 300 hotels in its portfolio. Together with Peter Conrads, he now heads the SLOW Hospitality (“sensitive, local, organic, wise”) creative laboratory, based in Berlin, with the aim of creating unique places around the world and reinventing gastronomy and the hotel industry.