Danish fashion designer Malene Birger has the whole world as her workplace and home. Here, she shares her own personal vision of her eponymous dream hotel.

By Eva Kirstine Brünnich

Malene Birger has always had the whole world as her workplace and home. Here, the Danish fashion designer behind such leading brands as Day Birger et Mikkelsen and By Malene Birger shares her own personal vision of her dream hotel – and how she would design her very own home away from home.

What kind of hotel do you look for?

“I look for hotels that manage to create something personal, and often there’s an individual person or family behind it – a travelled person living out his or her dreams. Hotel Esencia north of Tulum in Mexico is one such place. It’s modern and fresh, but still comfortable and cosy. Good design, good food, nice bars, beautiful green palm groves, beaches, pools and lots of activity – or no activity, depending on your mood.

You really don’t have to leave the premises. The hotel was created by a travelled American, an avid art collector. I have also always been a great fan of Anouska Hempel, who designed the world’s first ‘couture’ hotel, Blakes in London, in the late 1970s. She stood out from the crowd and took all us hotel-lovers by storm. The new owners have retained her style, but I think the spirit and energy seeped out when she sold the place.”

Are first impressions important?

“First impressions are very important. A hotel is first experienced from the outside, then from the lobby, the bar, the restaurant, and finally the rooms. The exterior is incredibly important: Do you feel like entering? Do you get inspired? I believe a hotel should beckon you – so you simply have to take a look, or drink a quiet coffee, enjoy the atmosphere, listen to the music and perhaps consider checking in.

“I love striped awnings, green plants and cosy outdoor lighting. It should be old-school, but in a modern way. Also, there should be white curtains facing the street in the restaurant, if visible from the outside. If the building has nice details and is historical and beautiful, you need to build on that.

“A hotel needs to be active, full of energy and should be used. It should be a second home where you dine, meet with friends in the bar, hang out. Creating a boutique hotel will cost more, but it will be an investment that makes a difference. The hotel will become an institution rather than just a place to sleep.”

How important is atmosphere?

“Good atmosphere comes from the heart and must come naturally. It’s about people, the staff, music, scents and lighting. For a period, a hotel is your second home. I would want to recreate the exact same atmosphere and enjoyment as when entertaining guests at home. They should feel welcome from the minute they arrive.

“The hotel needs patina, and I want to feel the good vibes from the second I step over the doorstep. Whether an expensive or cheap hotel, the feeling must be there. Patina and a sense of spirit are either already manifestly there due to the history of the building, or perhaps a new owner has managed to create it. That’s how a hotel experience becomes memorable.

“Hotel Sanders in Copenhagen is a good example of a very successful project. It makes you feel the hotel has always been like that, although it’s almost just opened. Around the world there are oceans of stylish and chic hotels, but those little gems of life, creativity and classic service are far and few between – those capable of attracting a good mix of leaders and followers who lend it a good reputation and define its DNA. Be cool, sweet, natural but never be snobbish.”

Personal artwork plays a key role in Malene Birger’s authentic styling and also features in two grand coffee table books published by teNeues, Germany and sold in over 72 countries. Photo: Liselore Chevalier


What would the Malene Birger Hotel be like?

“The Malene Birger Hotel would express my personal style. The DNA of the hotel should reflect my passion for décor, fashion, design and art, and the way I combine things. I have travelled for over half of my life – checked in and out of hotels, and I love it. I’m even considering staying permanently at a hotel when one day I become an elderly lady.

“If I were to design my own hotel I would try and reconcile all the hotel experiences I have had – good ones and bad ones – and create a mood and experience that makes the guest never want to return home.

“I would create a hotel that is also a boutique – not just a boutique selling a scented candle or a strange necklace – but a hotel where the design, furniture, porcelain and much more can be purchased. You should be able to decorate your home with everything from the hotel if that’s what you wanted. The hotel should offer pleasant, professional and good-humoured service.

“The bar and restaurant need to know how to please you; they should be old-school, cosy and a bit cool. The bar should also be good for a little dancing on weekends; it should be a hang-out for the city’s creative crowd mixed with guests from near and far. The more eclectic, the better.” 

How would you develop the style?

“My style is graphic: black, white, cream and dark brown, which is reflected in my mood boards. I work with stripes, thick and thin, and plenty of strong, contrasting patterns for logos, graphic design, websites, curtains, flooring, decorative objects, uniforms, etc. My own artworks should be hanging on the walls and be available for purchase…

“I would work with a combination of many different materials, such as wood, marble, steel, brass, glass and plenty of fabrics – materials that will create contrasts and add experiences when developing the overall look. The furniture and lamps need to add personality and excitement to the décor. Soft and hard. Masculine and feminine. Dark and bright. Old-school and modern.” 

What is the importance of detail?

“Details come from the heart. I have always worked with details, both visible and non-visible. Details tell small stories and show that we’re making an effort. To me, details are about creative generosity and the sense of coherence that gives the hotel its signature look.

“I would start with the logo and have a symbol or monogram integrated into various areas of the hotel, including embroidery on the bedclothes, specially designed bathrobes, an edge along the runner in the hallway, custom-designed furniture and textiles, porcelain, glass and even a stamp in the breakfast butter… such a symbol can be included many places.

“I would design a travel bag series for the hotel store, where the logo and monogram underline and express the hotel’s DNA. The edge along the curtains would also be reflected in the uniform trousers. Graphic design details are also super important. This applies to the website and the printed material in the rooms. The details of a Malene Birger Hotel would be those that guests talk about, the ones they remember.”


After graduating from the The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Art (Copenhagen) in 1989, Malene Birger’s design career began at Marc O’Polo in Stockholm, and by 1997 she co-founded her first fashion brand, Day Birger et Mikkelsen.

By Malene Birger launched as her second fashion brand in 2003 and was over the years selling in more than 42 countries worldwide.

Malene Birger sold her shares at BY MALENE BIRGER to the original investor IC GROUP in 2010, and by early 2014 she left the brand, shortly after she opened Birger1962, a design studio devoted to interior, design and art. Today she offers her creative work as a consult.