In each issue we identify a key aesthetic trend evident in our archive of recent projects and challenge semiotics agency Axis Mundi to unpack its design codes. In Frame 132, we examined how transport-adjacent hospitality spaces are starting to reference the golden age of American travel. Written just prior to the pandemic, these interiors now evoke a certain nostalgia for times of free travel.

Once the pursuit of rarefied society and high-flying executives, the democratization of travel initiated in the latter half of the 20th century codified the spirit of American adventure and exported it to the world. Unprecedented access to land, sea and sky bestowed the masses with a heady medium for escapism and self-cultivation. Fast-forward to today, however, and the elegant designs of nascent mass-transit have collapsed into glorified commuter services, sprinkled with luxe-lite signifiers that offer little more than a nod to their glamorous predecessors.

In the midst of flattened travel experiences and the current convention for more nomadic lifestyles, celebrating the intrinsic value of journeying well is enjoying a renaissance. A vanguard of hospitality spaces is emerging to meet the needs of travellers seeking permission to relax, something afforded by a careful blend of nostalgic and contemporary cues.

Header: The Standard hotel King’s Cross by Shawn Hausman, Orms and Archer Humphryes Architects in London, UK. Photo: Tim Charles | Top: Mollie’s motel and diner by Soho House in Oxfordshire, UK. Photo: Courtesy of Soho House | Middle: The Standard hotel King’s Cross by Shawn Hausman, Orms and Archer Humphryes Architects in London, UK. Photo: Tim Charles | Bottom: Tribute Portfolio Hotel The Dalmar by DesignAgency in Fort Lauderdale, USA. Photo: Bob Gundu

The gentle glow of ceiling, cove and bubble-lighting features ensures the continuation of a cosy perma-twilight state, with accompanying rich autumnal palettes bolstering a welcome low-lux buffer against the disorientation of jet lag. The restorative benefits of cocooning are further encouraged by sunken lounges and womb-chairs that lower the shared centre of gravity, granting guests a sense of stability after extended periods of motion. Clarity is surprisingly delivered via textured surfaces, as waffle-slab ceilings, abstract mural and lavishly upholstered wall panels eliminate the need for decorative knick-knacks and personal effects. Instead, the patina of age invited by leather banquettes, warm walnut panelling and burnished copper accents lowers feelings of isolation by suggesting the presence of past visitors.

Elevated platforms and floor-to-ceiling windows offer a refreshing change of perspective. Privileged vantage over iconic cityscapes and dynamic transport hubs encourages patrons to slow down and indulge in the passive spectacle of people (and plane) watching. Orientation shortcuts afforded by open vistas are reinforced by interiors that import local design aesthetic and vehicular references; from traditional plaids to reclaimed metro tiles and Californian cacti, patching spaces with native artefacts serves to ground those just passing through in their immediate surroundings.

Creating a convincing mise en scène is essential to evoking the golden age of American travel; enlightened travellers are seeking high-fidelity experiences that admit entry to the design worlds of bygone icons. Exceptional travel hotels and eateries imbue their architecture and interiors with a Kubrick-esque aura, meticulously attending to period details and frequently adopting otherworldly retro-futurist tropes to create spaces that seem to exist out of time. Scale and composition inform their narrative interpretation: expansive aircraft cabins reborn as cocktail lounges make use of a symmetrical ‘one point perspective’ (a cinematic device used to centre the gaze on a focal point within the frame) to position guests at the heart of a compelling visual story, while in-room martini bars provide dramatic staging for late-night contemplation and intimate liaisons. 

Top: Tribute Portofolio Hotel The Dalmar by DesignAgency in Fort Lauderdale, USA. Photo: Bob Gundu | Middle: The Flat apartment complex by Studio Sucio in Los Angeles, USA. Photo: Meghan Bob | Bottom: Mollie's motel and diner by Soho House in Oxfordshire, UK. Photo: Courtesy of Soho House

Countering expectations of journeys punctuated with underwhelming pit-stops, allusion to mid-century utopian visions allow hospitality spaces to be playful again. This disruptive sense of wit, wonder and pure theatricality recaptures the spirit of liberation that lay at the heart of the golden age of American travel.


From burnt red and deep green to brassy brown and earthy amber: a warm palette with rich autumnal shades radiates a sense of warmth that is emphasized by the use of recessed lighting. Ocean blue, emerald green and sunshine yellow add a tropical, breezy vibe. Mixed into patterned floors and handmade murals, these tones revive the aesthetic language of the 1960s and ’70s.


A mix of oak-panelled walls, walnut cupboards, lavish velvet and leather upholstery, luminous marble and onyx surfaces, smoked mirrors, terrazzo floors flecked with mother of pearl, ceramic plant pots, porcelain tiles, and antique bronze and burnished copper details results in retro-inspired interiors that mellow with age. Contemporary furniture utilizing today’s materials and technologies update the nostalgic environments, capturing the essence of modern classicism. 


Dense seating clusters featuring sunken lounges and womb-chairs set the scene for luxurious and comfortable gatherings. Mid-century modern references, including accordion folding doors, bubble-lighting features and waffle-slab ceilings, are combined with organic botanical arrangements to realize a laid-back yet energetic atmosphere.

Get your copy of Frame 132 here.