The Royalton’s radical makeover in 1988—by French designer Philippe Starck, who turned a ground-floor passageway into a virtual red carpet (royal blue, actually, illuminated by mysterious luminaires shaped like priapic horns) for the fashionable and powerful—catalyzed what sociologists call social condensation, where a little voyeurism and crowdedness creates a feeling of intimacy and interest. This was lobby as stage, a place whose visual drama and social possibility made up for the fact that you weren’t downtown, and that many of the rooms upstairs, especially the former servants’ quarters, weren’t all that commodious. Mere corporate-style predictability, let alone comfort, was no longer the point. As the blueprint of hotel as social condenser spread, so did travelers’ expectations of high design—or something that looked like it. Of course, especially in corporate hands, what seems like minimalism can become another kind of mannerism—the simple becomes simplistic. And in many hotels today, styling masquerades as design: It’s all photogenic whimsy or the opposite, a kind of gilded beige that’s meant to convey wealth and taste but is really as empty as a badly made macaroon. Get the full story at Condé Nast Traveler