HOTELS: THE CONVERTS

Many newly constructed hotels appear better suited to office workers than to world travelers, but these lodgings—housed in buildings with rich histories—are refreshing examples of high-design recycling.

Many newly constructed hotels appear better suited to office workers than to world travelers, but these lodgings—housed in buildings with rich histories—are refreshing examples of high-design recycling. Yaran Noti

1. Faena Hotel and Universe (Buenos Aires, pictured above)

The El Porteño building—formerly a grain silo—was snapped up in 2001 by developer Alan Faena, who then brought in Philippe Starck to give a Gilded Age look (think 18-carat gold and red velvet) to the 110 rooms and adult venues like a cabaret and a wine cellar.

54-11-4010-9000; rooms from $540

2. Das Triest (Vienna)

Terence Conran, of design-store fame, transformed 18th-century stables into 72 rooms and suites, each uniquely outfitted with furniture from the likes of B&B Italia and Wittmann. And if the olive trees in the courtyard don't do the trick, the Molton Brown toiletries will banish any residual horse odor.

43-1-589-18-0; rooms from $300

3. Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul (Istanbul)

The original doors of this almost 90-year-old former prison open to a lobby decked in Ottoman tapestries, and the onetime watchtowers serve as elevator shafts. But the hotel's grisly history isn't lost: The name of an inmate is still carved into one of the pillars.

90-212-638-82-00; rooms from $525

4. La Purificadora (Puebla, Mexico)

Carlos Couturier embraced his hotel's history as a water-purification plant by using bottles unearthed during its renovation as décor elements. The water theme runs throughout, from a rooftop swimming pool with a see-through side to glass-encased balconies.

52-222-309-1920; rooms from $145

5. Ritz-Carlton (San Francisco)

When it was built in 1909 to house Met Life, this neoclassical behemoth was known as the Temple of Commerce. In its hotel form, 17 exterior columns remain, but the file cabinets and ink blotters have been replaced with Italian-marble bathrooms and a restaurant led by chef Ron Siegel.

415-296-7465; rooms from $439

Photographs courtesy of JG Black Book of Travel, the Ritz-Carlton, Design Hotels, Four Seasons, and Epoque Hotels.

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