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Post Company renovates the 1905 La Playa Hotel, formerly the home of an American landscape artist and chocolate heiress

Long treasured for its glamorous origin story and star-studded regulars, Carmel’s La Playa Hotel gets a 21st-century makeover that embraces the aesthetic past. 

Photographed by Chris Mottalini

La Playa Hotel sitting area in Spanish Art Nouveau style

The moody, lounge-inspired lobby at La Playa Hotel in Carmel, California.

In 1905, the Norwegian-born American landscape painter Chris Jorgensen and his wife and pupil, chocolate heiress Angela Ghirardelli, built a mansion several blocks from the sea. Dubbed the Grand Dame of Carmel, the house served as a studio for the couple and a creative retreat for some of the era’s biggest artistic names. But after the tragic death of Ghirardelli’s niece at Carmel Beach, the couple sold the mansion, and in 1922, the Grand Dame was converted into La Playa Hotel with the addition of 20 guest rooms. The property expanded to almost 80 rooms by 1940, and in the following decades, it underwent a series of renovations.

When Marc & Rose Hospitality purchased La Playa in 2011, it was a mishmash of disparate rooms, layers of additions, and original architectural details such as stained-glass windows, tiled stairs, and millwork. To unify interior aesthetics and restore the property to its bohemian glory, the owners hired multidisciplinary design firm Post Company in 2020. 

“We approached the project with the mindset of reinvigorating tradition rather than breaking it and creating something brand new,” says Ruben Caldwell, a founder and partner at Post Company. “The building, the grounds, and the location are all incredibly wonderful. We wanted to make the inside feel as special as the outside.”

“There are so many intimate places throughout, and watching people explore and populate them, have little encounters and conversations—that’s what we set out to create.”—Leigh Salem, Post Company

old fashion bar with wood paneling and dark and moody color palette

Bud’s Bar has long been a popular local watering hole.

To start, the design team began peeling back the years of additions. But La Playa Hotel and its watering hole, Bud’s Bar, is beloved by the community, so Post Company was careful to not strip away too much. Maintaining a sense of familiarity was important.

“We looked at the design as two chapters,” says Leigh Salem, another founder and partner at Post Company. “The public areas feel as though they could be rooms in a large, old residence, with all these little offshoots—such as the game room, the breakfast terrace, or the bar—where you can explore and maybe meet new people. The guest rooms [provide] more intimate moments; their views connect you to what makes Carmel so special.”

In the hotel’s public spaces, Caldwell and Salem created a backdrop of dark wood and white stucco and peppered in antiques, art, and patterned textiles. With its grand fireplace and sweeping staircase with original tilework, the main lobby evokes turn-of-the-century glamour. Dark and sultry, Bud’s Bar features natural wood, amber-toned mirrors, and unlacquered brass that will patina over time, as well as a series of nooks, booths, and banquettes. 

The guest rooms were more of a design challenge. “Every single time we opened a door, we would have a new conversation,” Caldwell says. “No two rooms were the same.” Rather than creating a cookie-cutter block of sleeping spaces, he and Salem embraced the eclectic nature and materiality to connect the rooms and the property. Each room has a unique mirrored bar system that allows guests to create custom cocktails, and in most rooms, an original plaster shell pendant by Frances Adler Elkins adds a subtle, bohemian beach-inspired vibe.

Hotel room with view of ocean, sheer curtains, four-poster bed
hotel room with cross-shaped stained glass window, mahogany bar, Spanish table and stools

Original plaster shell pendants by Frances Adler Elkins hang in each guest room. Unique details, such as the stylized stained-glass window, are nods to the past, and custom-designed bar systems allow guests to shake up a cocktail in their room.

exterior covered in greenery around stained glass window
patio terraced garden with flower pots and umbrellas

The sun-worn brick and lush plantings throughout the hotel’s romantic grounds enhance the property’s turn-of-the-century charm. 


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