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Most Beautiful Airport Lounges

© Courtesy of Virgin Atlantic Airways

Airport lounges can be elegant, high-design hideaways for rest, work, a beautiful meal and a shower—or just a place to soak in the beauty while waiting for a flight.

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A sparkling, backlit Venetian crystal curtain shimmers behind the check-in desk at Cathay Pacific’s brand-new lounge at San Francisco International Airport. Guests snuggle into mod-yet-functional Solus chairs. There’s even a chef in a toque staffing a small kitchen that turns out bowls of fresh, steaming noodles. Hardly the scene one has come to expect at the airport.

Frequent travelers require airport lounges to be functional spaces—and most of them are, offering plenty of room to relax, work, take a shower or grab a drink or snack. But how many of them are thoughtfully designed and, well, beautiful? Only a handful fall into that category. But as competition among airlines to attract the global executive set continues to grow, airlines are investing in new (or renovated) lounges that are both functional and beautiful.

“At one time, airport lounges were the domain of celebrities, elected officials and CEOs invited by airlines into small rooms hidden away behind nondescript doors to await their flights. Inside, they had the look of a Fortune 500 company waiting room—functional furnishing, dark paneling, maybe a bar, but not much else,” says Henry Harteveldt, cofounder of consulting firm The Atmosphere Group.

All that changed in the 1970s and ’80s, when airlines opened the clubs to anyone willing to pay a membership fee. “When the airlines opened up the clubs to a wider audience, the aesthetic began to change—color palettes were brightened, square footage expanded and amenities increased as airlines began to use the lounges to draw attention to their brands,” says Harteveldt. As airlines renew their focus on attracting a new generation of globe-trotters, the focus on lounge aesthetics is getting even stronger.

For example, rapidly expanding Turkish Airlines recently made waves in both business travel and design circles with its dramatic CIP Lounge, which opened just last year at Istanbul’s Atatürk Airport. The unusual design is “based on the idea of a second shell within the existing shell of the airport,” according to its designer, Autoban. An unusual array of spheres divides the 32,000-square-foot lounge area into individual spaces for dining, working, billiards, relaxation, reading, child play or television viewing. There’s even a grand piano.

Just in time for Helsinki’s reign as World Design Capital 2012, Finnair’s Via lounge at Vantaa International Airport got a glamorous redo—a real showcase of bright, light and modern Scandinavian design. Furnishings are by Finnish company Isku Interior Oy, and the lighting fixtures are by famed Finnish designer Eero Aarnio. As one would expect (and welcome) this far north, there’s a spa next to the lounge that includes a steam room, four spruce-wood saunas and a stone bath—with views to the airport taxiway.

So if you love beauty as much as function, start your trip with a visit to one of the world’s most beautiful airport clubs.

Market Place