South African-born Jacu Strauss - architect, designer and creative director at boundary-breaking hospitality brand Lore Group - has put the magic into some of the world's coolest hotels. Having started out working on interiors for Tom Dixon, before moving on to a complete overhaul of Amsterdam's iconic Pulitzer hotel, Strauss has since overseen the successful roll-out of a number of high-profile addresses, including London's Sea Containers and One Hundred Shoreditch.
Strauss admits that preserving the original DNA of a property can be a challenge, but a challenge that is undoubtedly fun to overcome. "We have to be honest about what we're dealing with. We like to celebrate the goodness of what we inherit and try to maintain that," he says. "I like to think of DNA as the communities and context that surround a property rather than the structural shell. Design is not about things; it's about people. In some instances, it's deep-rooted, but often you have to travel down different pathways to uncover what needs to be celebrated."
Jacu, left, and a look inside Lyle
Washington DC-based hotels Lyle and Riggs are two sparkly check-ins in Strauss' impressive portfolio, both of which underwent sensitive renovations before opening their doors. Keen to discover how best to spend a weekend in Washington DC, we caught up with Strauss to quiz him on the best local food stops and souvenirs worth saving room in your suitcase for.
A designer's guide to Washington DC with Lore Group's Jacu Strauss
What's Washington DC's vibe?
Washington DC is often associated with politics and negative press but it's so much more diverse than that. The city is beautiful. There are no skyscrapers, thanks to the Height Act [which states that buildings on commercial streets can be no taller than 40m], so there's endless greenery and boundless blue skies. The people like to have fun, eat and drink. They are hugely welcoming and intensely kind.
When's the best time to visit?
There's something special about spring. Being the shoulder season, it's relatively quiet but pleasantly warm. Visit in April to see the cherry blossoms. I've never seen anything like them before - they have to be seen to be understood.
Sun-kissed snaps of Washington DC in spring
What's your favourite neighbourhood in the city?
I lived in DC for three years. There's a lesser-known area called Dupont Circle, which is rich in greenery and incredibly diverse. Every neighbourhood has its own personality and character, and there's vibrant nightlife and an abundance of restaurants waiting to be found in the smallest of pockets.
Where should we stay?
The Adams Morgan neighbourhood. There's something charming about old-school institutional hotels like The Hay-Adams. Otherwise, you've got Lyle and Riggs to choose between. Riggs is housed in a former bank in the heart of the city and is surrounded by museums. It's grand, glamorous and louder than Lyle. Lyle is situated in residential Dupont Circle, making it better suited to those looking at a longer stay.
Where should we head for food?
Lyle is great for breakfast. The hash browns are dangerously delicious - I could eat 100 of them. Lutèce is my favourite spot for a long, lazy lunch. It's a quaint little restaurant serving French-inspired plates in a beautiful, low-key lounge. For dinner, there's Kura, the "robotic grill sushi". It's a counter set-up where you can spend an evening people-watching, which I love.
A bedroom at Riggs Washington DC, left, and an airy dining space in a suite at Lyle
It's Saturday night. Where should we head for drinks?
The coolest place in DC happens to be one of our bars, Silver Lyan. It's helmed by Mr Lyan [Ryan Chetiyawardana], the world's most famous bartender and the mastermind behind Lyaness at Sea Containers London. It used to be a bank vault, and the cocktails are exceptional. For a more casual vibe, chilled-out speakeasy The Gibson is a good choice. Another low-key address is Jane Jane.
Museums we should check out and why?
There are so many. One that stands out is the Hirshhorn Museum. I could spend 15 minutes or four hours there - it's so therapeutic. It has amazing exhibitions, which are made more immersive by the building's circular shape. Walking in a circular direction allows you to appreciate the artwork in a different way.
I get very excited about the Hillwood Museum, which was once the home of the richest woman in the world, Marjorie Merriweather Post. Today, it hosts incredible activations. The beautiful gardens are worth visiting for, too.
The circular exterior of Hirshhorn Museum, alongside a colourful street scene
Something to bring back as a souvenir?
At Hillwood Museum there's a plaque outside Post's bedroom with two little hinges and two little flaps. If you open it, it says "Do Not Disturb". You can buy a replica of it in the museum's gift shop - it's small and sweet. Otherwise, The White House Historical Association stocks beautiful festive decorations. It's the perfect place to pick up a special Christmas piece.
And, lastly, can you tell us what you're working on at the moment?
I'm currently in NYC. We've just started a 10-year project on an office building near Grand Central Station. It's a huge 1980s postmodern building, which is not a hugely popular style right now but remains one of my favourite design periods. We're hoping to inject a little bit of Lore magic into a working setting to create an inspiring set-up. Understanding emotional touchpoints that have been historically ignored in a workplace is a landscape I'm particularly intrigued by post-pandemic.