Airline lounges have come a long way in the past decade, and North American lounges are quickly playing catch up. Take, for instance, United’s latest Polaris lounges or WestJet’s first-ever venture in Calgary, Alberta, complete with real fireplaces. Across the globe, there are many airline lounges taking cues from residential design, which may inspire your next renovation.
The bar at Cathay Pacific’s first-class lounge in Hong Kong.
Cathay Pacific, “The Pier,” First-Class Lounge, Hong Kong
Opened in 2015, Cathay Pacific’s “Pier,” a first-class lounge in Hong Kong International Airport, is a stylish, exclusive haven for a select few. Designed by Studioilse, the London-based design studio led by Ilse Crawford, the 2,061-square-meter lounge is a myriad of natural materials including green onyx, marble, cherrywood, and tactile velvet and leather furnishings. Taking its design cues from the luxury residential sector, the design palette includes bespoke artworks, stunning brass chandeliers, and a horseshoe bar that is the crowning glory of the space. If it wasn’t for the panoramic views of the runway, you’d forget you were in an airport altogether.
The zen design at Icelandair’s Saga Lounge in Reykjavik.
Icelandair’s Saga Lounge, Reykjavik
Iceland has been in the limelight recently due to its being an open destination to the world during COVID. However, you may not know that this small—yet striking—country is also an important incubator of global design talent. This is evident in Icelandair’s lounge in Keflavik International airport, where waiting passengers are transported to a warm, cozy environment juxtaposed with volcanic rocks, a cairn, and the views of the Icelandic “lunar” landscape outside. The focal point, however, is the lounge’s warming fireplace, where a jigsaw of comfortable seating lined in wood panels warms the soul.
Finnair’s Blueberry Bar in Helsinki.
Finnair Non-Schengen Lounge, Helsinki
With a signature Nordic design, Finnair’s lounge, which opened just before the pandemic, is a masterclass in paired-back minimalist design. Using rich, deep blues and grays, the lounge looks like it would be at home in Gerry Anderson’s Space 1999. However, this retro-futurist lounge isn’t just design over function. Every choice of furniture reflects the different needs and moods of the passengers using the space, carefully zoned to create areas of work, rest, and play. The new lounge marks the emergence of Finnair’s new design language, which centers on simplicity, clean lines, natural materials, and texture to provide a warmer and more “human” experience.
KLM’s sleek Crown lounge in Amsterdam.
Soho House Chic
KLM Crown Lounge, Amsterdam
The Netherlands is famed for its design heritage, so, when completing its lounge, flag carrier KLM had to live up to the country’s reputation. As well as an expansive lounge across multiple levels, KLM’s crowning glory is the addition of a fine-dining restaurant Blue. The pay-for restaurant within the lounge is an exclusive space that mirrors the interior design approach of private members group Soho House. An eclectic and considered mix of antique furniture, lighting, and art creates a warm, vibrant atmosphere. It’s also filled with unique design details—just keep a look out for the wall made from old suitcases.
The seating and dining area inside Qantas’s first-class lounge in Singapore.
Qantas’s First-Class Lounge by David Caon, Singapore
While the Australian carrier’s Sydney award-winning lounges are its flagship products, the recently opened Singapore lounge, designed by David Caon is a head-turner. Pulling on the Singaporean modern-Colonial design style and infusing it with Qantas’s signature lounge style has delivered a smart, calming environment. Warm, soft leathers, plush, deep-pile carpets, wood panelling, and Scandinavian furniture with sumptuous cushions create a minimalistic yet comfortable residential-inspired space for the airline’s first-class passengers.
The full bar and seating area at United’s first-class lounge in Los Angeles.
United’s Polaris Lounge, Los Angeles
United’s new lounge design—currently only found in a handful of lounges across the U.S.—is a designer’s dream. Carrara marble, cool, tonal grays, parquet flooring, and dashes of blue create a very modern finish, but thanks to the bespoke lighting found within the lounge, it truly comes to life in the evenings. Sumptuous banquette seating and deep bucket chairs create a comfortable experience, while large-scale bespoke artworks from the likes of Rema Ghuloum, Chris Trueman, and Ruth Pastine create a homely vibe. The long bar, which is the centerpiece of the lounge features fluid curves and charging points, but the views from the floor-to-ceiling windows still steal the show.
The cozy, upscale dining nook at China Airlines’ VIP Lounge in Taipei.
Asian Cabana Chic
China Airlines’ VIP Lounge, Taipei
The Taiwanese carrier’s VIP lounge within a lounge in Taipei brings the outside inside. Created by famous designer Ray Chen, this warm and luxurious lounge was inspired by the Song dynasty, with the conceptual use of a “southern China–style garden.” Naturally, to create light and shade, and a variety of seating options, partitions separate the reading and sitting areas and have a design reference to the Classical Gardens of Suzhou. Referencing images of the Suzhou “Surging Waves” pavilion, the feeling of nature continues through the lounge with the use of a beautifully carved wood door by a master carpenter from Sanyi. Further earthy elements such as Hualien granite stone, leather surfaces, and velvet sofa fabrics help create a relaxing environment of “literary taste.”