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Nautilus Hotel in South Beach: Unobtrusively Perfect and Discreetly Luxurious

This lesser-known Morris Lapidus effort is a true hideaway.

Part of the charm of the Nautilus hotel on South Beach lies in its under-the-radar quality. Located just north of the Ritz-Carlton, the National and the SLS, the Sonesta-managed property is easy to overlook—until you step inside. One glance at the circular lounge off the lobby, with its swirls of inset lighting and decorative pillars, tells you that you’re in the revered land of the legendary Morris Lapidus, the father of midcentury Miami Modern architecture.

But before Lapidus created the massive Fontainebleau and the Eden Roc hotels, he was commissioned to design a handful of properties between 1947 and 1951 that included the Nautilus in 1950. (The diLido—now the Ritz-Carlton South Beach—soon followed.)

At the time, the Nautilus ranked as Miami Beach’s largest oceanfront hotel, with 300 rooms and suites. But times change, and now the hotel (currently containing 250 rooms) feels like a discreet boutique hideaway. Inside the guest rooms, the most successful design choice is so simple, yet so pleasing: The bed directly faces the expansive ocean view beyond the terrace.

If you think that’s an obvious choice, think again. Most hotels position their beds against a sidewall, ostensibly for privacy; that’s not an issue when you’re staying on a high floor at the Nautilus. The king-sized bed sits in the middle of the floor, backed by a sturdy wooden headboard; the back side of the headboard segues into a built-in desk. Anyone with even a passing understanding of feng shui knows that placing the bed in this kind of commanding position (with the widest view in the room) promotes a feeling of openness and luxury—this is how they do it at Aman Resorts, by the way. Another thoughtful touch: The minibar (which isn’t so mini), placed in the corner of the room, is set within an open steamer trunk—a whimsical nod to season-long twentieth-century travel.

The position of the bed doesn’t represent the hotel’s only Asian influence. Once downstairs, the path to the beach (adjacent to the ample pool) is protected by a delicate natural canopy that evokes a bamboo forest, as if to say, Let the other South Beach hotels on Collins Ave. have their flamboyance. The Nautilus is our secret.

Be sure to enjoy the hotel in its current, retro state; by 2025 the Nautilus will be transformed into the James Miami Beach.

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