Hotel and Hostel Meet in Iceland’s Hlemmur Square

Hlemmur Square

Klaus Ortlieb is a gregarious man. This quality is valuable in any person you meet, but especially so in a hotelier, a man who is responsible for creating places you will spend the night—for designing hotels all over the world. Hotels such as Claridge’s in London, the Excelsior Hotel in Cologne, Germany, and the Gotham Hotel in New York City.

Ortlieb’s generosity of spirit is evident in his latest creation, Hlemmur Square, the half-hostel, half-hotel located in beautiful Reykjavik, Iceland. “You are going to have the older people with money staying in the hotel and the younger kids staying in the hostel, but the bar will be filled with young and old alike. Who doesn’t want to be around young, beautiful people?”

The five-story Hlemmur Square building—formerly an early 20th century Reykjavik rest stop and then used as government offices—will hold hostel rooms that fit up to eighteen people on its lower floors and then change over to eighteen luxurious hotel rooms (all with balconies) on it’s upper floors. The unifying trait? Comfort and style.

“If a backpacker wants room service, they can have room service,” says Ortlieb. “All hostel beds have comfortable duvets and pillows. I call it an upscale hostel.”

This unique combination of hotel and hostel is what initially drew Ortlieb to the project. He also loved Reykjavik’s surrounding natural beauty as well as the “eccentric” quality of the Hlemmur Square building itself. The first floor, originally built in 1919, has significantly higher ceilings than the rest of the building, and over the years, as each successive floor was added, it came with its own particular designs. As Ortlieb describes it, from floor to floor “there was an evolution of heights and widths, as well as in the exterior.”

The other appeal of the project was that Ortlieb was the sole designer on the hotel-hostel from start to finish, something he had not done in any of his other hotels. He chose the furniture, paint colors, the lighting—everything. “I knew exactly what I wanted to do in Reykjavik. I wanted to bring old and new together and I felt that translating it all to an interior designer would be a disaster. It was a lot of work, but I enjoyed it immensely.”

Though Hlemmur Square is currently in its soft opening phase, guests are already enjoying the communal bar (“There was already backpacker there who was hit on by every woman,” says Ortlieb). When the lodging fully opens, the restaurant, children’s playroom and in-house movie theater will be available to hostel and hotel guests alike.

“The Grand Opening will be on June 21, the longest day of the year. There’s twenty-two hours of daylight and we are going to have bands, horse carriage rides and young and old alike. It’s going to be a party—you just have to come!”

Klaus Ortlieb is a difficult man to say no to, especially when he is opening one of the most singular hotels in the Western Hemisphere.