Free Space

Konrad Knoblauch flips a former prison into a private retreat guests want to escape to, not from.

A prison is the last place one expects to feel free. But Konrad Knoblauch GmbH translated the concept of captivity into an opportunity for sanctuary with its design of Hotel Liberty in Offenburg, Germany. The notion that being locked up offers protection served as the foundation for the former prison’s transformation into a 38-key boutique retreat, which debuted as a member of Design Hotels earlier this fall.

Hotel Liberty | Konrad Knoblauch GmbH | Design Hotels

Hotel Liberty. All photos: Courtesy of Design Hotels and Konrad Knoblauch GmbH

Originally designed by German architect Heinrich Hübsch in the 1840s, the building served as a jail until 2009. After sitting vacant for a time, the property underwent a three-year redesign that melds traditional craftwork with contemporary touches and is defined by wide corridors, natural materials and a nearly 33-ft.-high glass wall that provides a modern juxtaposition to the historic red sandstone facade.

Hotel Liberty | Konrad Knoblauch GmbH | Design Hotels

Designed to visually connect the property’s two existing wings and mimic the former prison yard, that glass box extension is home to a semi-public lounge on the mezzanine level that’s reminiscent of a prisoners’ common room. A massive bookcase spanning several floors improves the acoustics of the soaring glass structure while playing up the free-time theme.

Our main goal was to transform a place with a burdened heritage into something memorable and lighthearted …

In lieu of traditional carpet, the Markdorf-based designers incorporated a pattern milled into the concrete floor to blend with the building’s original materials without visual borders or tripping hazards.

Hotel Liberty | Konrad Knoblauch GmbH | Design Hotels

The designers’ revamp called not only for taking a tongue-in-cheek approach to the building’s past life as an involuntary home for radical thinkers riding the wave of liberalism that spread across Europe after the French Revolution; it also required an emphasis on its history’s few glimmers of hope, including its origin during the rise of industrialization.

Hotel Liberty | Konrad Knoblauch GmbH | Design Hotels

Robust materials and dark gray surfaces reflect mechanization. A large grill with a brass golden-colored hood at the heart of the hotel’s restaurant, Wasser & Brot, references increased meat consumption during that bygone era. Freestanding bathtubs and mounted washbasins are a subtle nod to running water, another advancement synonymous with 19th century Germany.

Hotel Liberty | Konrad Knoblauch GmbH | Design Hotels

Original stonework also plays an integral part in the aesthetics of the rooms and suites, which were profiled as part of the “Form Fitters” feature in Boutique Design’s November edition. Further referencing the building’s past and reinforcing the security mantra, the cells’ 4-ft.-thick walls were left intact, and old cell doors were cleverly integrated into the new contemporary layout. Artwork handpicked by Hotel Liberty’s owners—entrepreneurial brothers Christian and Dietmar Funk—grace the walls, showing off the creativity of the city’s resident artist Stefan Strumbel.

Hotel Liberty | Konrad Knoblauch GmbH | Design Hotels

“Our main goal was to transform a place with a burdened heritage into something memorable and lighthearted—a place where guests feel good but are still aware of the meaningful space around them,” says Katja Scharnagel, the interior designer at Konrad Knoblauch who was responsible for Hotel Liberty’s creative, project and site management. “We learned how to use the architectural conditions and grabbed the opportunities the property offered.”