At the age of twelve, environmentalist and philanthropist Petter A. Stordalen became Norway’s top seller of strawberries. Today, he‘s not only preserving the environment, he’s reshaping it with an island hotel that’s setting a new standard for sustainability, art, and architecture.

There is something so convincingly optimistic about 50-year-old Norwegian hotelier Petter A. Stordalen. It’s as if his involvement in the Tjuvholmen project—an ambitious idea of turning a once-tiny islet (now a peninsula) in Oslo into a major center of urban renewal—was somehow predestined. A man fuelled by ebullient optimism, ...

“Hotels will always be about the people who work there. It’s what gives them their spirit.”

... Stordalen instinctually recognized what this once derelict site—a former den of vagabonds known in the 18th-century as “Thief Island”—could deliver. “It was the perfect place for a hotel like the one I wanted to create,” says Stordalen. “I’m a proud hotel nerd, and this time I knew I had to do something new, something I’d never done before. I wanted The Thief to lead the way in the redemption of the area. Once the scene of shady dealings, it has become one of the hottest districts in Scandinavia—or as I like to phrase it, ‘The New Oslo’.”

Stordalen says the best advice he ever received was "to focus on what you have and to make the most of it. In other words, don’t worry about what everyone else has. That’s a waste of energy. Eye your own possibilities, not limitations,” he says.

This philosophy neatly summarizes—if a little too simply—how a 12-year-old boy went from being cited in 1974 as Norway’s “best local strawberry seller” in the newspaper Porsgrunns Dagblad, to becoming one of Scandinavia’s most successful businesspeople with an estimated personal net worth of $1.2 billion, according to the 2012 Forbes List of Billionaires. Stordalen, 50, currently owns 171 hotels under the company Nordic Choice Hotels and is a major property developer. The Stordalen empire also encompasses a huge philanthropic endeavor, The Stordalen Foundation, inaugurated in 2011, with the intention of helping tackle climate change (on that point, Stordalen has been known to chain himself to a nuclear treatment plant to show his passion for the environment—he did this in the UK in 2002—and has had his Ferrari rebuilt so it runs on biofuel).

His newest project, The Thief, opening January 9, 2013, is at the center of a neighborhood hopping with business, art, nightlife, culture and some of the most dazzling examples of modern European architecture—including the Renzo Piano-designed Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art, which is situated next door to Stordalen’s aptly named hotel, The Thief. Smack on the waterfront (and with a hotel boat during summer months to shuttle guests about), this new $110 million hotel (the highest room cost, bar none, in Scandinavia) has been sustainably constructed and designed by prizewinning Mellbye Architechts.

From the 360-degree rooftop suite with a garden, to the six meeting rooms, Champagne bar and restaurant for wholesome Norwegian cuisine, The Thief is a destination hotel in the heart of a city’s new center that also provides space for a retreat. Because Tjuvholmen is not only car-free; it has some two kilometers of seafront, a sculpture park, and a beach—a combination that even Paris, London, and New York put together can’t beat, which was a fact not lost on Stordalen when he saw in this muddy old harbor an exciting new identity.

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