The Hotel Revolution Is In Full Swing... And It's Looking A Bit Like Your Front Room

17 July 2019
Home, Design, Living, Holiday, Hotels, Interiors
Illustration: Michael Hoeweler
Design has transformed today’s hotels into the stuff that dreams are made of, says Rue Kothari

Where are you reading this? Languishing in bed in a staycation suite? On a short hop to Barcelona, or en route to a fortnight of unbridled joy in Mykonos?

The world is so accessible to us nowadays, with cheap, frequent flights to every corner of the globe, it’s possible to satisfy your wanderlust and design a summer that suits you. Focusing on the destination is one thing, but it’s often so much more than that. How you get there and your intent for travel may be about more than just putting your feet up and getting a tan; conscious travel is defining how more of us are choosing to spend our free time.

Truth is, the vast generic sprawl of the big brand hotel has become utterly obsolete. Back in the 1970s when the package holiday concept was in full swing, the mere fact that you were staying in a hotel, pegged into some scruffy shoreline, was a treat. Now we’re more discerning, aspiring to transcendent experiences that reflect who we want to be.

Where and how you holiday says as much about you as the clothes you wear, or the home you live in. There are now so many ways to stay when you travel – from Airbnb and traditional homestays to independent boutique hotels and upscale hostels for savvy millennials – that lodging decisions have become intensely subjective.

This desire for a highly customised experience is forcing evolution in the hotel industry. Brands like the Edition grill you on your preferences before you arrive to deliver a stay that ticks all your boxes. Groups like Firmdale, led by designer Kit Kemp, individualise their boutique hotels with distinctive design detailing to create the feeling that you’re staying somewhere utterly unique. And a whole new league of smaller luxury hotel brands are harnessing innovation and smart technology to give you a seamless experience with all the comforts of home. Take Life House for example, a new hotel concept boasting an app that allows guests to connect with and meet other people staying in the hotel, or residents who can guide them to the best local experiences. A kind of hotel-meets-dating app. I can see how that might work.

At the heart of many of these changes lies the concept of community. With the explosion of choice has come the need to find your tribe, the unique global nook in which you feel most cosy, where you belong and feel recognised. Integrating authentic elements of the local culture into the experience of your stay; embracing local traditions, craft, materials and objects helps to root the design of the space and services in its environment. Being a social hub is at the heart of all this. Eco hotel Salt in Mauritius has opened under the lofty premise that it wants to connect modern explorers with meaningful travel experiences. Stay there and you could experience a traditional feast, meet artisans or even attend a neighbourhood family wedding.

The biggest movement in the design of hotels is the idea that we’re all looking for a home away from home. Forgive me for thinking that holidays are about getting away from things we live with daily, but it seems we actually want to take them with us. And rather than attempting to pack your Nespresso machine and 500-thread count sheets, hotels like London’s Connaught are providing home comforts as part of the package – so if tinkling the ivories of a baby grand piano while Jean-Georges delivers a pizza to your door is your usual Friday night in, then this place is for you. In fact, the ‘Deliveroo factor’ seems to be pervading all the new luxe concepts lately. Even The Atheneum’s new 14-bedroom Townhouse Residences come with room service from the Michelin-starred Galvin brothers. Well, why wouldn’t they?

New hotel lobbies are being transformed into ‘living rooms’. Operators are collaborating with brands like, who opened a hotel in Manhattan’s NoMad three years ago. Even Muji has hopped on board, opening three hotels in three years; the latest to slide open its tatami doors will be in Tokyo’s glistening Ginza – you can stay in a minimally designed serene space, and take the futon, feather pillows and shampoo bottle home with you. No unauthorised stealing of the bathrobe necessary.

Far and away my favourite though, is the new fad for ‘boatels’: a hotel that’s a boat. If you have been aboard the Dubai-docked QE2, it’s not really news – but it has spawned a few followers: Fingal moored in Edinburgh with 23 chic little cabins, there’s Monkey Island on the south-west coast of England with its own floating spa, and London’s design-friendly concept The Boathouse. Personally, I’m hoping this concept gathers steam with more quirky executions as far from a luxury ocean liner as it’s possible to get.

So, while you apply another coat of suntan lotion, prop up your pillows or order another fizzy grape juice from the Emirates cabin crew, give some thought to where you’ll holiday next – chances are, it’ll be better by design.