Just as the clothes make the man, so the furniture makes the hotel room. Regular travellers will know all about the standard fare that awaits them in most hotel rooms – the nondescript desk, the unshapely chair that will be used only as a home for discarded clothes, and the overly capacious wardrobe that will, most probably, remain standing empty.
As travellers have more choice, and so expect more of an experience from their stays, it’s clear the identikit hotel room pieces are no longer enough. Hotels everywhere are reacting to this, ditching the safe option for everything from bespoke designs and unconventional pieces to a charmingly hodge-podge mix of contemporary furniture and lighting mixed with vintage pieces.
Austin Motel, in Texas, recently worked with designer Liz Lambert on a total revamp, foregoing the ever-popular minimalism in favour of riotously patterned wallpaper, bright orange upholstered headboards, and pops of colour dotted around the space. Lambert chose furniture for each of the rooms to match the hotel’s mid-century vibe, and installed playfully phallic-shaped coat hooks. New York firm Grzywinski + Pons tackled London’s Leman Locke with a similarly bold hand, replacing standard pieces with pastel colours, soft upholstery and lighting that feels more at place in someone’s own bedroom than a hotel room.
Hotel group De Bergenske has also been extolling the virtues of great design, working with Stockholm studio Claesson Koivisto Rune on a whole series of Bergen hotels that mix bespoke pieces with carefully chosen furniture classics. In a joking nod to the city’s rainy climate, the group even added raindrop-patterned curtains to one hotel, and borrowed prints from men’s tailoring for textiles in another – as a reference to the building’s former life as a stock exchange.
And it’s not just city hotels that are making a statement with design. Mexico’s Papaya Playa Resort recently added a treehouse suite to its collection, designing plush interiors with wooden beams and flooring, built-in seating and suitably rustic light shades and towel racks – a far cry from what you might expect from a room in the middle of a jungle. Furniture can also be a key part of experiential offerings, with Casa Malca in Tulum – formerly the home of Pablo Escobar – transformed into a hybrid hotel and art gallery, with striking interiors filled with collectors’ items and furniture.
The point all of these make is that high-end hotels looking to inject more character should start looking not to their counterparts, but to more unexpected places for inspiration.
A glimpse at what the future might hold also comes from a group of Swiss industrial design students, who created a set of decidedly bizarre pieces that suggest the next generation of hotel furniture might be expected to do just a little more. Their fanciful designs include a headboard that folds down into a backrest, a chaise longue with modular pillows that can be used around the room, and a sliding, adjustable table that clips onto the bed – suggested use, for keeping your cocktail in reach.
Others are setting their sights on improving single elements; in 2016 Spanish design studio Papila partnered with furniture brand Bustper to offer an entirely fresh take on the ubiquitous hotel mini bar.
“We did extensive research around the concept of drinks cabinet, but the majority of times it is just a little fridge with four wooden covers”, explains the studio. “It doesn’t take into account ergonomics, accessibility, experience the different moments of use… for that reason we investigated the uses and needs in a hotel room, to be able to join them in a single piece of furniture.”
Rather than hiding it away, Papila created a set of bright green and orange cabinets designed to form a centrepiece for the room. These units come in several options, including smaller versions with space for a mini fridge and storage, and larger pieces that also contain sound systems and a fold-out door that doubles as a shelf.
“Normally there is a very standard type of furniture, which creates rooms and spaces with no personality or atmosphere”, adds the studio. “These spaces can be unpleasant and unwelcoming.”
It’s obvious that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach, but what is even more clear is that hotels are having to step increasingly outside of their comfort zone to create spaces that are both comfortable, individual, and memorable. That’s where the designer steps in.
Emma Tucker is a freelance writer and editor specialising in design and visual culture. She has written for publications including Eye on Design, Dezeen, Creative Review, Grafik, The Pitch, The Spaces, Wrap and Riposte.