News and Trends, Travel

#21DaysofTrends: Hotel Essentialism

What do you really need for the perfect hotel stay? The people behind the game-changing Ace Hotel group think they know.

Brian W Ferry

Hotel Essentialism | House and Leisure

Founded in 1999 in Seattle, the Ace Hotel group has had a profound effect on the way hotels are designed and how they operate. From the start, its room offerings were created to accommodate groups of friends travelling together as well as the usual couples and single travellers. Plus, they were decked out more like smartened up yet retro dorm rooms than traditional hotel spaces – complete with vinyl record players and guitars, in some cases.

Ace Hotels are also situated in historical buildings that were given high-end renovations, but don’t offer the usual ‘luxuries’ of room service and evening turndowns. Instead, they team up with hipper-than-hip restaurateurs and coffee makers, asking them to open venues in their hotels. In New York’s Ace Hotel, for example, they got star chef April Bloomfield to open The Breslin, which rapidly became one of the city’s most acclaimed restaurants, and asked Stumptown Coffee Roasters to create the in-house coffee shop. 

Crucially and from the start, Ace Hotels rethought the previously sterile hotel lobby as a space that’s a vibrant communal area where you can catch up with a friend or do some work on your own. They went out of their way to welcome the growing cadre of freelance creatives and digital workers in the cities in which they opened. Plus, the hotels host DJs, bands and other types of performers in their lobby spaces. In short, the group seeks ‘to embrace the cities we’re in by building spaces for collective gathering’, as it declares on its website.

It has worked, and brilliantly. ‘The Ace’ rapidly became a super-cool place to stay – or to eat, or simply to hang out – in the highly competitive cities in which it opened. The group’s ethos and design ideas also became extremely influential, with many of these being reproduced by competitors ranging from fellow start-ups such as the Hoxton and Citizen M hotels, to the massive chain hotel groups that rule the world of corporate travel.

Hotel Essentialism | House and LeisureHotel Essentialism | House and Leisure

Now, 20 years on, the Ace group is doing something completely new. And given its game-changing record, we think it’s worth paying attention. Last year, we started hearing about a new venture called Sister City. It was all about ‘a new kind of hotel experience’, apparently, and from the start, its ethos seemed very different from the already classic Ace approach.

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Hotel Essentialism | House and Leisure

For starters, Sister City’s Instagram feed began by putting out monochrome pictures of building textures. Then it switched to a soft colour palette. Over a period of months, it gradually revealed – without actually saying that this was what it was doing – the conceptual process of creating a new hotel. It was, as its website now states, the start of an attempt to create ‘a hotel distilled to its most beautiful parts’.

What do you really need from a hotel? What, in other words, is ‘essential’ to a good stay? Sister City – which has just opened on the Bowery, one of Manhattan’s most famous streets – might well have found out. It’s minimalist and determinedly simple. It’s inspired by ‘the functional perfection of Finnish saunas, Japanese bento boxes, rock-cut cliff dwellings of prehistory and John Cage’s 4’33”,’ says the hotel. And, they boldly claim, it’s ‘a new prototype for compassionate hospitality where efficiency and beauty find union’. 

Watch that space, fellow lovers of special travel experiences (and all the hoteliers out there), because something that could just be the next biggest trend in hotels is happening here. Suffice it to say that we know where we’ll be staying the next time we’re in New York City. 

Hotel Essentialism | House and LeisureHotel Essentialism | House and Leisure
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