Towards a New Hotel

Kelly Chan Kelly Chan

1960’s postcard from the original “Hyatt House Hotel” in
Seattle, Washington, which offered 125 new luxurious rooms, heated Olympic pool, banquet, dining, lounge, 24-hour coffee shop, beauty and barber shops, televisions and radio in every room. Image via.

There was a time when the American hotel offered fairly standard experiences to choose from: those who had the means could spring for the pampered “Home Alone 2” treatment, opting for a marble-floored lobby, Olympic-sized pool, and name brand toiletries, or the more utilitarian traveler could find a familiar sign on the road in the seeming middle of nowhere and suffice with patterned carpets and curtains and splurge on a continental breakfast and mini-fridge soda. Minor variations existed between these two poles.

But things have since changed. According to the Wall Street Journal, drastically shifting economies and lifestyle norms have produced a group of “homeless” travelers: people who sojourn in far-off cities for months at a time for work assignments or medical treatments, newly divorced individuals, and relocating families stuck in “housing limbo, unable to buy a home in their new city until the old one sells.” International travelers riding on economic booms from abroad also fall into this category of long-term hotel guests, as rising incomes in countries like Brazil allow for increased vacation time. A surge in so-called “extended-stay guests” has yielded innovative new forms and practices in the industry, including new ideas of luxury and wholly new kinds of hotels.

A rendering of a standard Hyatt House studio room. Note kitchen island and ample lounge space.Image courtesy the architects.

While hotels once shunned long-term guests, many are now looking to attract this exact group of nesters to fill their empty rooms. The effort has spurred the development of increasingly “homey” lodgings: hotels that provide extended wardrobe space, offer dog-walking services, and even alter fruit bowl selections and turnover service habits to meet individual needs.

Stonehill & Taylor, the architects behind New York’s darling Ace Hotel, have even teamed up with Hyatt to create a chain of hotels tailored explicitly for the extended-stay traveler. The new “Hyatt House” seeks to provide an environment for guests to comfortably call home; ritzy interiors are replaced with custom furnishings where guests can both lounge and work, lobby chairs are outfitted with plugs for laptops and swivel for selective privacy, and the ubiquitous mini-fridge is replaced by a kitchenette with an island, a design feature that is arguably the hearth of the contemporary home. Cozy communal areas with mini markets on the ground floor and courtyard access also offer spaces for guests to mingle with their own friends or to build an extended-stay community.

Custom furniture for the Hyatt House includes this modernist throwback chair with an extended armrest and plug for laptops.Image courtesy the architects.

As we are seeing more and more, the hospitality industry is adopting new experimental forms to accommodate an increasingly diverse demographic. While hotels like Hyatt are courting a clientele of extended-stay guests, chains like Yotel are moving in the opposite direction, taking cues from Japan and stripping the hotel experience to its supposedly bare yet aesthetically spectacular minimum. Meanwhile, global networks like Airbnb harness the connective power of the Internet to offer temporarily unoccupied residences to travelers looking for more local flavor. The once fairly standard forms of the hotel have frayed into an incredible new range of social spaces, and it will be fascinating to see how architecture and design, in their visible and invisible forms, will redefine the way we live and travel.

Luxury and technology meet in the Metabolist spin-off “Yotel” in Times Square, New York.