13 May 2019

A Craft Hotel Experience

At the swipe of an app, the click of a button or the tap of some keys, we can all discover the latest hot-spot for our last minute, or extensively planned getaway. These over-populated, and often over-rated experiences, however, are not what we talk about when we get back from our time away. In fact, what we can’t wait to tell our colleagues and friends about, is the Burger Joint we discovered behind the velvet curtain at Le Parker Meridien in NYC in an unsuspecting office tower. With its graffiti-covered walls, 1920’s laminate booths and men in vests flipping cheeseburger patties behind the counter, it looks likes it been there for over 50 years and the entire hotel was built around it. I guess we will never know if this is true. We also can’t be sure who has been to this joint before us, but it sure feels like we have stumbled across something truly unique. We have a story to tell and something to rave about when we get home.

Since the 1950’s, hotels have been categorised based on a star rating system. Depending on the country you are in, and the organisation associations, this could mean a number of things including the number of restaurants on offer; the spa facilities; the size and variation of the guestrooms, and the amenities available, as well as ease of access and location. Hotels have generally been considered a place to rest your head, and as such, a five-star hotel has fundamentally been the physical embodiment of luxury. I believe its time that the core definition of luxury returns to an emotional service. Forget the hipster barista who is characteristically too cool to smile – I want the bar tender who greets me with a funny anecdote and remembers to prepare that bottle of wine I order every time I visit, even if visits are months or potentially years apart.

The Upper House (Image: Right), Hong Kong, remains one of my favourite modern, luxury hotels since my first stay in 2012 as it starts to move beyond the physical. Designed by Andre Fu, with its contemporary Oriental design and subtle Japanese undertones, it creates an understated feeling of a home away from home. A personal greeting on arrival as I step out of the car, my private concierge to check me in at my room and 24/7 service at the touch of a button all amount to one of the most enjoyable and personalised experiences I have had. The free ‘Maxi bar’ brimming with snacks, my pre-determined drink of choice chilling in my room, and don’t even get me started on the corner suite upgrade boasting views over the rolling hills of Hong Kong from my bath tub. To this day, I still receive what feel like personalised emails from the property, checking in with me and my travels.

Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan, founded in 705 in Japan, is officially recognised as the oldest hotel in the world. It has been continuously operated by 52 generations of the same family and has had all its hot water sourced directly from the local Hakuho Springs giving it a physical connection to its context and heritage. The hotel boasts an unchanged hospitality from 705 until now which doesn’t surprise me. The Japanese are experts within the world of hospitality and the majority of their boutique hotels are recognised as ‘guest houses’. They physically and emotionally embody exactly that; by inviting guests into their local culture and ultimately into their family for the night they are providing a home away from home. A stay in a Japanese guesthouse offers a unique and more often emotionally personalised experience.

Image Above: The Yangon Excelsior, Myanmar. The conversion of a 1930’s post office into a boutique hotel.

I think the hotel of the future embodies all aspects of the past and the future. It is inspired by its heritage, informed by local culture and led by innovation. For me, great design, encourages seamless usability and allows the guest to see beyond the physical embodiment, and into the emotional experience of a property and its surroundings. It is something we want our guests to speak about for years to come. With this in mind, we can start to understand the unique experiences our guests crave.

The ‘Craft’ hotel experience of the future becomes more emotive and less quantifiable. Hotel design is becoming less about the ‘bling’ and more about the authenticity and the craftsmanship. In the same way a craft whisky from Japan uses the finest wood and ingredients to create something unique and ground breaking outside of the traditional aged barrel; as Hotel designers, we must redefine the perception of luxury and a tell a story which feels personal to each and every guest.

At Design BY QU we use design as a tool to tell a story from a true history, heritage and provenance. We work with our clients, developers and operators to unearth the secrets beneath their Hotel and provide guests with a craft experience which they will want to rave about and claim as their own personal discovery. We encourage the balance of the finest local materials, manufactures and designers, with quiet moments bringing the location to the forefront. A property should evolve over time with each new guest discovering it, and adding to its canvas, and allow returning guests to experience a unique combination of surprise alongside that familiar sense of returning home.

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