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Smaller is Smarter: The Rise of Micro Hotels

In 2017, the interior design team at Scott Carver launched Fifteen, a 15sqm micro hotel concept decked out with a bed, a view, a glass-encased bath and a closet. What it lacked in floor space, it made up for brilliance: a desk conveniently folds back into the wall when unused, allowing the user to sit on the upholstered ottoman set beside—unexpectedly—a bar counter. When needed, the table extends back, outfitted with LED lights and its own shelf, made to stash books and journals. And just when one thinks designing small could not go any further, the marbled green counter keeps many secrets. Pulling its rounded-edge door reveals a hidden espresso machine, and storage for cups and saucers.

Team director Angela Biddle—who has two decades of creatively inspired environments under her belt—led the production of this vision as a response to Sydney’s ever-growing needs for living and leisure, and to the ever-shrinking space due to availability and cost. The result is stunning. The visually remarkable design is paired off with conveniences and contrivances; it even has a gallery of art parading above the narrow mantle.

Today’s generation has a new perspective in space: extra meters take a backseat in turn for comfort and a clear branding narrative. Unused corners become counter-productive. Long walks to the bathroom? Unnecessary. Smart design offsets one’s requirement for an airier room without cutting down on luxury. And Fifteen, as it seems, brims with it.

The muted palette adds a nice touch of modernity to Fifteen.
The muted palette adds a nice touch of modernity to Fifteen.
Fifteen is a project of Scott Carver.

That comes off as no surprise; the concept is helmed from the similarly opulent interiors of a yacht. With help from Eric Desjardins of McConaghy Boats, Briddle and her team managed to create an aesthetic with bespoke items and not compromise on quality. Everything is visually harmonious—from the seafoam green and mauve palette, the natural wood floors and the mid-century details. There is fluidity to Fifteen in terms of movement; one wakes up, rises from the bed, takes a seat in front of the counter for their morning coffee. And then, bath. The closet stands right beside the door—a narrow storage the houses a few change of clothing and shoes tucked neatly inside. Everything is accessible, versatile, and intuitive. Furniture adjusts according to the guests’ needs.

Just like Fifteen, many hotels are cutting back on their room breadths. Larger brands, even, are considering rooms as compact as 18sqm metres. Less of the space, more thoughtfulness.

Fifteen, however, isn’t the first.

Where it all began

Amsterdam-helmed citizenM brought one of the first micro hotel experiences in New York long before it was a trend. It was perfect; jetsetters find a quick home in the already-cramped New York without spending too much on many of its lavish Manhattan hotels. Accessibility becomes the heart of the brand—something most millennials demand. 

Founded by Michael Levie and Rattan Chadha, the citizenM opened its first hotel near the Schiphol Airport in 2008, affording travellers a cheap but cosy stay-in during their stops. The New York version echoes its original ancestor; one could recognize it from its black framed, square glass windowed structure, looking like a pile of cubes assembled symmetrically atop each other.

Inside, however, is more than that. A vibrant lobby—made livelier with a Julian Opie artwork—welcomes guests before they head into one of its 230 signature guest rooms, each one ranging under 14sqm. Inside the private enclaves, all of Manhattan’s noise (and extravagance) is watered down into personal, almost bare basics: oversized beds decked with large pillows, blinds for the windows, mini-fridges and small desks for one to write. All rooms are the same and serves a purpose: a good sleep in a private stay.

The red, black and white motif makes this micro hotel modern.
The red, black and white motif makes this micro hotel modern.
Image from CitizenM.

Straightforward sleep

Micro hotels are just descendants of an older concept: the capsule hotels, a brilliant trend that emerged from the smart, space-saving entrepreneurs of Japan. Kisho Kurokawa launched the first one in 1979, the Capsule Inn Osaka, a stack of private bunk beds enclosed in small glass-windowed doors (akin to a washing machine), which houses a bed and bared-down necessities. There are no tables, no desk. Like a personal locker, one finds their bed number and slinks into a tiny space, where they could steal their quick naps before heading their way. For the claustrophobic, this might not be a good choice for an overnight stay, but for the adventurous, slumbering inside the small pods will ignite futuristic dreams, for the beds seem to be inspired from edgy, sci-fi novels. Private cubicles are equipped with small lockers, lights, electronic outlets, and blinds to shut the window with. At some capsule hotels, there are also private radios or TV. Bathrooms are communal.

Japan’s capsule hotels might be the epitome of cute, but time and technology added a modern-day tinge to these small cubbies. First Cabin in Kyoto, for example, is reminiscent of an airplane’s first class suite, complete with a television, Wi-Fi and other amenities. Train Hostel Hokutusei, on the other hand, mimicks the bunkers in sleeper trains, complete with curtains and velvetty cushions. At Shinjuku, 9h (nine hours) is a fast-forward stack of bed cubicles that takes a page off space shuttles. With Narita Airport close by, the hotel makes sleep stops accessible and visually pleasurable.

There are micro hotels, capsule hotels, and there’s Sleepbox, an emerging brand that provides rest in a box, whether it is an individual lounge, or as an assembled hotel. Sleepboxes are placed beside the world’s busiest airports, offering on-demand rest for quick-paced jetsetters to get their much-needed naps, recharge, and then head back to their destination with new energy.

Handsome sleep modules placed in busy airports makes a convenient solution to jet lags.
Handsome sleep modules placed in busy airports makes a convenient solution to jet lags.
Image from Sleepbox

Considered as a larger capsule hotel, Sleepboxes are modular rooms that come complete with a bed, an LCD television, a removable desk space, LED lighting and electrical outlets for device recharging. All this, enclosed in a cleanly-designed box with round edges, showcasing a smart, congenial appeal with its wooden exteriors and white accents. The interiors range from 30-45 square feet. Founded by Mikhail Krymov and Peter Chambers, the 2011 brand can now be seen all across the globe, including many notable airports in Asia, Europe and US.

Does size matter?

Bigger is not better. In this fast-paced generation where stopovers are as swift as a few heartbeats, tech conveniences and basic comforts become priorities for jetsetters. Busy places are constantly overcrowded—and overpriced. But with these emerging trends in the hospitality niche, one can say that good things come in small packages.

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Adriana Siso

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