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What to expect when you stay in a “lean luxury” hotel

Quartz logo Quartz 09/02/2019 Rosie Spinks
a bedroom with a bed in a room: hotel room the hoxton © Provided by Atlantic Media, Inc. hotel room the hoxton

Luxury ain’t want it used to be, and nowhere is that more true than hotels. From tiny hotels to lobbies as co-working spaces, all-on-display bathrooms to high-brow hostels, lean luxury is the new aesthetic.

By cutting back on both the size of the rooms (farewell giant desk fit for a 1980s office) and some of the more costly amenities of a traditional luxury hotel, hospitality companies can offer better locations, a design-led sensibility with higher quality materials, and an altogether elevated experience—for a pretty damn reasonable price. They also tend to look way better on Instagram.

But if you come expecting capital-L Luxury, the drop-off can be jarring.

Where once you had glass bottles of mineral water, now you might have filtered water in the lobby to refill your stainless steel water bottle. A wakeup call from your in-room landline may now be replaced by a USB plug on your nightstand for your smartphone alarm. A cavernous wardrobe may be abstemiously replaced with hooks and a few hangers.

a group of people sitting at a table in front of a building: Instagram Photo © Provided by Atlantic Media, Inc. Instagram Photo

The likes of Ace Hotel and The Hoxton are early standard-bearers of the trend, while bloggers like The Innbox show how it’s possible to travel the world staying in thoroughly appealing hotels across the world that cost less than $300 a night. Even the big hotel chains such as Marriott and Hilton are taking shots at emulating the lean aesthetic. Though this trend is often described as catering to millennials, there’s no reason that everyone can’t get involved.

So how can you enjoy getting lean when you leave home? Here’s a guide.

A sense of place

If you wanted to feel like you were in any old corporate chain, well, you would’ve stayed at one. Instead, the lean luxury vibe is all about giving you a sense of place, or the feeling of “living like a local.”

This can be done via the materials used, accents in the room, or a hotel bar that is filled with people who actually live in the city you’re in, explains Vince Stroop, an architect and hospitality designer.

“The reason why things like that come across as luxurious to that millennial mindset traveler is that what they’re really looking for is something that has that feeling of being crafted, or from a maker, or some kind of group that is local or regional to the area,” he says.

Whether it’s a minibar stocked with local craft brews or locally raised lambswool on the bed, the point is to help you engage further with the place you visited—not retreat from it. So keep your eyes open and get stuck in.

Lean amenities

So what are these amenities that the lean luxury hotelier strips back? It varies, but often it can be room service or a full-service restaurant—replaced by the likes of Deliveroo, Seamless, or Uber Eats. Maybe it’s in-room offerings like an iron, tea kettle, or a bathrobe (though you can often call reception and ask for one). Human interactions—with a concierge, check-in, or turn-down services—are kept to a minimal. And an in-room landline might even be replaced by a guest services mobile phone number. The once-obligatory (and rarely used) hotel gym and business center are generally long gone. In hotels like the Hoxton, guests on a budget can even opt for a “shoebox room” with a single bed.

a living room: Instagram Photo © Provided by Atlantic Media, Inc. Instagram Photo

If it sounds austere, you need to remember what you’re getting in return: If done right, a more soulful, rooted, and thoughtfully-designed experience. And of course, if your needs really aren’t met, friendly customer service that can help you solve the problem.

Artistry meets function

Lean luxury aims to be far more functional and user-experience-oriented than a standard grand hotel room. While the room may be smaller, space is optimized and well thought-through. The wifi doesn’t take 90 minutes to get working properly. There aren’t five panels of light switches to get through to turn off your night stand lamp. There is no decorative and scratchy throw on the bed for you to immediately remove.

Instead, clean lines, minimal fussiness, and functional design lead the ethos. When done right, says Stroop, this functionality is met by an artistry that takes the whole experience into account—from fundamentals to flourish.

“By not having some of those standard components, it gives the guest flexibility, and they can arrange the room and live in the room that they want to,” Stroop said. “It’s sort of like that [Marie Kondo] mindset of where if it’s in there, it better be special and unique and add to my experience of being in the room, not there just because.”

Gallery: The most romantic hotels to book for Valentine's Day [Harper's Bazaar UK]


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