Are Hotels Taking Minimalism Too Far?

July 26, 2017

Back in 2010, a book called The 100 Thing Challenge began flying off the shelves. It’s a personal story about the power of de-cluttering, and a call to action for readers who feel weighed down by the accumulation of material possessions. Readers are challenged to ask themselves: Could I be happier with only 100 things?


This publication, of course, is but one example of a larger cultural trend. There are countless books, blogs, and TV shows devoted to minimalism — and the tally is growing. Huge corporations like Apple and Ikea make it their business to strip away that which no longer serves, and (ostensibly) to restore focus on productivity and enjoyment.


Minimalism has gained traction in the hospitality business for many of the same reasons. Today, more guests than ever prefer “clean lines” and simple, sparse furnishings. A tasteful, uncomplicated room that creates a sense of openness and tight organization will usually fare better than a clumsy collection of heavy furniture. Freshness and modernity have become synonymous with a sleek, minimalistic feel. The fact that millennials are out in full force obviously plays a role in this. That of course, and increasing pressure to reduce the cost to build per room.


But hotels have another good reason to embrace the minimalist trend. Square footage is getting more expensive all the time, especially in urban areas. If the utilization of vertical space and sleek furniture can make rooms more spacious (let’s not forget how lucky we are to have flat screen televisions), everybody wins. The guest feels more comfortable, the hotel makes better use of space, and competitive price points lead to more consistent occupancy rates.


As a result, minimalist hotel chains are popping up all over the place: Alt, CitizenM, Radisson Red, Planet Red, 25hours, Aloft, Cloud 7, and the list goes on. It’s tempting to think this is clearly the future of hotel design — and to a certain extent, perhaps it is. Guest rooms are stripped down to bare essentials while common spaces are amplified and accented.


But experienced hoteliers know that trends — whether related to design, service, amenities, promotion, or any other aspect of our trade — are best approached with healthy skepticism. The minimalist instinct can be taken too far, and it won’t always produce a net-positive effect on the guest experience. Just search “hotel design too sterile” and you’ll see complaints from all over the world. The service may have been good, the staff friendly, and the price fair — but if the interior feels cold and empty, people don’t want to come back.


This is precisely the risk we run by moving too far in the direction of minimalism and ultra-modern or “industrial” design. In our attempt to get rid of outdated concepts, we run the risk of eroding the central virtues of warmth, character, and a feeling of hospitality.


Here are three example of international hotels who have approached minimalism in a balanced and inspiring way:


The Oyster Inn, Waiheki Island


The whitewashed walls are offset by vaulted ceilings, and the furnishings, although sparse, seem carefully selected to make guests feel welcome. Granted, this is a holiday property — but the warm approach to minimalism is worth noting.


The Beekman, New York City


Stylish leather headboards and “curious vintage furnishings” have made this a popular fixture in lower Manhattan. Classic ‘New York style’ is present in abundance, yet nothing feels cumbersome or out of place.


Atix Hotel, La Paz


Tasteful wooden panels offset the white walls, while a few pieces of colorful art decorate the walls. Alpaca blankets crafted by regional artisans, and other local touches, lend an important sense of character to this five-star study in minimalism.


Minimalism is a balance for hoteliers


The problem with challenging ourselves to become more minimalistic is that we end up taking a paradoxical, obsessive approach to the idea of paring things down. In the complicated business of hotel design, we do want to save space. We do want to give our guests more of what they need, and less of what they don’t. We do want to save square footage and make rooms more spacious. But we don’t want to strip away the character of our interiors for the sake of being minimalist. “Make things as simple as possible,” said Albert Einstein, “but no simpler.”



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