A hotel room can break your heart or it can make it soar. It may be brand-new, fresh from a refurbishment or looking as tired as you feel at the end of a long journey. What's inside can leave you wowed, disappointed or underwhelmed.
In fact, choosing that room, according to leading Sydney interior designer Nic Graham, is often "like looking on Tinder," in that "you're looking for that one image [on the internet] that captures your imagination.
"Then you think, 'Oh f--k it, I'll spend the extra 50 bucks on this one because it's a better location or a bigger room or it's got a sexy bath.' You've committed by looking at a sexy pic that could be seven years old. Then you walk in and it's, 'Holy shit, this is what I signed up for? It's completely different."
Graham says many hotels do a minor "refresh" – perhaps replacing cushions, throws and accessories – after a year. Perhaps there's a four-year maintenance cycle for rugs and floorboards; every five years the owner might be contractually obliged to repaint and re-carpet rooms.
One increasingly popular refresh, says Graham, is to create custom digitalised wallpaper that's applied over existing wallpaper. So what do designers such as Graham and others consider when choosing these furnishings and fixtures, and creating a room's layout?
"The room you design for a single business person travelling for a one- or two-night stay is quite different to the room you design for a family on holiday where they're going to be lounging around the room," Melbourne designer Penny del Castillo says.
Designers must adhere to brand standards – a tub, a shower door or two basins, for instance, might be mandatory inclusions – and keep the budget top of mind during the concept stage but "typically we're given free rein to come back to them with our interpretation of the location," she says.
She usually presents two concepts to a group of three to six decision-makers, including "one who's paying the bills". "There's a lot of mix and match [of concepts] but it brings about conversation," she says.
Pick designers' brains from here and around the world further, as Traveller has done, and you'll realise these hotel trendsetters, these prophets of room, as it were, share strikingly similar ideas, especially when it comes to the hotel room of the future.
STEWART ROBERTSON, BAR STUDIO, MELBOURNE
Rosewood Beijing. Photo: Durston Saylor
PORTFOLIO Park Hyatt Niseko Hanazono, Japan; Rosewood hotels (Hong Kong, Phnom Penh, Beijing); The Westin Perth
MY PROUDEST HOTEL ROOM DESIGN MOMENT IS Rosewood Beijing. I always say it's never about the look, it's about the feel. It's about the spirit of the people who work together finding its way into the room. See rosewoodhotels.com
MY IDEA OF A PERFECT HOTEL ROOM IS when it's not a singular vision or a mono-vision but the "perfect imperfect". It should feel like it's been built over time or by a number of personalities. It's a room that's expected and unexpected at the same time. It has everything you need but surprises you in some way.
THE BEST-DESIGNED HOTEL ROOM I'VE EVER STAYED IN for a family holiday is the Trunk (Hotel), Tokyo. The family room (balcony junior suite) had a design that intrigued the kids. It was perfect in every way – apart from the fact it had no storage for luggage. See trunk-hotel.com
WHEN I TRAVEL, MY MAIN GRIPE ABOUT HOTEL ROOMS IS soullessness, when a room feels too typical or too designed. It should make you feel welcome and that it's your place. People are also crying out for better air quality.
THE HOTEL ROOM OF THE FUTURE WILL BE something that's genuine. There are so many hotel brands at the moment trying to be so many things to so many people. Hopefully they will be many and varied, and they will be done well and will be genuine.
JULIET ASHWORTH, CHADA, SYDNEY
CHADA, Sydney. Photo: Rick Stevens
PORTFOLIO Wildlife Retreat at Taronga, Sydney; Intercontinental (Perth, Bangladesh, Sydney, New Caledonia); Saffire Freycinet, Tasmania
MY PROUDEST HOTEL ROOM DESIGN MOMENT IS the world's first internationally accredited carbon-neutral resort at Wolgan Valley, NSW. Everything from the furniture to the salt and pepper shakers was custom-made and manufactured onshore. Many artisans from the Blue Mountains region got involved. That's rare as so much manufacturing for projects is done overseas and shipped in. I'm equally proud of the eco-friendly resort at Taronga Conservation Park, designed with sustainability in mind. See oneandonlyresorts.com
Emirates One & Only Wolgan Valley.
WHEN I TRAVEL, MY MAIN GRIPE ABOUT HOTEL ROOMS IS bad lighting and noise. I hate hearing the TV next door or someone flushing the loo on the floor above. I was in a Canberra hotel recently that was so appallingly lit, I had to touch all the surfaces when I left to make sure I hadn't left an earring behind.
MY IDEA OF A PERFECT HOTEL ROOM IS comfort, cleanliness and good acoustics, along with inspirational and innovative details, but then I spend my whole stay photographing, measuring and wondering about buildability.
THE BEST-DESIGNED HOTEL ROOM I'VE EVER STAYED IN IS the Nobu Hotel Miami Beach as David Rockwell's design doesn't fall back on gimmicks but relies on beautiful, subtle materials with that Japanese aesthetic of less is more that honours the brand. It's a room you could hunker down in and never feel the need to leave. The Upper House in Hong Kong designed by Andre Fu offers intimacy and a sense of belonging. See nobuhotelmiamibeach.com, upperhouse.com
THE HOTEL ROOM OF THE FUTURE WILL BE small! Space is at a premium, particularly in cities and building costs are skyrocketing. Public spaces will become more multifunctional.
NIC GRAHAM, NIC GRAHAM & ASSOCIATES, SYDNEY
W Brisbane presidential suite. Photo: Ralf Tooten
PORTFOLIO W hotels (Brisbane, Hong Kong, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur), QT hotels (Sydney, Bondi, Melbourne, Gold Coast)
MY PROUDEST HOTEL ROOM DESIGN MOMENT IS the Extreme WOW suite at the W Brisbane. We designed it with a mirror ceiling, bold colours and graphics, vintage and contemporary furniture, an outrageously large bar, a 12-seat dining table and a TV big enough to swim in, all offset with blackened timber floors, custom rugs and a drop-dead view over the river. It's a fantasy room I'd never get to stay in but had fun pretending I was when we set it up. See marriott.com
WHEN I TRAVEL, MY MAIN GRIPE ABOUT HOTEL ROOMS IS any type of smell. I don't want to walk into a room and smell paint, mouldy carpet or apple scent. I hate perfume pumped through the air-conditioning.
MY IDEA OF A PERFECT HOTEL ROOM IS a great location, blackout blinds, easy-to-use lighting and a firm bed with good-quality cotton linen.
THE BEST-DESIGNED HOTEL ROOM I'VE EVER STAYED IN IS The PuLi in Shanghai by the Layan Design Group. It's a timeless hotel goddess that embodies Asian sensibility and caresses the soul with warm modernity. See thepuli.com
THE HOTEL ROOM OF THE FUTURE WILL have smart phone access, sustainable finishes, auto-sensor arrival and sleep-mode experience, steam vapour shower with essential oil infusion, taps with chilled, boiling and sparkling water, and a chair or mattress with massage function.
MY NEXT HOTEL ROOM ASSIGNMENT IS St Regis Melbourne due to open in 2022. I'm excited to be using Melbourne's art history to influence the design.
BILL BENSLEY, BENSLEY, BANGKOK AND BALI
PORTFOLIO Bensley Collection: Shinta Mani, Siem Reap; The Siam, Bangkok; Four Seasons, Langkawi
MY PROUDEST HOTEL ROOM DESIGN MOMENT WAS the Four Seasons Tented Camp Golden Triangle in Chiang Rai, Thailand as it had a great purpose of taking begging elephants off the streets. The room, or the tent rather, was as simple as possible emphasising the natural environment. See fourseasons.com.
WHEN I TRAVEL, MY MAIN GRIPE ABOUT HOTEL ROOMS IS they try too hard to be high-tech. By mistake, I consistently hit the electronic Do Not Disturb button when I leave my room, which results in a dirty room when I return. The low-tech systems – red card, green card – are better for guests.
MY IDEA OF A PERFECT HOTEL ROOM IS a room that has one switch next to both sides of the bed that turns off all the lights, natural light from at least two sides, and can be naturally cross-ventilated.
THE BEST-DESIGNED HOTEL ROOM I'VE EVER STAYED IN IS Jaya Ibrahim's Dharmawangsa Hotel in Jakarta. He took traditional Indonesian style to new heights. See the-dharmawangsa.com
THE HOTEL ROOM OF THE FUTURE WILL BE one that's built to use as few natural resources as possible in its daily use, with natural light streaming in from both sides so the lights don't need to be switched on at noon, natural cross-ventilation to avoid the use of air-conditioning, which is the biggest energy consumer in hotels, and rooms that source locally, rather than bringing in objects from all over the world.
PHILIPPE STARCK, UBIK, PARIS
Philippe Starck - La Coomiche.
PORTFOLIO Faena Hotel, Buenos Aires; M Social, Singapore; La Reserve Eden au Lac, Zurich
MY PROUDEST HOTEL ROOM DESIGN MOMENT? I cannot be proud of anything I've done, I always see my weaknesses. But I love staying in one of the simple but elegant and comfortable cabanas at La Co(o)rniche in the Bassin d'Arcachon in the south-west of France, perched on the sand dune, in front of the waves and the sunset. When I'm in Paris, I'm eager to experience the timeless and surprising cultural elegance of Brach, a place where all forms of intelligence mix and match. See lacoorniche-pyla.com; brachparis.com
WHEN I TRAVEL, MY MAIN GRIPE ABOUT HOTEL ROOMS IS I hate trendy hotels where you feel stupid, like how the owner thinks you are.
MY IDEA OF A PERFECT HOTEL ROOM IS facing south, in front of the sea, not too big or too small, humble, intelligent and timeless, where I am happy to be with my wife or else dreaming of being with her.
THE BEST-DESIGNED HOTEL ROOM I'VE EVER STAYED IN IS the Fasano in Sao Paulo [for its] timeless elegance and the perverted sophistication of my Milanese home, the Bulgari hotel designed by my friend Antonio Citterio. See fasano.com.br; bulgarihotels.com
THE HOTEL ROOM OF THE FUTURE WILL disappear in a few years when we realise that we are better off at home and when long-distance mass tourism will also disappear. The only remains will be camping for adventurers, cabin hotels for businessmen who are still obliged, and migrant camps.
TARA BERNERD, TARA BERNERD & PARTNERS, LONDON
Cala Di Volpe Penthouse Suite.
PORTFOLIO The Hari, London; Thompson Chicago; SIXTY SoHo, New York
MY PROUDEST HOTEL ROOM DESIGN MOMENT IS that it was always a dream to work in Japan. Later this year our first hotel will open in Osaka. See zentishotels.com
THE BEST-DESIGNED HOTEL ROOM I'VE EVER STAYED IN was at the Hotel Cala di Volpe in Sardinia, a benchmark that stands out as an example of resort hospitality and design at its best that has stood the test of time, a feat in itself. The most important aspect of design is creating spaces that are indigenous to their surroundings and that respond to the needs of guests. Hotel Cala di Volpe illustrates this philosophy perfectly while introducing a magical and unique architectural setting. See marriott.com.au
WHEN I TRAVEL, MY MAIN GRIPE ABOUT HOTEL ROOMS IS not enough storage. Too many hotels offer a few clothes pegs on the wall, not enough for even the most minimalist of travellers. In our designs we like to consider whether the room is going to be used for one night or a longer stay. It needs to be easy to navigate and cocooning. This is achieved through layering, fabric choices and lighting.
THE HOTEL ROOM OF THE FUTURE WILL be a more tailored, personalised experience, as the concept of "home from home" grows. Hotels will be challenged further to interpret the sense of comfort and sanctuary one associates with being at home.
SIBELLA COURT, THE SOCIETY INC BY SIBELLA COURT, SYDNEY
Hotel Palisade. Photo: Anson Smart
PORTFOLIO Hotel Palisade and Watsons Bay Boutique Hotel, Sydney; Bullo River Station, Northern Territory; Amilla Fushi, Maldives
MY PROUDEST HOTEL ROOM DESIGN MOMENT WAS having all the components arrive safely from many different suppliers and makers for a remote-location install, with the closest large hardware store to Bullo River Station a nine-hour drive away. See bulloriver.com.au
WHEN I TRAVEL, MY MAIN GRIPE ABOUT HOTEL ROOMS IS over-lit rooms. Often they're too bright with too many downlights, complicated light controls, windows that don't open and air-conditioning controls that are either too complex or fixed to a temperature you can't adjust.
MY IDEA OF A PERFECT HOTEL ROOM IS soft lighting, a variety of pillows, seamless technology, in-room yoga mat and connection to place. For Bullo River Station's fittings, I drew upon historical bushcraft skills and traditional trades [linked to] homesteads and remote stations where resourcefulness and a can-do attitude are necessary. For the towel and toilet-roll holders, I found a local leather whip-braider with the leatherwork skills of station workers in past times.
THE BEST-DESIGNED HOTEL ROOM I'VE EVER STAYED IN IS Manka's Inverness Lodge, California. Every room and structure is different. I particularly loved the Boatshed, with its white painted rough-sawn walls, timber floors, old fishing nets, masts and sails.
THE HOTEL ROOM OF THE FUTURE WILL have manual lighting and keys.
PENNY DEL CASTILLO, IN DESIGN INTERNATIONAL, MELBOURNE
Batu Karang Lembongan Resort & Spa.
PORTFOLIO Basildene Manor, Margaret River, WA; The Sebel Sydney Manly Beach, NSW; Travelodge Darwin, NT
MY PROUDEST HOTEL ROOM DESIGN MOMENT IS Batu Karang, a hotel on Lembongan Island off the east coast of Bali. There are so many incredible moments within those rooms that capture the essence of the island. I was very determined to make it feel like you were on an island in Bali. Everything I sketched could be made for me by a Balinese artisan. If I had to pick one room, it's the special occasion villa with a round handcarved bed in the middle of the room. See batukaranglembongan.com
WHEN I TRAVEL, MY MAIN GRIPE ABOUT HOTEL ROOMS IS pillows that are too big. If the pillow's not right, I can't sleep.
MY IDEA OF A PERFECT HOTEL ROOM HAS black-out curtains because I'm a light sleeper and absolute noise control. I also love a room with a bathtub.
THE BEST-DESIGNED HOTEL ROOM I'VE EVER STAYED IN IS Casadonna in Abruzzo, Italy. It's a converted former monastery and it's very simple, minimalistic and beautiful. It was cold outside and the walls radiated heat – I never thought about doing that with a hotel room before. See nikoromito.com
THE HOTEL ROOM OF THE FUTURE WILL BE smaller but better appointed with quality finishes, more quirky in character and brand standards will be less restrictive.
CHECKING OUT: DATED FEATURES
Thankfully, those days (and nights) of being rudely awoken by a bedside alarm clock, set by a previous early-rising guest, are pretty much over.
More hotels are replacing in-room kettles with fancy coffee machines that also heat water for tea. As long as they're simple to operate, we approve.
The no-plastic trend means hotels are finding alternatives to tiny bottles of shampoo and conditioner. Expect to see larger, eco-friendly containers attached to shower walls.
When was the last time you saw one of those tucked in a hotel bedside drawer? Thoughts and prayers to hotel-room salvation.
Minibars that charge for even touching an item seem to be obsolete – hooray. We love it when snacks and drinks are included in the room rate.
FIVE FAMOUS HOTEL ROOMS
CLASSIC ROM COM
The Julia Roberts/Richard Gere film Pretty Woman is partly set in LA's Renaissance-style Beverly Wilshire, A Four Seasons Hotel. Today, the hotel's Pretty Woman for a Day package includes two nights in a specialty suite, shopping along Rodeo Drive with a wardrobe consultant and a scented bath drawn by a bath butler. See fourseasons.com
PEACE OF THE ACTION
In 1969, John Lennon and Yoko Ono spent a week in Room 1742 of Montreal's Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth. During their Bed-In for Peace, Lennon recorded his anti-war anthem Give Peace a Chance with drop-ins including Timothy Leary, Allen Ginsberg and Petula Clark. A 2017 renovation re-created the vibe in rooms with a shrine-like bed and the words "hair peace" and "bed peace" scrawled across the windows. See fairmont.com
ROOM FOR SCANDAL
Washington DC's Watergate Hotel played a pivotal role in US political history when Room 214 was used to orchestrate the 1972 Watergate break-in. Lyn Paolo, costume designer for the TV show Scandal, decorated what's now dubbed the Scandal Room with binoculars, typewriter and a reel-to-reel tape recorder. See thewatergatehotel.com
Stay in the room where Oscar Wilde died, aged 46, in 1900. Paris's Hotel d'Alsace is now L'Hotel. Its Oscar Wilde Suite is decorated with lavish wallpapers, a writing desk and a framed copy of the final bill, paid by a friend two years after Wilde's death. See l-hotel.com
Martin Luther King Jnr was staying in Room 306 of Memphis's Lorraine Motel in 1968 when he stepped out to the balcony and was assassinated. Today the poignant room, with its rumpled bed and half-empty coffee cups, is the centrepiece of the National Civil Rights Museum. See civilrightsmuseum.org
KEY FINDINGS: HOTEL ROOMS WE ADORE
Raffles Istanbul's Bosphorus Suites is "one of the world's best hotel rooms with wraparound, floor-to-ceiling views of Istanbul". At a huge 183 square metres, you could get lost rattling around these suites that blend Turkish and Western design. See raffles.com
BOLD AND BEAUTIFUL
The "audacious" MACq 01 Hotel on Hobart's waterfront gets the nod from Traveller. Memorable touches include premium woollen couches and bed surrounds depicting coastal storms and Tassie's ancient cider gums. See macq01.com.au
Tucked within Basel's elegant riverfront bolthole Les Trois Rois is a light, bright penthouse with stairs leading to a surprise hot-tub overlooking the Rhine. Roger Federer's parents live nearby but the tennis superstar reportedly prefers these digs when in town. See lestroisrois.com
With their high ceilings, Sofitel So Singapore's So Lofty suites channel a Parisian apartment. A favourite feature is the lavish two-person tub incorporating a spot to chill the champers. See sofitel-so-singapore.com
Glasgow's Grand Central Hotel, attached to the city's main railway station, features junior suites that evokes a glamorous bygone era with touches such as dial telephones. See phcompany.com