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Well-designed hotels with a sense of style—all the rage or rage-inducing?

Maybe it’s something that comes with age, or my interest to find the most amount of style when traveling, or maybe just my own desire to seek out pretty graphic design when traveling, but a big interest of mine recently has been hotels. And not those boring hotels with dimly lit rooms and cookie-cutter lobbies.

I’m talking about design hotels, boutique hotels, trendy bed-and-breakfasts and unusual, out-of-this-world, you’d-never-believe-it hotels (and, hey, let’s admit it—hostels, too). The hotel business is BIG business so it’s no surprise that you’ve got so many different types of hotels looking for ways to stand out. In my unexpert design opinion though, it’s the hotels that embrace local trends that stand out the most.

In my many travels I’ve stayed in just about every type of accommodation available. From beach huts without electricity to 5-star luxury hotels, what you get for your price can vary widely. Travel and Leisure published a slideshow last year of over-hyped hotel trends (see it here) and it seems that too many touches of luxury can, in fact, be a bad thing. At least for cranky hotel reviewers.

Personally I love hotels that have a sense of style. Something a bit more original or sleek. Vacations are my way to escape so if I can stay in a place that’s different from my normal surroundings, I’m usually a happy camper. That’s why I enjoy hostels when backpacking—because when else am I going to sleep in a room full of 8-10 other half-naked people? It’s why I even sometimes go camping because even if I like a comfy bed and a warm shower, sometimes it’s nice to rough it in a tent.

I’m an open-minded traveler so the more unusual experiences abroad that I can have, the better! That’s why I’ll put up with camping every now and then, or a 16-bed dormitory. And when I want to escape my reality, a hotel with a big bath and waterfall shower will do the trick.

Design Hotels book

Design books about hotels

In college I used to work for a large bookstore chain in America. One of my favorite things to do (besides hiding behind the counter reading books) was to restock the design section. I’d slowly fill the shelves with oversized books on everything from typography to, you guessed it, hotels. The hotel books were always the most intriguing because they were showcasing and promoting the hotel so much more than the destination. Oftentimes, the hotel is in fact the destination!

I used to be baffled by this but always found the books hard to resist. Something about beautiful photos of infinity pools, hotel nightclubs and jungle treehouses always captured me. Every page was something new, and in my days before my round-the-world adventures, it was its very own escape.

Recently in Berlin I had the chance to browse through Design Hotels‘ new book of member hotels. The brand has been around for a while and basically serves as a curator for some of the world’s most stylish hotels. Their 800-page book usually sits in hotel lobbies but is also available for purchase by the more hard-core hotel aficionados looking for wanderlust. I spent a while flipping through the pages, wishing I was somewhere much much warmer. The Design Hotels™ Book had as many beautiful photos of stereotypical boutique hotels (cabanas in the sea, infinity pools) as it did photos of hotels featuring more unusual and quirky designs.

In the same week I also met the people behind the website, Unusual Hotels of the World. They also publish a book of stylish hotels (available for purchase online) but rather than focused on luxury, they’re more focused on the story of the hotel—whether its design, location or history.

So what about you… do you like to stay in stylish, trendy or unique hotels? Or do you prefer the budget-friendly, “I-only-use-my-hotel-for-sleeping” way of travel?

  1. Mike says:

    I guess I like a blend between the two. It usually depends on the location I’m traveling to and how much I’m willing to shell out at the time. I’ve never stayed at a 5-star luxury place though. My wallets not quite that big, at least now.

    • Adam says:

      Yeah, I fluctuate between the types of accommodation I’m looking for as well. I think it just depends on the goals of my trip/vacation.

  2. Alexandra says:

    Have you found a good site to search for unique hotels? I have reached my limit with crappy hostels and really want to start staying at more unique properties.

    • Adam says:

      I found one hostel search engine that seems to focus on designy-hostels (or at least they have a special search filter for it – I haven’t ever booked through them yet but will likely use it for my next trip!

  3. Clare says:

    I have to say I’m really growing tired of bland chain hotels for the most part, and generally prefer to stay somewhere a bit different. That said, a recent stay in a themed hotel in Brussels wasn’t quite my cup of tea, but I’m glad I tried it. Next on my list is an art deco style hotel in Lisbon. I think that will be more up my street! I’m also really liking the look of hostels that have a real emphasis on design and style. I’m not a fan of roughing it, but I live for a bargain and boutique hostels seem like a win on both counts!

    • Adam says:

      Couldn’t agree more with you Clare! Bland hotel chains are so boring and depressing – I don’t really like the cookie cutter design.

      Boutique hostels and small hotels often try the hardest to stand out while also attracting a variety of clientele so they’re usually a great bargain!

  4. Jennifer says:

    I love the Unique Hotels of the World book! We’ve stayed in quite a few of the hotels in that book since October. It’s fun to stay in such unique hotels and to learn the story behind them.

    • Adam says:

      Hey Jennifer!
      Very cool that you’ve looked at the book before. It’s really quite beautiful – have you seen the newest edition?

  5. Natalie T. says:

    I like a mix of both and it really depends on the destination you’re staying in and how much money you want to allocate to what. During a three month trip to Europe, I sought out chic yet cheap hostels with a unique story or in a unique building (Hostel Celica in Slovenia, anyone?) so I could spend more on food and activities which meant more to me. For a weekend in Chicago, I am saving the money to splurge on Longman & Eagle (yes, I missed the $85 room rate! Grr). I still indulge in food but for my first time in CHI I wanted to see what the hotel fuss is about. Their hostel options are few and far between, with Airbnb a close second (you can find some amazing designer apartments if you have the time to search. Airbnb also has lists to search those out).

    Alexandra, there are few sites out there that curate hotel selections globally. Mr & Mrs Smith is a good option; Tablet Hotels is another one.
    Kash of Budget Traveller has his luxury hostels of Europe project through his social channels.
    My friend Tom of also puts up a lot of interesting hotel finds on his blog.
    Other than that, I usually find interesting hotels via word of mouth or if I stumble upon it. I always ask in location.

    Hope that helps!

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