“For Ace, I shopped,” Standefer says. “I found three hundred unique desk chairs.” The custom ethos seems to be popping up everywhere. In Berlin, for instance, the riotously funky Hotel Michelberger is a rehabbed factory building with double-height guest rooms, loft beds, and very human, very personal detritus, like walls tiled with old paperback books. Of course the hotel is wired for broadband, but the look is low-tech. The sales pitch captures the zeitgeist: “Guests are truly guests, staying at the house of a group of friends.…”
Meanwhile, Milan-based Piero Lissoni, a prolific designer who has lent a modern gloss to hotel projects all over the globe, declares, “I like hotels with a lot of humanity. I don’t like purity.” His Studio M hotel, which opened in Singapore in May, is a much tidier version of the Michelberger aesthetic: highly efficient rooms that feature sleeping lofts and cunningly crafted work and storage areas. Even at a mainstream chain like Marriott, chief creative officer Robin Uler says the future is all about “customization,” which might mean something as simple as putting furniture on wheels so that guests can rearrange it.
Maybe the fantasy future still resembles Hadid’s swoopy high-tech womb, but the real future is more likely to involve an extremely efficient manipulation of increasingly scarce square footage…and that calls for right angles. Interior designer Tony Chi, for instance, is now advising his clients—hoteliers such as Mandarin Oriental and Hyatt—that future hotel rooms should be smaller. “The earth’s not getting bigger,” he says. He believes that rooms should be divided up into “zones.” Intensive space planning, he says, can turn a 300-square-foot room into a suite. “There is a zone called the den, like a library, where you can work. Even though it’s small, you are in that little world of yours,” Chi says. “There’s a sleeping alcove, very cozy and comfortable, and you crawl into that cave and sleep.”
Of course, even if the future is cozy, as Chi sees it, high technology isn’t going away. But it will likely be deployed in ways that are more subtle and sophisticated. At Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, one of the world’s most influential architecture firms—the Burj Khalifa, in Dubai, currently the tallest building in the world, was SOM’s design—the partner who heads the interiors department, Stephen Apking, speaks to that point. “People are looking for something that is authentic,” he says. But his version of authenticity is unusually forward-looking. Apking is developing a new type of hotel room that is a direct response to one of our most impressive technological feats: our ability to build super-tall skyscrapers. “We’re doing a lot of tall towers around the world, and a lot of them include hotels,” he says. “We’re trying to think: What would be an authentic experience and design for a room that high up in a building?” One answer might be to incorporate the “expressive structural systems” of the towers into the design of the rooms, using dramatic diagonal beams. And when you’re staying on the 100th floor of a building, you can’t exactly have a balcony, so Apking is experimenting with “sky-viewing chambers.” The rooms at the SOM-designed Lotte Super Tower group of hotels, due to open in Seoul in 2014, might have sober wood-and-leather interiors, but the sky-viewing areas will be done in reflective pearl-colored marble and furnished with low-slung “moon-gazing chairs” angled toward the view.
If the vision of a future involving robot bartenders seems passé, sky-viewing chambers seem perfectly au courant, and so does design that humanizes technology in comfortable ways. Ian Schrager, inventor of the high-design hotel, figures that technology will always have a role to play, but he has banished the recycled Modernism of the boutique hotel room in favor of something more humanistic. Schrager anticipates a back-to-the-1980’s future, “another era of individualism and uniqueness and singular vision.”