Imagine a hotel room: The bed is probably white, the walls painted something neutral—maybe a gray or cream or even navy. The floor is most likely carpeted, and odds are, the artwork is almost offensive in its inoffensiveness: a pale watercolor or murky landscape. It could be in Des Moines, Iowa, or Houston. That doesn’t matter much. For the most part, a hotel is a hotel is a hotel. Not anymore. Now a hotel is a home—or as close to one as it can get.
Sure, boutique accommodations and five-star lodgings have always stood apart from bigger chains, offering their own signature aesthetics. But now, the push for better design—more daring, more experimental, more playful—is happening on a larger scale, and it’s directly influencing what you’ll take away from your stay.
Airbnb nailed this idea from the get-go. After all, the listings on the site are personal properties, not hotels. “We want to try to curate places that have the comforts of home, but also represent more of the local culture and what it would be like to actually live in that respective city,” says Stephan Canfield, director of marketing at Airbnb Plus, a curation of the platform’s most stylish listings.
Since Airbnb Plus launched in early 2018, it has grown about 800 percent (no exaggeration) and now features more than 18,000 homes in 160 cities. You might not feel as if the design of a five-star hotel is something you can translate to, say, your studio apartment. But an exceptionally nice Airbnb? Now that’s a good starting point.
Lately, though, the site has gotten some competition. Smaller hotel chains are also developing their spaces with an anti–cookie-cutter approach. Think: furniture you actually want to lounge on, layouts that mimic the ones in your apartment, and cozy, low-level lighting. “We want people to feel proud that they are in a well-designed environment, and we want them to feel at home—but in a really cool home that may be better than their own,” says Charlie North, design director at Ennismore (the company behind the eclectically designed hotel chain the Hoxton).
Each location of the Hoxton is one of a kind, so it feels cohesive with the city it’s found in. The same is true of the Ace Hotel, founded in Seattle in 1999 and a pioneer in the world of hotels that feel like home. Community is at the heart of Ace’s event programming, and that value extends to its design. “At the root of universal human experience is a desire for authenticity. Yes, we need shelter and a place to sleep, but aesthetic nourishment and delight, too,” says Kelly Sawdon, chief brand officer and partner of Atelier Ace/Ace Hotel Group.
Staying in a homey hotel isn’t just about comfort. It’s also a way to “try before you buy.” Not the shampoo, but different design styles. After all, you can rent a dress that you might not be sure you’d actually want to purchase, and you can test out your mattress for 100 days before deciding whether it’s right for you. This is your chance to see if you’d actually enjoy sleeping in a brightly colored room or swapping your all-white bedspread for something with a funky pattern.
In designer Sally Breer’s hospitality projects, Firehouse Hotel and Hotel Covell, daring color combinations and furnishings make the rooms look less like hotels and more like the apartment of your coolest friend. “Because there’s not one single human you’re designing for, the approach to hospitality design takes a little more creativity and research than residential design,” Breer says. “I think we turn up the volume a bit more, since the guest only has to be there for a night or so. There’s a freedom to get a little funkier and make the experience memorable for them—it’s an escape from their norm.”
For designer Robert McKinley, it’s all about the balance. “As people travel more, they are looking for comfortable, less formal spaces to stay. At the same time, they still want a sense of discovery,” says McKinley, whose latest hospitality project, McKinley Bungalow, is entirely shoppable. “A hotel is someone’s opportunity to step out of their everyday life. They accept things that are more of a fantasy or a different style than they would live with, but definitely carry that inspiration into their own homes.”
Literally. At Detroit’s Shinola Hotel, guests can buy the exact throw blankets and alarm clocks in their rooms, while at Casa Mami, an eco-friendly Joshua Tree retreat, every single thing is for sale—basically it’s a livable showroom. A recent partnership between Wayfair and vacation rental site Vacasa shows a push for shoppability on a larger scale, albeit without that personal touch.
Gone are the days when your hotel was just a place to rest your head. Now your accommodations, whether you’re traveling for work or pleasure, are becoming destinations and souvenirs all in one. When you get the chance to slip into another life—another room, another aesthetic, another vibe—for even just one night, the things you take away don’t fit in your suitcase. They can fill your entire home.