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Ace Hotel’s bold move puts minimalism back in spotlight

At the end of last month, hospitality company Ace Hotel announced plans to launch a spin-off brand called 'Sister City' in New York - dubbing it an experiment in "essentialism". Click. explores the reasons behind hotels opting to go down this minimalist route

With its ultra-trendy vibe, bold look and hedonistic approach, the Ace Hotel group has earned a reputation for being a hipster hospitality company. But now the team behind its design is launching a new – and very different – type of hotel, with the “modern traveller” in mind.

The brainchild of Atelier Ace, Sister City is described as “an experiment in essentialism” and is due to open in New York later this year. The 200-room property will feature a ground-floor restaurant, rooftop bar and “soft feeling” throughout, with prices from a competitive $259 per night. Though few other details have been revealed, the overarching ethos seems to be of bare minimalism.

Kelly Sawdon, Chief Brand Officer of Atelier Ace, says: "We are inspired by the philosophy of ‘Less, But Better.’ The inherent satisfaction of having just enough.” A company statement adds: “We asked what was needed for today's traveller, and shaved off the excess.” Finnish saunas, Japanese bento boxes and prehistoric cave dwellings are cited as inspirations behind the hotel, which has been “distilled to its most beautiful working parts”.

Bold move

And yet – despite being a bold move for Ace Hotels – this is hardly the first hotel to have “shaved off the excess”. In 1990, Ian Schrager turned heads by renovating New York’s Paramount Hotel, introducing minimalist rooms and “lobby socialising”. The Hempel, in London, also caused a sensation when it opened in the nineties, offering seemingly very little at a high price. But it immediately drew a celebrity crowd and set the tone for the movement we're seeing today.

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Millennials sitting by water
Sister City aims to appeal to the younger traveller, including millennials. Credit to: Wyron A, Unsplash

Photo: Wyron A, Unsplash 

More recently, CitizenM and Yotel have built their guest experiences around intelligently-designed, minimalist guest rooms, while minimalist architect John Pawson is working on a new W hotel in Jaffa, Israel. Even Muji is launching a chain of "anti-gorgeous, anti-cheap” hotels, which are an extension of its stores offering goods in the same vein.

The trend is rife, and particularly prevalent in large cosmopolitan cities such as London, New York and Shanghai. But it's also a popular look for smaller, independent hotels in chic, lifestyle-driven locations, such as Ibiza and Mykonos.

So why are hotels choosing to go down this pared-down route? According to Henry Harteveld, Travel Analyst and President of Atmosphere Research Group, it’s because it’s trendy. “This is art, not science. Hotels constantly seek new ways to distinguish themselves from competitors,” he says.

“A pared-back look also may mean pared-back costs. There are fewer items to install in the room, those items may also be less expensive to buy, and it takes housekeeping less time to clean and refresh the rooms.”

But stripping a hotel down to its essentials does not necessarily mean guests will have a cheapened experience, according to Leopold Weinberg, architect and the owner of Hotel Helvetia in Zurich, with sleek, minimalist rooms from 200 CHF ($214) per night. “Minimalism doesn’t have to mean less luxurious,” he says. “Next to new competitors like Airbnb, the entire hotel industry has become more efficient – but the quality of those essential elements are key. For instance, at Hotel Helvetia we use luxurious, handmade beds by Hästens. It’s small details like this that keep guests returning.”

Appealing to millennials

Sister City will appeal to the younger traveller, including millennials (those born between the early 1980s to the mid-1990s), according to Harteveld. “Given its room rates, which are reasonable for New York but certainly not inexpensive, I believe the hotel is trying to appeal to an audience between the ages of 25 and 45. I suspect it will appeal to travellers who may work in design, fashion, and other creatively-focused industries, as well as people who appreciate intelligent and attractive design in their lives.”

Marcus Fairs, Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Dezeen, the world’s leading online architecture and design magazine, believes that minimalism is an increasingly appealing lifestyle choice as our lives get busier and more cluttered. “Since technology allows people to take their culture with them in the form of music, movies and photos stored on their devices, the idea of a hotel room serving as a blank-canvas backdrop is a big draw,” he says.

“The new Sister City chain seems aimed at people who grew up with the buzzy Ace chain but now need something a little calmer,” he says. “With its history steeped in early Modernist architecture and its references to ascetic movements and the simple life, minimalism is a more stylish and highbrow alternative to the generic corporate hotel vibe. It therefore appeals to frequent, world-wise travellers who are key trendsetters in hospitality.”

Despite the spate of stripped-back hotels, minimalism isn’t the only game in town. There are opposing trends of maximalism and eclecticism, where multiple styles are thrown together. But, as the opening of Sister City suggests, hotels that are “distilled to their working parts” are here to stay.

Fairs says: “I expect minimalism to continue to grow as a trend, particularly as technology gets more sophisticated and disappears from view. We live in an age where there is no one dominant style. Minimalism is one of many trends that are co-existing, but it's definitely on the rise.”

Read our interview with startup matchmaker, John Matson, who discusses the 'next golden era of travel'

Hero image: credit to Adrian Gaut

Takeaway
  • Ace Hotel announced plans to launch a spin-off called Sister City in New York at the end of January 2018
  • In 1990, Ian Schrager turned heads by renovating New York’s Paramount Hotel, introducing minimalist rooms and “lobby socialising”
  • According to Marcus Fairs, Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Dezeen, minimalism is an increasingly appealing lifestyle choice as our lives get busier and more cluttered
  • In recent years, CitizenM and Yotel have built their guest experiences around intelligently-designed, minimalist guest rooms

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