PHUKET: Obsession is quite a long word – with its three little Ss that sort of roll off the keys with winding twists and turns. Nothing is as it appears, nor is there a straightaway to pull away from the pack.
When it comes to design hotels, these enigmatic properties just love to live the “S” life, where the squares get rounded more often than not. My love affair with these beasts of tattered dreams has a pretty large dose of skepticism and doubt thrown in.
I can trace these feelings back to my childhood spent in Southern California and winter trips to Palm Springs. Here the spirit of nutra and modern design coexisted with the blazing sun and Joshua Trees; arching roof-lines and glass shimmering from here to eternity. And yet those stark arrows reaching into the sky brought about thought provoking inspiration.
Later in life, as my travel life enriched to the world of boutique accommodation of Starck and Schraeger, the new world turned in to that truly awful term “hip”. Note to self – if I never again have to hear the reptilian one liner “hip hotels” it will be okay. Perhaps not okay but better, much better.
Still, latter day Bill did indeed move with the times, staying in Ws, Citizen M, and passing through the roster of Singapore’s cornucopia of independent themed, designed, tweaked (yet not twerked) boutique houses of sleep.
At the same time, I have often struggled with where to sit, or to put my suitcase. Or stared aimlessly for hours at a black and white television wondering under which accent pillow or hand painted montage fresh from the wild kingdom the remote control lay under. You, my intelligent readers, will know the answer to that one. There is no labor saving battery operated device that works with the ancient rotary dials.
And yet I dabbled, on some occasions checking into the road less travelled and feeling good about myself at times. Not unlike an afternoon spent at the museum where you stare at paintings in deep appreciation of the genius of creation and hopefully becoming a little smarter in the process. That entire theory runs off the rails once you find yourself preferring to go to the gift shop instead or lingering at the espresso bar.
Here we go again back to caffeinated excess. But of course, design hotels require the same rigor and dogma, or creating DNA out of the dozing elephant left in an empty room. Small, as we know, is back in vogue, as is Berlin. The latter’s back alleys and art scene thrive in boho chicness.
A debate does exist in resort destinations such as Phuket and Bali over design and boutique-ness. Do they add to a commercial offering or are they just plain fad? Twinpalms in Surin and the W in Seminyak are shining examples of how well it works (when it works) all the way down to the bottom line.
And yet the frailty of art does often come at a cost. In this case to the guest who wishes for an intuitive relaxing getaway and while appreciative of the concept of an outdoor toilet with no walls, can’t quite concentrate at the task in hand while batting away anair-force of mosquitoes.
In design, there is form and there is function. Where they meet in hotels and boutique
properties can in many instances not be a point-to-point journey. Let’s go back to the “S” theme, or even more appropriate – take a side-trip to sideways. All these S’s in one place and no place to put them. Boutique may not be for everyone, but as in art, there is always the gift shop as an alternative reality.
Bill Barnett is Managing director of C9 Hotelworks and can be contacted through C9hotelworks.com
— Bill Barnett
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