Now who in their right mind could think this carpet suits this particular corridor?Hotels really are proof that parallel universes exist.

I was working in Germany in 2002 and I spent Midsummer’s Eve that year in Stockholm.  It was a busy and social weekend but on Sunday night I was back in Munich ready for another week’s work.

It’s good to be home…

… I thought to myself as I unpacked my case.  And immediately afterwards:

The Holiday Inn on Leopoldstrasse is not my home!

That was the day that I stopped contracting, though I still earned my living that way for another couple of years because it took me a while to find the permanent job that ticked all the boxes.

I’d forgotten just how much hotels exist in an alternative reality.  It’s not the food, though where else are  danish pastries 3cm wide by 6cm long?  It’s not the light, or the airconditioning, or the bizzare variety of things the TV will do even though only 12 channels are actual television.   It’s not the white towels, or bathroom fittings.  

I think in part it’s the way that they are all so designed.   Actually, that deserves a capital D. They have Decor. Staying in a business hotel is like stepping in to an interior design magazine.   But hotel chains use design without understanding it.  This is probably the only industry that can use the word “modern” to describe design-values without inserting “post-” under its breath.  

The problem is that the design feels sprayed on, a “Designer Look” added on at the end. Design by numbers.  And the numbers are dehumanising: the reason that the Holiday Inn felt like home was that every single one of their 362 rooms is the same – the only difference being that half have the bathroom on the left of the door and half have the bathroom on the right.   The  Sheraton Heathrow sticks in my memory.  It’s built around four grim courtyards, and your window looks bleakly out on a row of identical windows staring bleakly back at you.  You feel like Rene Magritte, stuck in a world designed by M.C. Escher painted by L.S. Lowry.

Even so, I like staying in hotels.  In Tombstone, Kurt Russell asks Dana Delany what she wants out of life and she says:

Room service

Yep.  I recognise that.  

Now if ony I could organise my home life to include room-service but without the add-on design-in-a-box…

5 responses to “Design-in-a-box

  1. Absolutely right on! It’s a funny feeling, liking to stay in hotels even though they’re all “little boxes made of ticky-tacky”…

    Once in a while, very nicely, you do enter some places different. Like a country inn in the UK as the Big Identical Hotel™ nearby was full. And had a much better stay out of it (lesson to learn?)

    Or some spectacularities such as the W Chicago or the marvellous service of Asian business hotels. I swear, in some of them they’d catch you before you hit the floor if you started keeling over in the lobby.

    I’ll go see another one next Tuesday – in Italy.


  2. I like the banality of the chains though.

    But you are right, the real places run by real people are astonishing delights.


  3. I wouldn’t want to spend my working life in places like that, but I do love the “places-between-places” feel you get. Similarly disused warehouses and railway sidings. Maybe it’s the lack of other people.

    I do half expect Danny to come round the corner on his trike in that picture. Come and play with us Danny, for ever, and ever…

  4. Mmmm.

    That is not exactly a comforting thought Chris.


  5. Sorry Ben. Have a look at this instead. Beautiful images.

    PS the right-hand link on your other blog points to worLdpress.

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