From scratch up
Alex Frew McMillan
CREATING A hotel from scratch is a daunting task. But to establish your own brand at the same time means facing competitors such as the self-proclaimed 'highest hotel in the world', the Ritz-Carlton, across the harbour.
Compared with the Ritz-Carlton, which opened its doors on the top floors of the International Commerce Centre at the end of March, Hotel De Edge is decidedly downmarket. It's a 'three-and-a-half' star hotel opening this spring, aimed at independent or business travellers looking for something a little more different, a little more local.
And it's an all-Hong Kong affair, developed by the company Mulitex under the guidance of the hotel-management firm Rhombus International Hotels. The hotel's clean, calm look comes from Cream, the Causeway Bay-based design shop set up by creative director Antony Chan.
It's the same team that put together the successful Hotel LKF, albeit for a different owner. The hotels are similar in size - 95 rooms at Hotel LKF, 90 at Hotel De Edge - but will take different approaches. Hotel LKF, a refit of an office building, is averaging a rate of HK$2,600 per night, higher than some of the big chains. Hotel De Edge, which is newly built, will instead be targeting an average room rate of about HK$1,000 per night.
That's partly a function of its location. Hotel De Edge is in Sai Ying Pun, so it can't command downtown prices. Still, from its location at 94-95 Connaught Road West, it's a 10-minute taxi ride to Central, or even a brief stroll into Sheung Wan.
Chan aims to use the hotel's location to its advantage. Though the hotel was built from scratch on the site, it's still an 'in-fill' site pinned between other buildings, and a street or two away from the shark's fin stores and paper-offering stalls that give western Sheung Wan plenty of local flavour.
'A hotel is not just a separate entity, it is like a journey,' Chan says. 'Coming in here, we have tried to generate not only a room that is comfortable but also gives people the feel of being in the city.'
He got inspiration from the urban nature of the site, and its surroundings - most of the buildings in the district are involved in trading, a gritty mix of old warehouses and low-grade office space. 'I want to stimulate the sense that you are living in the city,' Chan says. 'You've got the old pier, Sai Ying Pun, and you have this wonderful sea view in front of you.'
You would think that might mean lots of Chinoiserie or images of old Hong Kong. But Chan eschews the obvious in favour of subtler touches - huge photos in the bedrooms of gleaming skyscrapers that could be in Hong Kong (although they're not).
The rooms devote themselves to their views of the city's most distinctive feature - three of the four room types face Victoria Harbour. They use natural fabrics where possible, in muted earth tones. They're calm in a city of bustle.
Calvin Mak, the founder and chief executive of the hotel manager Rhombus, says you have to know your market. The hotel won't appeal to everyone, and isn't going for either top-flight corporate clients who simply have to stay at the Four Seasons, or mainland tour groups of 45 people who want to know where the buffet is. 'We're more contemporary,' Mak says. 'We are not fancy but with all the services added to it.'
Both Chan and Mak acknowledge that they tested each other during the design process. It was pulled together in just eight months, instead of the 19 months it would normally usually take to build a hotel from scratch. Added to that was the fact that Chan hadn't designed a hotel before Hotel LKF, so the collaboration was testing at times.
'With Antony, you'll find out he likes to spend money,' Mak says. 'I have a cost, but I can't tie his hands too much. I let my designer design, and when the first drawing comes up I will tell him 'this doesn't work, this is too expensive.''
Indeed, price was an issue and you can feel that it here and there. But Chan was politic about the process though, feeling that designing smaller spaces and hotels with a tighter budget can be an interesting challenge.
'I don't like to use the term 'compromise',' he says. 'Even if you have an unlimited budget, the unlimited budget can be you're a constraint. I don't think there are any compromises here. '
It's yet to be seen whether Hotel De Edge is a success, but Mak is positive: 'My philosophy is that I'd rather be the top three-star hotel than the bottom four-star. You don't want to pretend to be something you're not.'