As someone who is travelling most of the time, I've often wondered about the parallels between hotel design and fashion design. Do a few outrageous and novel ideas automatically become fashion as long as they are proposed by a recognised star designer? And do hoteliers promote these new looks against their better judgment if it creates a buzz and gives them a temporary leg up on the competition?
After a prolonged check-in experience at one of Beijing's hip hotels, an unfamiliar guestroom door magically unlatched itself after multiple waves of my electronic card key. Jetlagged and with luggage in tow, I stumbled into the darkened space at an ungodly hour, clawing at the wall to find a master light switch. No luck. After staying in scores of hotels around the world, my trusty mental map would surely guide me to a waiting bed halfway into the room, which would then allow me to gain my bearings. Screaming in pain, I was soon sprawled out on the bottom of a cold, empty bathtub with a throbbing shin.
As my hand found the light switch, I was furious to find the room's bathtub located opposite the entry door. It was intentionally placed there as the raised centrepiece of the room - much like a sacrificial altar. As this tub had already drawn blood, I bandaged my leg and cursed the latest trend in hotel design: the exploding bathroom. This dubious design has gone viral.
The boundary between bathroom and bedroom has become blurred, with internal windows, sliding panels and endless varieties of translucent glass. In some instances, the bathroom has been completely merged with the bedroom. Guests are forced to run the gauntlet between sanitary fixtures across a wet, slippery floor to reach their bed.
The inner sanctum of the bathroom has been turned inside out. Any business colleagues that visit your room are quickly reminded of your level of hair loss and the myriad of medications on which you depend on. Despite the fact that a double occupancy now all but guarantees a sleepless night for the poor sap trying to block out the light, sound and odours from their partner's nocturnal call of nature, the open-bathroom concept has continued to proliferate at an alarming rate. Clever designers have upped the ante by shuffling sanitary fixtures around the guestroom, like pieces on a chessboard. I surmise that guests may soon be able to enjoy a room where the toilet doubles as the bedside table. The bathtub has already been exalted into a throne, where a nude guest can welcome an unsuspecting housekeeper and passing guests into her royal court when the door flies open unexpectedly.
Then there's the ceiling-mounted "rainshower" that seems to double in size every year. Despite the blast of frigid (and often legionella-tainted) water that has lain stagnant in the pipe, these shower units were once a novelty and evocative of a spa experience. Now they are firmly entrenched in today's designs and continue to bless our shoulders with icy droplets of water, while we use the traditional wall-mounted showerhead for a hot shower.
However, this really shouldn't be surprising in an industry where Scandinavian goose-down duvets have been wholeheartedly adopted throughout hotels in the world's hottest and most humid regions. While the guestroom now only needs to be chilled to sub-zero temperatures for us to snuggle beneath these soft and downy quilts, perhaps the great marketing photographs of puffy white guestroom beds make it all worthwhile. Progressively thinner flat-screen TVs have ushered in a new era of technology, albeit with a confounding array of handheld remote control devices that are impossible for any short-stay guest to decipher.
As the bulky TV armoires of yesteryear were sent to the landfills, a staggering selection of audio-visual jacks appeared surrounding the writing desk to merge a guest's gaggle of gadgets with the in-room audio-visual system. However, in today's wireless world, will these miles of cabling soon be yanked from rooms as we check e-mail from the comfort of a sudsy bubble bath? And 10 years from now, will we look back on the exploding bathroom phenomenon and wonder if this was really a watershed moment in hotel room design?