There was a time when a trouser press and tea kettle were signs of a quality establishment. But the modern hotel guest is looking for more than just bed and breakfast; they want all the trimmings in chic surroundings. Christine Demsteader finds design hotels are here to stay as the oldest in Sweden celebrates its fifth birthday.
Nordic Light Hotel, Sweden's oldest design hotel, employs a team of full-time technicians and in-house designers. Photo: Nordic Light Hotel
Sweden has been quick to pick up on the design hotel phenomenon. Berlin-based Design Hotels advises and markets a hundred of the most innovative hotels across the globe, three of which can be found in Sweden: the Nordic Light Hotel in central Stockholm, Hotel J in Nacka Strand, south of Stockholm, and the Elite Plaza Hotel in Gothenburg.
The Nordic Light Hotel was the first Swedish hotel to receive the distinction for “creativity, originality and uncomplicated service.” Now in its fifth year, the hotel is proof there is more to design hotels than snazzy décor.
Trendy hotels for trendy people. The Elite Plaza Hotel, Gothenburg, attracts guests who care more about style than money. Photo: Design Hotels
As soon as you set foot in the Nordic Light Hotel you are struck by the ultra-modern, minimalist elegance. Fredrik Ottosson, guest experience manager, says the market for design hotels is driven by so-called “lifestyle travelers,” who mainly derive from the advertising, fashion and media industries.
"They are looking for individuality, authenticity and a local attachment. If they come to Sweden they really want to be in Sweden, and not an anonymous environment. They want to be surprised and seduced by their surroundings.”
This contemporary approach to hospitality lends itself well to a country synonymous with design. The Swedish home has been a haven for functional furnishings that are easy on the eye for more than a century. Design is still inspired by publications such as Beauty in the Home (1897) and More Beautiful Things for Everyday Use (1919) where attractive simplicity and affordability were key ingredients. That vision lives on with Ikea, a national emblem and probably the most well-known symbol of Swedish furniture design around the world today.
Hotel J by the waterfront outside Stockholm offers New England-style surroundings. Photo: Design Hotels
Design is not the first trend to be picked up by the hotel industry. But it may be the longest lived. In the 1980s, the emphasis on environmental issues introduced us to eco-friendly establishments, while the 1990s invited us to de-stress at a spa hotel. However, Göran Granhed of the Swedish Hotel and Restaurant Association says design hotels are here to stay.
"It is a trend and part of their strategy to make them stand out,” he says. “But the amount of money they have to invest means they can’t afford to be here today, gone tomorrow."
With so much at stake it stands to reason that designer hotels are keen to be seen as the “real thing” and not just a fad. As with other brands, the true measure of their worth lies in their authenticity. For Fredrik Ottosson at the Nordic Light Hotel a unique concept and defined interior separates a true design hotel from a fake.
"For some, it's just a fad," he says. "They buy designer furniture put it in a room and say they are a design hotel. But we see it differently and have something unique that cannot be copied."
Light, an element strongly associated with Scandinavia, inspired the designers at Nordic Light Hotel. Photo: Nordic Light Hotel
Designed by Jan Söder and Lars Pihl, the Nordic Light Hotel uses innovative lighting and design to offer guests a striking visual experience that is inescapably Scandinavian: the Northern Lights. Guests set the tone in their own rooms thanks to multicolored light beds that allow them to find the color, intensity and speed to match their mood.
There is also a team of full-time technicians and in-house designers whose job it is to keep up with the latest trends. The hotel switches themes five times a year, which mean loyal guests can look forward to a refreshing change the next time they visit.
Overrated or undervalued?
The design hotel experience comes at a price, however.
"It's a way of creating more interest and selling more rooms,” says Göran Granhed of the Swedish Hotel and Restaurant Association. “But it's only a small group of people who want to stay, and can afford to stay, at design hotels.”
Fredrik Ottosson of the Nordic Light Hotel doesn’t see that as a problem. For the right guest, it’s money well spent, he says. “Being in an environment they can identify with is more important than daily rates.”
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Christine Demsteader is an English journalist based in Stockholm. Living in Sweden since 2002, she combines freelance writing with radio production.
The author alone is responsible for the opinions expressed in this article.
© Photo 1: Nordic Light Hotel
© Photo 2: Design Hotels
© Photo 3: Design Hotels
© Photo 4: Nordic Light Hotel
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