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The demand for, and trend towards Compact Rooms 

By Herbert Lui and Christopher Leonard

Small is beautiful

According to recent research by Lambert Smith Hampton, hotel room sizes are shrinking, with approximately 4000 compact rooms delivered in the UK in 2017-18, and another 5000 in the pipeline.

Our team at Studio Moren, who are at the forefront of hospitality design, are witnessing this trend with several micro-room projects on our drawing boards. Clients with sites in city centre locations are catching on that small is beautiful in more than one sense. The rise of the budget luxe genre of hotels yields a greater number of rooms on every site and requires a leaner level of operations. The bottom line is that more rooms equals higher site value and better returns on investment.

Mini, Micro, Pod, Hub.. tiny is coming to a hotel near you!

Many new brands emerging recently from the stables of blue-chip hotel companies have all been in the compact room category: Hilton’s Motto, Marriott’s Moxy, Yotel, Citizen M, Premier Inn’s Hub and Zip Hotels and City Hub in the Netherlands.

So what’s driving this trend? In prime urban locations, guests tend to spend more time out of the hotel than in and are looking for little more than a comfortable, affordable and well-located room for the night. At the same time, when guests are actually in the hotel, the trend for interacting within communal spaces is leading them to spend less time in their rooms and a large room by traditional standards is no longer needed.

The German brand, Ruby Hotels, who opened their first outpost in London, in Lower Marsh, are firm believers of the budget luxe approach, paring down their offering to cater for younger, savvy travellers who are less interested in the size of their room than an experiential, Instagrammable stay.

Budget luxe room with integrated bed and occasional seat. The wraparound bedhead is inspired by yacht cabin design

So what does that mean for us as hospitality designers?

Studio Moren is currently working with several hoteliers who are starting to develop their own in-house compact concepts. With room sizes ranging from 9 to 12sqm, these independent hoteliers are aspiring to create a unique identity that sets them apart from the chains.

With independence comes greater flexibility to shape their product and guest experience. This is certainly true when it comes to design, with independent hoteliers often having greater freedom to think ‘outside the box’, enabling us to test more unusual solutions.

For example, we are taking inspiration from other compact forms of travel accommodation, looking to yacht cabins, sleeper trains and even first-class seat design on planes. We are even considering replacing occasional seating with hammocks or beanbags.

Components within the room have to work harder to serve more than one function; plinths that double up as storage and working surfaces, wall-hanging features rather than wardrobes, fold-down furniture rather than fixed.

For conversion projects with the luxury of tall floor heights, the footprint of the room can be reduced by incorporating a mezzanine deck to create a suite within a tiny floor plan. One of the most demanding challenges in compact room design is being able to convert a double to a twin room. Efficient bathroom design certainly helps here, as does the use of moveable parts that allow us to explore this demanding requirement.

Lighting design is key to how a small room is perceived. The use of hidden up-lighting to wash the surfaces can help to accentuate a sense of space.

Two en-suite pods within a footprint of 3.5 x 4m. The interlocking arrangement of sleep zones allows two ‘rooms’ within the area of one room

Have you been there?

Smaller rooms upstairs means more time spent ‘living’ in the communal spaces. The trend towards public areas being multi-functional spaces to socialise, eat, work and play is nothing new, but the move towards smaller guest rooms means operators need to place even more emphasis on communal areas and design should focus on creating an environment where guests want to spend time and interact with others. The holy grail of success for each individual project’s communal hub is the ability to distil the essence of the brand and translate it into a unique ‘have you been there?’ destination.

Whilst compact rooms will not suit everyone, there is a clear shift towards smaller room sizes driven by millennial and business travellers with a different set of hotel-stay priorities. This presents great opportunities for hotel operators to maximise the value of their existing assets, whilst also potentially unlocking previously constrained sites for hotel development. However, providing a good night’s sleep is still a hotel’s prime raison d’être and it takes hospitality design experts, who are always exploring new ways to add value for clients and enhance guest experiences, to fully realise the potential of smaller room footprints.