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Chain hotels go big on design

Forget cookie-cutter layouts. Hotel chains are taking a leaf from boutique hotels to create accommodation that is Instagram-worthy

In this age of Instagram, Pinterest and Snapchat, where you stay on vacation is now almost as important as the destination itself.

Boutique hotels have long been at the forefront of pushing stylish interiors, complemented with curated facilities, amenities and activities to entice travellers and staycationers to check into their properties.

Now, even hotel chains are latching onto the concept of unique design elements that are not replicated across the chain's properties.

Moving away from cookie-cutter lobbies and standard room layouts, these hotels are emulating boutique hotels, by hiring well- known designers, putting in chic furniture and crafting cocooned nooks within their properties to enhance a guest's experience, not to mention their Instagram pictures.

The Straits Times checks into three hotels to check out their designs.


OASIA HOTEL DOWNTOWN 100 PECK SEAH STREET

Architect Wong Mun Summ hopes the new Oasia Hotel Downtown will be a haven for birds and animals.

Never mind that the hotel is in the middle of the urban Tanjong Pagar district and is a stone's throw away from the MRT station.

He hopes to see squirrels climbing the facade of the 27-storey building or bulbuls and sunbirds perched on the trees by the pools on the higher floors.


The furniture and interiors at the Oasia Hotel Downtown (above) are by Spanish architect and designer Patricia Urquiola. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

Mr Wong, co-founder of award- winning Singapore firm Woha, says: "We wanted to bring biodiversity back and compensate for the hardness of the city. That will make (the hotel) more liveable and more than just a building."

Indeed, the hotel is not a typical glass-and-steel structure. Its exterior has a "hot palette" of red, orange, pink and maroon aluminium mesh, while 21 species of creepers grow on its facade.

When the creepers climb higher and grow lusher, the facade will transform into a "furry building" with flecks of red mesh in the background. The look mimics nature, where plants have colourful flowers interspersed among green leaves.

The hotel, which sits on a tight plot of about 50m by 50m, has replaced the original amount of greenery by more than 10 times, says Mr Wong. He adds that the "living tower" is a new way of looking at the high-rise typology in a tropical city.

Aside from the greenery, the facade features vertical breezeway atriums at various heights. And instead of a flat-top roof, the building is crowned with a barrel- shaped top with soft curves.

Explaining the building's unusual features, Mr Wong says: "Glass and steel buildings have a dull, silver look. Skyscrapers evolved out of temperate countries, but they are sealed environments. We wanted to incorporate the tropical environment into this building.

"When the creepers are fully grown, the crown - no creepers are grown on it - will look like a bouquet, with a green stem. All skyscrapers should finish beautifully."

The business hotel was opened last month by Far East Hospitality, Singapore's largest operator of hotels and serviced residences.

Part of the development includes the Soho project called PS100, where 100 strata office units are on levels seven to 11, with a private sky terrace on level six.

Oasia Hotel Downtown is the second hotel under the Oasia brand by Far East Hospitality in Singapore. Oasia Hotel Novena opened in 2011.

The 314-room Oasia Hotel Downtown had its interiors designed by Milan-based Spanish architect and designer Patricia Urquiola and her sleek style - though the furniture and fittings can be whimsical - is apparent throughout the property.

Mr Arthur Kiong, chief executive officer of Far East Hospitality, says: "Urquiola's creativity complements our intent to create something unique, using light, nature and space to offer a one-of-a-kind experience for our guests."

As guests wait to check in at the reception on level 12, they can sit on comfortable armchairs and plush sofas in spaces partially shielded by chain-mail curtains. A green courtyard lawn takes centre stage, while pergolas, placed on the sides and surrounded by greenery, offerbreathtaking views of the city.

Those who stay in the club rooms - the hotel's premium option has just 88 rooms that are the biggest at 28 sq m - check in at their own lobby on level 21. The basic room types are called superior and deluxe rooms.

The dramatic setting on level 21 may make club-room guests think they have checked into a resort instead of a city hotel: It is a serene oasis, filled with frangipani trees, lush shrubs and a wooden-decked infinity pool, that offers a view of southern Singapore.

Mr Wong says the concept of a luxury hotel has changed over the years. Luxury, he says, is not about being showy or massive consumption. Instead, he crafted the Oasia Hotel Downtown with "comfort and sustainability" in mind.

Woha has completed other hotel projects such as the much-lauded Parkroyal on Pickering hotel.

He says: "Developers and travellers have caught on to buildings being sustainable. We've rebranded what luxury is and created a building that responds to its context and neighbourhood."

Prices start at $388 for a superior room. The opening promotion for the superior room ($211 on weekends, $253 on weekdays)ends on July 31.


M SOCIAL 90 ROBERTSON QUAY

When it comes to designing a hotel for millennials, M Social has crafted the perfect blend of cosy and communal spaces.

With plenty of Instagram opportunities, spots to mingle and discover the Robertson Quay neighbourhood and readily available tech convenience, M Social is right on the money.

Overlooking the Singapore River, the hotel will check in its first guests from June 9, though reservations are now open.

It is part of the Millennium Hotels and Resorts' stable, which includes Grand Millennium, Millennium and Copthorne.

The group's move to design a hotel for 18- to 34-year-olds - or those with a "millennial mindset" - mirrors other chains that have set up similar properties.

The Hilton hotel chain will launch its boutique-like Canopy in Iceland later this year, while the Marriott has its hip-sounding Moxy hotel, which redefines the budget hotel experience with smartphones as room keys.

For M Social, the owners brought in star French designer Philippe Starck to helm the project, which was conceptualised about seven years ago.

This is Starck's second completed hotel in Singapore, after The South Beach luxury hotel in Beach Road.

The 67-year-old may not represent that age group, but his whimsical and fun designs will resonate with the younger demographic.

For example, the entrance to the hotel features two larger-than-life bronze-coloured steel peanut sculptures for a cheeky touch. They are about 3.2m long and 1.5m tall.

Nearby, a hulking, rusty-looking box stows guests' luggageif they arrive or check out early.

The hotel experience starts with self-check-in kiosks and guests collect their key cards and head straight up to their rooms.

The rooms, all 293 of them, are packed snugly across 10 floors, but step into each one and you would not feel cramped.

M Social has also done away with the old-fashioned names for room categories. Of the four room types, two categories are The Nice Room and The Big Room.

The Nice Room features bare concrete walls with mirrored surfaces - a Starck signature. But the piece de resistance is the striking, 4m-tall pitched roof. It lends drama to the 19 sq m room and creates a spacious vibe.

Meanwhile, The Big Room is a duplex-style loft with raw marble flooring and a roomy sofa bed on the first level. A queen-sized bed sits on the mezzanine level.

Those who need to work can use a set of nesting tables - a smaller, shorter table can be pulled out from under the bigger one for more space. The open-concept closets and the wash basin are under the stairs.

There are also larger-category rooms: The Nicer Room and The Bigger Room types come with attached terraces.

Prices start at $218 for The Nice Room, $248 for The Nicer Room, $238 for The Big Room and $268 for The Bigger Room.

Fridges are deliberately left empty so guests can fill them with their own snacks. Each room also has a smartphone with unlimited 3G connectivity and is pre-loaded with a city guide for convenience.

For a quiet respite, head to the fifth floor, where a shimmering blue-tiled pool is lined with green hedges and monochrome sun loungers.

The cosy rooms may dissuade guests from venturing out, but the hotel hopes the real mingling will take place at its hot spot: Beast & Butterflies, the in-house restaurant and bar on the ground floor.

Here, music is piped through the sound system, while the interiors are slightly dim with lava lamps placed around the seats.

And much like an art installation, a collection of tablets is hung on the walls, flashing pictures of the fusion food served up by the kitchen.

Another highlight is the eight different chandeliers, housed in their own alcoves, as projectors flash psychedelic images through the light fixtures.

It is, literally, a loud spot to see and be seen, especially when you are hanging out at the 13m-long bar.

Keeping it trendy, the bar does its own infused spirits and mixologists have come up with 20 signature cocktails.

M Social has also roped in popular Singapore band The Sam Willows as the hotel's ambassadors.

Mr Paul James, senior vice- president of global marketing and branding for Millennium Hotels and Resorts, says the new look moves away from the "cookie- cutter consistency of late 20th- century travel brands".

"M Social serves savvy, busy, self-sufficient guests with the ability to navigate their stay exactly as they need. It responds with service when and where our guests need it. It should feel like staying with really good friends."

Go on a video tour of M Social at str.sg/4ofJ


IBIS STYLES SINGAPORE ON MACPHERSON 401 MACPHERSON ROAD

There is never a dull moment at the Ibis Styles Singapore on MacPherson hotel, not with the riot of colours splashed across its interiors.

Even if you give guests the frills of a luxury hotel, what they want is a good night's sleep. So we've put in the effort to make a good bed. ''

MRS SHAMILA ROLFE, general manager of Ibis Styles Singapore on MacPherson, on the custom-made furniture in the rooms

The check-in desk on the first floor is framed by an installation of cubes popping out at various depths and vibrantly coloured in shades of red, yellow and blue.

In the 298 rooms - they start on the fourth floor and go up to the ninth - tangy-orange and candy-red shades are used for tiles, headboard decorations and bathroom doors.

In the all-day dining restaurant on the fourth floor, booth and cafe seats are decked out in orange and yellow, against a backdrop of cubes, each printed with a face of a person eating a snack.

Adding colour lends a funky vibe to the hotel, says its general manager Shamila Rolfe. "All Ibis Styles around the world are designed differently and this was our take on its first opening in Singapore."

There are two other Ibis hotels here - one in Bencoolen and the other in Novena.

Ibis Styles Singapore on MacPherson, located where Hotel Windsor used to be at the junction of MacPherson Road and Upper Aljunied Road, opened last month. It is part of a mixed-use development, Macpherson Mall.

At the hotel, there are different room categories, including a triple room and a family room, which comes with a kitchenette.

Room rates start at $138 a night. The three-star hotel targets international business travellers as well as staycationers.

The development is owned by LVND Investments, a consortium comprising Lian Huat Group, Nobel Design Holdings, Expand Group and Steel Industries.

Nobel Design Holdings is known for its stable of furniture stores including Lifestorey and Marquis Studio, in Great World City, and Minotti by Marquis Interiors, which has its showroom in Hill Street.

The group custom-made the furniture in the hotel, including the beds. Mrs Rolfe says: "Even if you give guests the frills of a luxury hotel, what they want is a good night's sleep. So we've put in the effort to make a good bed which allows that."

While the interiors are a refreshing change, the exterior is just as interesting.

The way the hotel is built is modelled after the back of a cruise ship, where some rooms overlook the pool.

The swimming poolnext to the restaurant also has a resort feel: The 25m-long free-form pool is lined with palm trees and lounge chairs. The view opens up to MacPherson Road and the Aljunied area.

There is also a gym and a 24-hour self-service laundromat.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 14, 2016, with the headline 'Splashy stays'. Print Edition | Subscribe