A HOTEL MADE JUST FOR YOU? BEHIND THE BUZZWORDS WITH MADE HOTELS’ SAM GELIN
When it comes to press releases, I’ve long suspected that PR firms are in cahoots to drive their long-suffering readers to the edge of reason through their mind-boggling use of obscure terminology. For the hospitality sector in particular, there’s a curious reliance on certain jargon-tastic keywords for which there’s only one appropriate response: Buzzword Bingo! “Community”? Tick. “Craft”? Yes, please. “Artisanal”? FULL HOUSE!
However, for every 10 keyboard-thumping missives that land in my inbox, one might manage to breathe a sense of meaning into this ‘lifestyle lingo’. The recent announcement of MADE, the new hotel project due to launch in mid-February in NYC’s NoMad neighbourhood, is one such rare creature. While the phrases “craft cocktails” and “ethos of community” do indeed make an appearance, talk of “reinventing the guest experience” and “removing social and structural barriers” speak to grander ambitions than merely paying lip service to the ‘lifestyle hotel brand’. This is style with a story, not cut-and-paste cod hospitality.
When I talk to Sam Gelin, the entrepreneur behind Craft Hospitality Group (*reaches for bingo card…*) and now MADE, he swiftly punctures my cynicism further, explaining that MADE is not the result of a cold-hearted attempt to capitalise on any trends, but is instead born from a passionately personal understanding of today’s traveller. “It started with personal observation of where we are at this moment in time and authentically understanding a younger creative class – not necessarily young in terms of age, but certainly in terms of mindset”, Gelin begins. “It used to be that people aspired to feel like they were in extremely luxurious environments. Today, I think everyone’s seen that and, whilst it’s still beautiful, there’s no story behind it. It loses its value in terms of introducing the traveller to a new experience.”
When I ask who this ‘creative class’ is to him, Gelin is very clear: “You could be in literally any industry and be a creative person. The world is moving towards creativity being aspirational; so when I say ‘creative class’, I certainly don’t want to limit who feels comfortable here. It’s an inclusive space: it’s for anybody who’s looking to indulge that creative impulse. When you segregate people by industry, you lose some of the magic that might happen if people from two completely different walks of life start talking. What sort of ideas might result from that cross-pollination?”
“The world is moving towards creativity being aspirational; so when I say ‘creative class’, I certainly don’t want to limit who feels comfortable here.”
Indeed, MADE itself is an idea that arose from the intersection of diverse minds. The first hotel project for Gelin, the 108-room property was designed by LA-based Studio MAI, whose previous work (Hinoki and The Bird and Gjelina in LA; South Congress Hotel in Austin) demonstrates a preference for the cosy, communal and multilayered. These elements have been reshaped at MADE to create what Gelin terms “our humblest attempts at a home for creatives in New York City”, the idea of homeliness returning us to that intriguing concept of “removing social and structural barriers”.
Whilst this movement towards creating a temporary ‘home’ for travellers may seem like Hospitality 101, in the rush over the last few decades to transform the urban hotel from a place of respite into a place to be seen, this feeling of comfort and the freedom to belong has arguably been lost. It’s this paradox that MADE wishes to address: getting rid of the boxes that keep us within ourselves and away from each other; swapping huge events for small, personal moments; and enabling self-expression. And where better to start the process than the centre of hotel socialising in recent years: the lobby?
MADE’s lobby will be a world away from the cavernous, dark and disorienting spaces of the past. Wall-length glass windows let in light from the city outside, and a combination of warm wooden surfaces, vegetation and woven cushions create the effect of a stylish living room as opposed to a place to simply pass through. This is intentional; in Gelin’s words, “When you walk in you’re meant to feel like you’re not in the hotel, but rather at a very interesting friend’s home that’s been superbly curated”. When it comes to removing structural barriers, “most hotel lobbies are built with very specific spaces in mind that are sectioned off: ours is just a big open space”.
In practice, this means that the main feature at the coffee shop won’t be the counter, but instead a large kitchen table, inspired by the insight that “whenever you go over to a friend’s home, people always congregate in the kitchen…it’s the intent that you’ll walk over and make conversation with people you might not have before”. Unlike existing hotel lobbies that are treated like “a glorified co-working space”, Gelin is insistent that this is not what MADE is for: “There’s a time and a place. I think when you’re stuck behind your laptop, you lose that element of social interactivity – we hope to foster a sense of community”.
“We’re in deals with some very like-minded [F&B] brands, whereby people will want to come to MADE to specifically check us out as it’s something that’s never been done before with that brand…”
The transition of spaces from day to night is another neat trick being deployed to encourage this community spirit; in the evening, for example, coffees are replaced by cocktails as the lights go down. Gelin envisions MADE as a place where someone could spend an entire day, if they wished: from a morning coffee on the second-floor patio; to a bite to eat in the cellar restaurant; to dancing on the rooftop bar, which features an incredible-sounding 22-foot, semicircular wall of glass looking out on to the Empire State Building.
It goes without saying that the food and beverage offering will be an integral part of MADE’s DNA. Although Gelin is tight-lipped about the exact F&B partners that will be involved, he teases: “I’ve got really good relationships with a lot of great coffee companies, so we intend to do something really special. We’re also in deals with some very like-minded brands, whereby people will want to come to MADE to specifically check us out as it’s something that’s never been done before with that brand…”
In a place where self-expression and personalisation are paramount, naturally there is a strong emphasis on both handmade and self-made elements throughout the private as well as public spaces. As Gelin explains, “MADE is a very conscious name because it really aptly describes who we are and who our customer is. They care about where things come from and a lot of them are fiercely independent, creative, self-made. When we talk about personalising the experience, we want things to feel like they’re made just for you”.
This attitude is evident in the subtlety of the details in each guest room, which Gelin endearingly describes in the tones of a man who could continue listing them for hours if he didn’t have a hotel launch to get on with. Japanese-handprinted tiles, hand-carved stone sinks, African mudcloth and polished stained steel mirrors that may appear discordant when considered in isolation are “layered together to create a real warmness and a real cosiness” to add to the homegrown vibes.
“MADE is a very conscious name because it really aptly describes who we are and who our customer is. They care about where things come from and a lot of them are fiercely independent, creative, self-made.”
However, perhaps the boldest innovation within the rooms is a racking system that integrates staples like the closet and desk to allow guests to customise the space in a way that suits them. “I always get a kick out of travelling to a city where space is at a premium, walking into a room and smiling about how massive the desks are,” Gelin muses. “Because most of the time nobody’s going to use those desks – the majority of people that I know will grab their laptops and jump on the bed! Likewise, I travel out of my suitcase – a suit, a dress shirt or two might come out, and beyond that it stays in my luggage. People can really personalise the room by bringing their personal effects into it.” He takes a similarly minimalist approach to technology in an age where people travel with their own gadgets; TVs are hidden behind a walnut cover and you won’t find any tech-heavy apps on offer. It’s an elegant, efficient solution to the oft-cited criticism of NYC’s compact rooms that shouldn’t feel revolutionary, but does.
On first glance, it might seem like New York City needs another lifestyle hotel catering to the creative masses like I need another by-numbers press release in my inbox. However, in these times where communities seem more divided than ever, maybe a little cross-pollination that harks back to the city’s immigrant, inclusive roots is exactly what’s required. After all, diversity and conversation breed creativity – and in Gelin’s words, “the best experiences I’ve had in hotels are the ones where I’m interacting with the human”.