Are Hotels the Future of Retail?

Design brands such as Muji, Shinola, and Vipp are forging into a new frontier to peddle their products.

Design brands such as Muji, Shinola, and Vipp are forging into a new frontier to peddle their products.

Shoppable apartment, meet the liveable showroom. From boutique outfits to big-box players, it’s no secret that home and lifestyle brands are increasingly experimenting with unorthodox methods to reach potential customers. The latest taking hold? Hotels. “Traditional retail seems to be losing its power, but what is not losing power is our desire to see or do something interesting. I see our hotels as the experience economy coming alive,” says Kasper Egelund, CEO of Denmark-based Vipp. The family-owned company—known for inventing pedal-controlled waste bins and, more recently, for designing clean-lined kitchen accessories and prefabricated homes—has opened three properties, each with only one room. Shelter is a spare metal-and-glass cabin tucked away in the Swedish wilderness sans TV or WiFi. In Copenhagen, the light-filled Loft sits atop a former printing factory and is done up in Douglas pinewood beams and artworks from local collective A Kassen; the new brick-walled Chimney House, a converted 1910 water pumping station, arrives this month. Both were conceived by architect David Thulstrup. All the accommodations are appointed with Vipp products, including lighting, daybeds, three-legged side tables, and monochrome kitchens complete with complimentary Moët Champagne. 

Corridor and dining area in Vipp Loft (Photos: courtesy Vipp).

Another Danish brand, One Collection, took the concept to Japan, unveiling Hotel Hakuba last year. Owners Henrik Sørensen and Ivan Hansen, who owns the rights to House of Finn Juhl designs, fell in love with Hakuba, in the Nagano ski area, and decided to renovate the ’70s-era lodge. The six rooms are outfitted in Finn Juhl pieces, including France chairs with hand-stitched leather and cherry-hued Poet sofas, as well as Getama beds and lamps from Louis Poulsen and Pandul. In Tokyo’s retail-centric Shibuya district, Japanese fashion label Koe launched a namesake, industrial-style stay, a collaboration between Suppose Design Office and artless Inc’s Shun Kawakami. Its 10 moody, monochrome rooms—accessible by a tucked-away elevator—have glass-walled bathrooms and are named by size (S, M, L, XL); a guest lounge features works by painters Yoshitomo Nara and Hiroshi Sugita. An airy restaurant and bakery sit on the ground floor, while a flagship store upstairs sells the young brand’s casual line featuring special-edition collaborations with designers like Thom Browne.

Guest lounge at the Hotel Hakuba, in Japan. (Photo: courtesy Hotel Hakuba).
One of Hotel Koe's ten austere rooms in Tokyo. (Photo: courtesy Hotel Koe.)

Come fall, Detroit-based Shinola—known for its watches, bicycles, and leather goods—is debuting a 130-room property set in five downtown buildings (two historic, three new), with the goal of creating a community hub for both visitors and residents. Designed by Gachot Studios, the 16,000 square feet of public space will showcase multiple restaurants from chef Andrew Carmellini. Finally, cult Japanese retailer Muji’s forthcoming Beijing hotel this summer joins the inaugural Shenzhen location, which debuted in January. (2019 will see the arrival of a Tokyo outpost in the city’s Ginza district.) Located in a shiny new construction, the 79 minimalist rooms are equipped with the brand’s signature products, such as ceramic dishware, feather pillows, wall-mounted CD players by Naoto Fukasawa, and even toothbrush holders. While the other hotels aim to make a soft sell, Muji isn’t going for subtlety: Everything is available for purchase at the massive onsite shop.


Muji’s products outfit its hotel in Shenzhen, China. (Photo: courtesy Muji).
The street-level restaurant and bakery at Hotel Koe.
The exterior of One Collection's Hotel Hakuba. (Photo: courtesy Hotel Hakuba).
Common space at the Vipp Loft in Copenhagen (Photo: courtesy Vipp).
A guest room at Hotel Hakuba.
Scenes from Hotel Hakuba. (Photos: courtesy Hotel Hakuba).
Vipp Shelter, located near Lake Immeln in Sweden.
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