To create compelling and distinctive experiences for their guests, many hotels now draw from the heritage and personalities of their respective locations.
Three new accommodation options - two boutique hotels and a hostel - have opened recently in Singapore, each influenced by the atmosphere and history of its individual building and neighbourhood.
The Warehouse Hotel in Havelock Road, which is housed in an old godown along the Singapore River, hints playfully at the area's vice-tinged past.
There used to be gambling dens and alcohol distilleries there.
The interiors are dark and sleek, with furniture in shades of brown, black and green.
The check-in counter has a pair of handcuffs on display.
In the rooms, there are other sexy touches such as tassel whips in the mini-bars.
Far from the madding crowd is Villa Samadhi Singapore, housed in a black-and-white colonial building in Labrador Nature Reserve.
Run by an antique lover, the hotel is inspired by old Malaya and features vintage items from the region, such as a Burmese bank-teller counter that serves as a check-in desk.
While these two hotels hark back to the past, Coo is firmly in the present: It uses the retro-cool vibe of the Tiong Bahru suburb as a cheery decor motif for its lobby and bistro.
For example, graphic prints featuring the neighbourhood's iconic Art Deco walk-up apartments decorate the walls and ceilings of this 11-room hostel in Outram Road.
Nestled in the greenery of the Labrador Nature Reserve, Villa Samadhi Singapore welcomed its first guests earlier this month.
The new boutique hotel that harks back to colonial days is housed in a two-storey, black-and-white military building built in the 20th century during British times (the exact date is unknown).
There are 20 rooms across four room types, featuring luxurious amenities such as plunge pools and rainshowers.
All the rooms are located in the main building except the private 56sq m Luxe Sarang suite, which is in an adjacent building that used to be a cook house.
The building had been empty for years before Federico Asaro, 48, founder and chief executive officer of Samadhi Retreats, decided to turn it into a luxury retreat.
This is the third property for the Samadhi hospitality group, which also runs Japamala Resort on Tioman Island and Villa Samadhi Kuala Lumpur.
Besides hotels, Asaro also runs The Tamarind Group of restaurants, including Tamarind Hill Singapore, which is a short walk via a "jungle walkway" from Villa Samadhi Singapore.
An avid antiques collector who lives in Singapore, Asaro was adamant that the hotel preserved an authentic colonial atmosphere inside and outside.
The Italy-born hotelier says: "It's a historical building in the middle of nowhere - there's soul to this place.
I didn't want to have this old exterior and modernise the inside. It would have lost its essence."
To avoid using modern replicas in the building, he travelled to Malaysia to source for old wooden floorboards and balustrades.
He also went to construction sites in Singapore to pick up discarded old roof tiles that were in good condition.
He used them to replace broken tiles on the hotel's roof.
"The construction people thought I was an idiot," he says.
His eye for detail shows in the elegant Asian-inflected furnishings.
In the lobby, guests check in at an old Burmese bank-teller counter.
Along the staircase, there is a 120-year-old food carrier from China and on the wall are art pieces made out of colourful ethnic Hmong fabric.
Around the property are custom-made furniture such as loungers made from recycled wood, carpets and rugs from Afghanistan and Iran, as well as antique trunks placed in some rooms.
"Samadhi" is a Sanskrit word that means a state of intense concentration achieved through meditation.
Guests may or may not achieve enlightenment at the hotel, but various thoughtful features are designed to help them relax.
Yoga and tai chi sessions are being planned.
At night, decanters in the room are filled with port for a nightcap.
And guests can also unwind at a cool hang-out-spot-cum-bar called the Library on the second floor.
Nature, which surrounds the property, provides the final touch.
Asaro says that peacocks, cockatoos and even an albino snake have been spotted around the premises.
He says: "I'm not selling a bed for a night. It's about the experience."
A slice of its naughty past
The Warehouse Hotel in Havelock Road is not shy about the sordid past of its neighbourhood.
The 37-room property is housed in a 121-year-old godown along the Singapore River.
The area had a reputation for harbouring secret society members, gambling dens and prostitutes.
It was also known as a place where homemade alcohol was sold on street corners and in alleys.
As a nod to the neighbourhood's colourful history, the hotel marries the unfinished, utilitarian warehouse aesthetic with the kinkier vibe of a place for illicit trysts.
In the cavernous lobby, pulleys - common fixtures in old warehouses - and naked lightbulbs hang from the double-volume ceiling. Inside a glass display area built into the check-in counter, there is a set of handcuffs, an ashtray and bottle openers.
Rooms come with a "Minibar of Vices" while some rooms have open-concept bathrooms or tubs placed behind clear glass.
The hotel is run by the Lo & Behold Group, which is behind several chic lounges and restaurants, including the two-Michelin-starred Odette at the National Gallery Singapore and The White Rabbit in Harding Road.
The interiors were done by Asylum, a home-grown, award-winning design studio.
Chris Lee, 46, Asylum's founder and creative director of this project, was also inspired by the Fritz Lang sci-fi silent film, Metropolis (1927) to create two Brutalist-looking feature walls of patterned, glowing squares.
For the hotel's in-house restaurant, Po, he went for a nostalgic theme.
The cosy 52-seat restaurant features rattan chairs, green Calacatta marbled tables and terrazzo flooring - creating an old-school feel.
The hotel is also big on championing Singaporean brands. Lifestyle brand Matter Prints designed custom bed runners, which have a pattern showcasing the three roof peaks of the warehouse, while the minibars are also filled with treats such as Salted Egg Yolk Potato Chips by Singaporean snack company The Golden Duck and complimentary tea from speciality tea company A.muse Projects.
Wee Teng Wen, 37, managing partner of the Lo & Behold Group, says: "The hotel tells a very unique Singaporean story and will offer a truly authentic experience and be a prism to local culture, rather than be just a pitstop to eat and sleep."
Coo way for like-minded millennials to meet
Tiong Bahru, an enclave that mixes retro charm and cool design-centric businesses, has no shortage of quirky boutique hotels.
But a new hostel hopes to tap into a different demographic: the millennial traveller on a budget.
Housed in a four-storey conservation shophouse in Outram Road and comprising 11 rooms with 68 beds, Coo blends nostalgic references with techie frills.
All over its walls and ceiling are graphic prints featuring "kopitiam uncles", Tiong Bahru's iconic Art Deco architecture, local kuih and "Bob", a neighbourhood tabby cat.
In a bistro on the first level, an abstract map of Tiong Bahru fashioned out of neon lights is suspended from the ceiling.
The four-month-old hostel takes it one step further with a social media-like "digital interest matching tool" to get guests mingling even before they arrive.
Once travellers have booked their stay at the hostel, they can log on to Coo Connect to create a profile.
They can find others who will be staying there at the same time and link up with like-minded travellers to plan activities or chat.
The idea, says Coo's founder Silas Lee, 51, taps into millennials' love of digital connectivity.
The former head of corporate banking for Asia Pacific at Barclays bank, who is running a hostel for the first time, says: "The end game is to get people to interact face-to-face rather than just being a keyboard warrior.
It is about connecting like-minded people and encouraging them to explore common interests."
The interiors were designed by Colin Seah, 44, founder of award-winning multidisciplinary firm Ministry of Design, who also did the branding.
The design mixes cheekiness with clever functionality.
For example, hallways to the rooms are plastered with house rules such as "Your mum ain't here, clean up after yourself".
Instead of a key card, guests are given wristbands so there is a lower chance of them losing their keys.
The bunk beds are like cubicles where guests can draw the curtains for privacy.
There are also lockers in the cubicles for valuables.
And guests can hop on free bicycles provided by the hostel to explore the area.
Promotional prices start at $30++ for a single bed in an eight-bed dormitory and go up to $50++ for a single bed in a four-bed dormitory with an ensuite bathroom.
This article was first published on January 31, 2017.
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