We all define luxury differently, and what we deem tasteful is subjective. Yet it's pretty hard for anyone to argue with truly great design. And, while we're at it, surely we're all suckers for a little fun too? The thing is, even those of us who may be fully literate in hotel design don't necessarily have the budget to pander to our snootiest inner aesthete. This is when the new crop of hotels – where form matches function, without eye-watering room rates – is most welcome.
Discerning travellers want the destination to sing at their chosen hotel. These days, they're also proving that they're happy to ditch all the bells and whistles offered by a corporate hotel chain (bell-hops, trouser presses and the like) in return for personality at a great price. Take, for example, the New Hotel in Athens. Its slick, contemporary art, central location and great value for money have been pulling in creative types since it opened in 2011. In Marrakech, Fellah Hotel lays on local culture (even for children) as part of the room rate; there's an extensive, multilingual library and artists-in-residence programme. Similarly, Brody House in Budapest nurtures artists and musicians by showcasing their work and even signing bands to record in its studios. For those who enjoy eye candy, see Fellah's yellow taxi parked under a treehouse and Brody's chic, upcycled furnishings and vintage handwritten letters as decoupage.
It's all part of the modern evolution of hotels. Former nightclub impresarios André Balazs and Ian Schrager gave city-stays swagger back in the 1980s. Their designer dens were sexy and sociable and launched this era of hip hotels. We all started to crave individuality from our homes-away-from-home, as well as a sense of place. After that, even the big, non-boutique boys started doing designer. As well as being chic, they threw in fancy fixtures and amenities. By the time we reached the era of global financial crisis, the budget element finally kicked in. Hoteliers had to reinvent a winning formula all over again.
Now everyone wants style, service and surprises from their hotel – and they want it without breaking the bank. Even hostels have got in on the act. Add Instagram to the mix and your hip hangouts have to be photogenic as well. From Portland to Panama via NYC and Shoreditch, Ace Hotels are a pertinent example of that winning formula of edgy-and-relatively-affordable city stays, thanks to their rock 'n' roll spirit and a street-smart look and feel. We've come a long way since the label "boutique" gave hotels licence to up the price tag, and happily today "budget" needn't be shorthand for soulless.
Juliet Kinsman is the editor-in-chief of Mr & Mrs Smith hotel guides (mrandmrssmith.com)