Forget the minibar, armchair, and executive desk. A typical one- or two-person room in the new Hotel Hive in Washington, DC, has space for a bed, a side table, and a small bathroom—and that’s pretty much it.
The hotel, due to open this summer, is part of a new generation of hotels that is less about suites and kitchenettes and more about efficiency, connectivity, and affordability. These so-called microhotels, or pod hotels, offer tiny rooms meant to attract working travelers on a budget or those who’d prefer to hang in a hip public space than hole up in a banal hotel room.
Travelers can now stay in pod-style hotels in New York City, San Francisco, Tokyo, and other places where space is at a premium. Marriott, the behemoth hotel chain, has even gotten into the act with its Moxy microhotels. The company has a dozen new properties opening worldwide during the next year, including ones in New Orleans and Nashville.
The hotels follow the no-frills, downsizing trend of recent years: tourists who take BoltBus on the cheap; the “tiny house movement,” which has spawned a number of cable TV shows; Smart cars that fit into half a parking space; and so on. It also addresses modern consumers’ desire for a more localized experience—emphasizing local food and local color—that brings travelers into a distinct urban scene while eschewing tired hotel staples like mass-market paintings of country scenes on the walls.
“Microhotel concepts offer incredible value and are particularly well suited for short-term, urban stays for recreational or business travelers,” says Judd Ullom, a project manager for Abdo Development, which is building Hotel Hive. “In most urban hotels, you get more space than you need, but you’re paying a premium for it. If all you’re looking for is a convenient, well-located place to stay that’s fun and affordable, microhotels can give you all of that for half the price of a traditional hotel.”
Hotel Hive is the first of several microhotels now under construction in the nation’s capital, adding to a thriving hotel industry that caters to the city’s 20 million visitors each year. The hotel is a renovation of the historic but derelict Allen Lee Hotel in the city’s Foggy Bottom neighborhood, located not far from the Lincoln Memorial and the Kennedy Center. When Abdo Development purchased the five-story property, which is thought to date to the turn of the 20th century, it was known mostly for its horrible online reviews: “Worst Ever Hotel in the United States and Even in the Milky Way,” captioned one typical jibe.
Abdo is hoping to change that reputation for good. Hotel Hive—which features the tagline, “Buzz More. Spend Less.”—will house 83 rooms, typically ranging from 125 to 250 square feet. The bigger rooms have space for a desk and a chair. Rooms will start at $125 per night—a steal compared to the $200–$300 asking price for other nearby hotels. As with other microhotels, the emphasis is on public spaces. The main level will feature a bar and &pizza restaurant; other hangout areas include an outdoor patio and a rooftop terrace. The vibe, according to Abdo, will be one of “refined minimalism.”
“We are developing a completely new, modern microhotel brand within the confines of an existing, century-old building,” Ullom says. “We’re not just giving the property a facelift. We are utilizing every square inch of space available to maximize functionality and value for the guest without sacrificing comfort or detracting from the inherent character of the building.”
Abdo faced several challenges carving up the tight, unusual hotel space. The building is situated on a triangular lot at the intersection of F Street N.W. and Virginia Avenue and was built in a roughly triangular shape, as well, with a hexagonal tower at the corner that runs the entire height of the building. Abdo’s team relied on Autodesk AutoCAD software to model the building and determine how to get as many rooms as possible into the somewhat awkward space. (The original hotel had 87 rooms, some with shared bathrooms.)
Given the building’s location in a historic district, Abdo was limited in the number of exterior modifications it could make. But the development team added an outdoor dining patio, an ADA accessible ramp, and a rooftop deck and trellis. And Abdo significantly rehabilitated the façade, including new windows, doors, masonry work, paint, and a new roof.
Meanwhile, internally, a new fire staircase was added on one end. And the hexagonal shape will be used to full advantage: On the main level, it will be outfitted with a special booth with a VIP feel; on upper levels, the space allows for an unusual room on each level offering coveted and nearly 360-degree views of the surrounding city.
As for the small rooms, they do require special compensations. All rooms will have private bathrooms, but they rely on things like pocket doors and upright showers to save space, mini-split HVAC systems, and furniture that doubles as storage. Every room has a TV (and fast Wi-Fi, considering everyone arrives with their own devices these days), and rooms with bunk beds have a TV on each bunk.
To maximize soundproofing, rooms are highly insulated and lined with both drywall and a second, engineered drywall paneling called QuietRock, which is made of gypsum and sound-absorbing polymers. Room entrances will be encrypted and can be keyed to an app on guests’ smartphones if they’d rather not deal with checking in at the front desk or keeping track of plastic key cards.
At the same time, the hotel offers flexibility for older travelers and families: Some rooms have interior doors that could be opened to make an adjoining suite. Parents coming to visit their college-age kids at nearby George Washington University, for example, would be comfortable there, too. “We’re all about providing guests with convenience and value so they can get on with what they really want to do while they’re in town: socializing, sightseeing, visiting family and friends,” Ullom says.
Architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe famously said that less is more. With Hotel Hive and other microhotels nearing completion in DC and many other cities, it remains to be seen if this holds true for the next generation of travelers.