This playful Parisian prototype hopes to be a game-changer, writes Julietta Jameson.
The people behind the Hi Matic, a small hotel in the 11th arrondisement of Paris, proclaim their property to be a new concept and the prototype for the future of hospitality. The website says this is "a new type of hotel, practical and accessible, mixing ... urban hotel and countryside bed and breakfast with strong ecological values".
Central to the Hi Matic is a self-service, minimal-usage theme, the hallmarks of which are compact, functional sleeping and ablution spaces and food in vending machines. That's hardly new: the Japanese have been doing all that for years. And ecological values, well, there are plenty of small hotels in Scandinavia, among other places, hitting that mark. But that practical approach, combined with the Hi Matic's price point - for chic, clean, well-run accommodation - is a rarity in Paris.
The future of hotels? Lovers of luxury will hope not, but those seeking something that perhaps reflects their eco-values may hope so. And certainly those looking for a budget modern boutique hotel in Paris will just be happy the Hi Matic exists, prototype or not.
The 42-room inn, which opened last year, was designed by Matali Crasset, a Philippe Starck protege. That means colour. And more colour. And a kindergarten aesthetic, with chunky blond-wood fixtures and furniture, vinyl upholstery and block-font messages on surfaces everywhere, such as, "Enjoy your cabane" painted on the doors of rooms (or cabins as they are called here).
The light-filled shop-front-style lobby is reminiscent of a classroom, furnished with a huge map of Paris, a small timber mezzanine with benches overlooking the street, a booth with an iPad fixed to the wall for communal use, and a station with touchscreens for self- check-in.
Along one wall is a vending machine selling a curious range of goods, from small electronics to architectural books.
Behind it is an alcove housing bright-orange, good-size lockers for luggage (we got our large suitcase plus carry-on in one) - free for early-arriving guests or those with time to kill in Paris post-checkout.
Up a minuscule lift or narrow spiral staircase are the rooms, and they are tiny - even by European standards - though there are a couple of decent-size family ones on the ground floor.
Our room is on the fifth floor and has a lovely window that's decorated with a planter box and opens out to rooftops, ivy-clad apartment blocks and a church bell tower. Tres Paris.
Not so usual for small hotels in the City of Light is the modernity of the room. It has bright-blue walls, a hard grass-green floor and, in the middle, a wooden frame that incorporates shelving, a desk with a low squishy cube for sitting at and hanging space.
Within the frame is a thick king-size purple-vinyl mattress (we recall using something similar in the high-school gym) and, on top of it, a thin futon, doonas (two single) and pillows. Above it, pink lamps are printed with diagrams explaining how to adapt the space from day to night (pretty simple: roll up the futon by day; lay it down by night).
Sitting or lying inside the frame feels a bit like being in a playpen with a TV attached to the wall at a low level for viewing from bed and an iPod dock within reach.
It's cosy, though the frame creates too many dark corners for things to disappear into and it perhaps puts style ahead of function, making the already small room appear smaller.
We also have to walk over the purple mat to access the bathroom facilities, which is awkward, especially as there is no bathroom per se. In a corner, there's a cylindrical shower unit with a basin outside it. On the wall nearby, hooks hold two good-size white towels. The shower and sink are a little close to the bedding, so careful splash management is required.
The toilet sits directly inside the room door, in a little wooden cabin of its own with colourful Perspex panels in the walls.
In the basement of the hotel there's a breakfast room furnished with low tables and stools, more vending machines for organic snack foods, and free espresso.
Breakfast is included in the tariff. It's a simple repast of organics: bread roll and spreads, fruit, juice and yoghurt, apportioned on individual trays with bamboo disposable cutlery. (Memories of school camp cafeterias emerge.)
The Hi Matic is on the Rue de Charonne and the neighbourhood is great. It adjoins the Marais and is a multicultural, everyday-life kind of place removed from the tourist traps. We walked from the Hi Matic to Notre Dame and back, a lovely morning's excursion through interesting backstreets.
At night, Rue de Charonne comes alive. It's full of excellent bars and clubs but don't worry: as loud as the colour scheme is, the Hi Matic is blissfully soundproof.
The hotel staff are also as friendly and cheery as the decor. They happily help with things such as lugging bags and calling taxis. Call us old-fashioned, but despite all the modernity, automation and functionality, it's these age-old keys to good hospitality - the human touch, as well as the location - that we love most about the place.
Where 71 Rue de Charonne, Paris. (33 1) 4367 5656, hi-matic.net/en.
How much Double rooms start at €89 ($107), depending on the season. Breakfast included.
Top marks The hotel may be budget but it's clean, well maintained and, best of all, very secure, with a pin-code main entry and sturdy room doors.
Black mark The hallways are tiny and getting in and out of the even tinier lift was seriously hindered by the cleaners leaving vacuum cleaners and buckets in the thoroughfares during service periods.
Don't miss Take an after-dinner walk down Rue de Charonne towards the Bastille to see young Paris out and having fun.