Blissful Boutique Hotels: Design Is Everything

Boutique hotels are popping up in Asia's cosmopolitan cities. In recent years, Hong Kong and Singapore have led the trend. Now Shanghai is getting the boutique treatment, meeting the fast-growing demand among design-conscious travelers for a more intimate environment. Within the space of a few months, at least three boutique hotels—generally defined as having fewer than 100 rooms, along with a hip design concept—have opened their doors. The 30-room Mansion Hotel is a renovated French-style manor with private-club décor, evoking the swinging Shanghai of the 1920s. M Suites has a sleeker, more contemporary feel, and JIA Shanghai provides home-style luxury.

The trend for boutique hotels started in New York and London in the mid-'80s but was slow to catch on in Asia. Former lawyer Loh Lik Peng says he was called "crazy" when he started Singapore's first boutique hotel, Hotel 1929, back in 2003. "No one thought small hotels could make money," says Loh, who also opened Singapore's ultrahip New Majestic Hotel last year. "Now people are realizing that if you're doing the right thing, it will work."

Boutique hotels typically attract an Internet-savvy, younger crowd of working professionals. They have little need or desire for the posh features a five-star hotel typically offers, like a large business center or sumptuous dining. What matters most to them is location—being in the coolest neighborhood—and the little touches, from gourmet chocolate on the side table to organic juice in the fridge. Sweet indeed.