When the Morgans Hotel opened in New York City in 1984, the first property in Ian Schrager's soon-to-be empire pioneered a luxury hospitality trend, putting esthetics and conspicuous cool over traditional pampered service. Now, after more than two decades, design hotels are evolving in a more democratic direction, emphasizing affordable rates without sacrificing innovation. The shift is timely; with luxury tourism hurting, these hot properties are attracting guests—for cheap.
Paris may be full of antiquated institutions that define old-school hospitality, but in the increasingly trendy neighborhood of SoPig (short for South of Pigalle), design hotel godfather Philippe Starck and the Trigano family have teamed up to develop a new hotel concept that radiates youthful energy. Each of Mama Shelter's 172 rooms comes with its own iMac with integrated TV, DVD and music capabilities, as well as free Wi-Fi, rain showers, ultrasoft cotton sheets and strange—but cute—children's masks doubling as light shades. Self-service check-in kiosks in the lobby speed things along and help keep room rates lower than a Holiday Inn. The restaurant and bar are packed even on weekdays, with locals and guests intermingling over slightly boring, overpriced bistro fare. But drinks like the Bubble Bum (vodka, Malabar, lemon juice and sugar) are exceptional (from $100 a night; mamashelter.com).
On the edge of the Hudson River in Manhattan's far West Village, partners Sean MacPherson and Eric Goode—whose previous collaborations include the Bowery Hotel and the Waverly Inn—have renovated a shabby, century-old building into a small-scale hipster hotel. The 200 rooms fuse inspiration from Japanese "pod" hotels with retro-styled luxury train cabins, a clever solution to the cramped spaces—a standard room is about 17 square meters. Basics include a compact twin bed with built-in drawers and storage space, brass coat hooks, LCD flat-screen TVs and free Internet access. Charming communal bathrooms at the end of the hall are more hostel than haute; the finicky can take refuge in one of the 83-square-meter panoramic river-view rooms with private bathrooms due to open this spring (from $99 a night; thejanenyc.com).
This small, swinging-'60s-inspired hotel, designed by Steven Sclaroff, easily holds its own against the other swanky hospitality spots that border Central Park, including the old-world Essex House and Trump International. Its 88 guest rooms feature fancy chrome, teak and pony-skin accents, along with framed Guy Bourdin prints, creating the feel of a stylish bachelor pad, which attracts visiting businessmen and tourists. The relaxed attitude extends to the minibar, which offers various delicacies from Dean & Deluca, as well as the "Shag Bag," complete with condoms, mints and lubricant. It's part and parcel of the property's knowingly sophisticated pose—another element that allows a guest to feel like an extra in "Mad Men" without breaking the bank (from a relatively reasonable $255 a night for this neighborhood; sixcolumbus.com).
Berlin is Europe's contemporary bohemian center, but its hotel options are a bit stodgy, dominated by mass-market brands and historic hotels. The group of 30-something friends behind the Michel Berger Hotel, due to open this July, aims to draw a young, artsy clientele by targeting crews for film and fashion shoots and visitors to Berlin's art and cultural fairs. Set in an old factory building, each of the 100 rooms features loftlike ceilings and oversize windows. The rooms are configurable, with the largest able to accommodate six people—in case band members want to bunk together without sharing a bed. Hand-built wooden furniture in each room is juxtaposed with a hodgepodge of mismatched flea-market finds in the public spaces—a look also evident in most of Berlin's cafés and coffeehouses. Amenities include flat-screen TVs built into reclaimed industrial boxes and free Wi-Fi, as well as a spa, a beer garden, a restaurant and a bar with a small stage. It's intended for the new generation of sophisticated but laid-back travelers who want to have a high-design hotel experience at the price of a hostel (from $75 per night; www.michelbergerhotel.com).