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Hotel Hobbies

50 things to do in a hotel room that won’t get you arrested

By Marcus Weeks

Thunder Bay Press, 2005

144 pages, $12.95

Hotel as Home

The art of living on the road

By Gary Chang

Princeton Architectural Press, 2006

248 pages, $37.95

By Vivian Moreau

Hotels are not the place to do anything straight up. They’re places where we can pretend we’re someone we’re not. Leave the bed unmade, consume meals in bed, spend as long as you want in the shower, get pampered in the spa. They’re places where you can pretend you’re not just a working stiff — that you’re actually someone special and you don’t mind paying for the presumption.

Someone who doesn’t mind paying for the ultimate in hotel living is Japanese architect Gary Chang, who spends an average of 120 days a year in hotels around the world. In Hotel as Home , Chang chronicles 37 of his favourite hotels not just as a guest but with an architect’s eye for spatial resonance, utilitarianism, and beauty.

Chang, who lives in a spare 33 sq. metres in Hong Kong notes many of that city’s residents furnish their homes with salability rather than their own needs in mind. “Neither the layout nor the décor should be too personal or individualistic, which of course coincides with the philosophy of hotel chains.” Judging from the photos he’s included of his own apartment, Chang belongs to that group.

His choice of hotels, however, is anything but mainstream. From trips he made between 1998 and 2003 (with a noticeable absence around September, 2001) Chang remarks on the macro and micro delights and picayune extravagances of hotels, from the historically abundant Pera Palace Hotel in Istanbul to the über modern Hi Hotel in Nice. Not a Canadian hotel in the lot, although there are surprisingly run of the mill entries such as the Radisson SAS Royal in Copenhagen.

Chang is a collector of details, noting the efficacy of bathroom faucets and delighting in the 10-drawer not so mini mini-bar of the Soho House in New York City. He shot all the matte photographs for this chunky book that is a refreshing read for anyone who would get a kick from Chang’s thoughtful and quirky hotel observations, as when he advises readers not to be “put off by the slightly out of the way location of the swimming pool which sits in the middle of the pier beyond the hotel” of the W Hotel in Sydney, or encourages a visit to the much-overlooked garden on the 17th floor of the 1,000-room Hudson Hotel in New York City. A cross between guidebook and art book Hotel as Home is one architect’s chummy insight into transient living of the highest form.

The other end of the spectrum is Marcus Weeks’s Hotel Hobbies, 50 things to do in a hotel that won’t get you arrested . Nothing to do with grappling ceiling hooks, this book is bedside brain candy for those consummate business travellers “who find themselves in soulless hotel rooms more often than their own comfortable bedrooms.” A sort of craft/activity book to avoid hotel room cabin fever, Weeks has thrown together a ridiculous list of things to do when you’ve nothing to do.

Towel origami is my personal favorite, one sure to impress your conference roommate. Hand towels are not just for drying hands, we find out, they can also be transformed into an oven-ready chicken or towel version of the sock monkey with a few diagrammed folding techniques.

Weeks also documents mini-bar band or chess which involves copius amounts of drinking in order to free up pieces or create musical reverberations. He also highlights ensuite free running, involving leaping from upturned wastebasket to armchair, tightrope walking along the radiator, and swinging on the door frame out onto the balcony furniture, all of which sounds dangerous having just finished a game of minibar chess.

Hotel Hobbies is a silly book, but one which would make an excellent addition to hotel nightstands everywhere.