The Hosts

Urban stay reloaded

Theresia Kohlmayr and Fanny Holzer-Luschnig are the go-getting women behind a brand new hotel concept. On December 3 the grätzlhotel (neighborhood hotel) opened its doors in Vienna. In our conversation they tell about how they would like to introduce their guests to the other, authentic Vienna and what social design has to do with it all. And: Have you ever heard of a horizontal hotel? Then it is due time

Anneliese Ringhofer: Our editorial office is right around the corner. During the renovation work we noticed the new café on the corner, and later on we saw a job posting on the window pane. That got us curious about the project…

Fanny Holzer-Luschnig: That’s cool to hear. It proves that our concept is working out! The café is called “zur Rezeption” – it is intended as the first point of contact on Karmelitermarkt for our hotel guests when they need something. But the special feature is that we also want to be there for the neighbors. It is the reception desk for the complete neighborhood. For example, if you live in the house across the way and need a gift or flowers for a spontaneous birthday party on the weekend, you can come to our hotel shop and find things there. We’re also happy to check tickets to the theatre – so we offer a concierge service for everyone. Otherwise, we are naturally also happy when a neighbor just drops by for a coffee.

Theresia Kohlmayr: Our hotels are organized horizontally and decentralized, in contrast to hotels which are vertically organized and everything is one building. We cooperate with business partners and propose these “neighbors” – as we like to call them – to our guests without any obligation or coupon system. Any forms of consumption or services have to be paid extra and are not included in the hotel price. Be it the breakfast or dinner time venue, the massage institute and cosmetics salon, or the tailor and the Turkish baker. In this way we even strengthen the neighborhood ties. Our hotel concept has a small social design effect as we are designing and curating social networks.

The grätzlhotel belvedere already has suites in the Karolinenviertel in Vienna’s 4th district, near the Meidling market in the 12th district, and here on Karmelitermarkt in the 2nd district. These are up-and-coming urban areas in Vienna. There are numerous hipster cafés and restaurants, especially at the markets. You are sitting in an already well-feathered nest. Doesn’t that water down your initial idea of enlivening the neighborhood?

T.K.: One doesn’t exclude the other. And there is still a lot of vacancy at all of the locations. Our suites and also the café “zur Rezeption” are situated in B and C-rate areas – in any case, there isn’t much going on, as you can see here in the 2nd district.

F.H.L.: We are starting first with the hotel project; the first suites are in these areas. We will surely go on in less lively neighborhoods, like the 20th district.

"You can compare our hotel project with apartments which were vacant for longer and are now once again inhabited."

In a project at this year’s Vienna Art Week artists critically addressed the subject of gentrification. The typical gentrification model: first come the artists, then the money. Rent prices go up, etc., etc. Are you making a contribution to gentrification with your hotel project?

T.K.: That’s perhaps applicable to Berlin, but Vienna is far slower in this regard. We have been operating our URBANAUTS hotel suites in the Karolinenviertel for five years now, and we’re still waiting for something to happen in the gastronomy business. I don’t think our five to twelve rooms per location are going to trigger the big boom. A hotel with 200 rooms, in contrast, means that there are disproportionately more guests wandering through the neighborhood. You can compare our hotel project with apartments which were vacant for longer and are now once again inhabited.

F.H.L.: Our hotel enterprise uses rooms solely on the ground floor of buildings, so we’re not taking anybody’s apartment away. It is a residentially protected area, which can only be used for commercial purposes. Moreover, we also cannot afford expensive rents – we renovate a lot, and that can be quite burdensome financially.

A part of the grätzlhotel is URBANAUTS, which you, Theresia, and two of your student colleagues founded in 2011. Together you manage the suites in the Karolinenviertel. Are you worldwide pioneers with this new accommodation concept?

T.K.: Well, we were the first ones! But there are already copies. In France the project is called “La Boulangerie”, but it is not as sophisticated as our concept – they still need practice! (laughs)

F.H.L.: Being copied is a big plus!

But what if the experiment would have run askew?

T.K.: Our first suite is located right beside our architecture studio. If something had gone wrong, we would have a showroom – with a bed. (laughs)

When did you have the idea for URBANAUTS?

T.K.: We were looking for a studio – that was in 2008. Back then we noticed that Vienna has a lot of empty shops. My colleagues wanted to open a bar, but that wasn’t an option for me. I come from a Salzburg hotelier family, and suddenly it came to me: We could make hotel rooms in these empty shop spaces. Since I was young I wanted to be boss – that’s what everybody in the hotel called my mother. Via the side street of architecture I still ended up in the hotelier business. That makes it all the more exciting, since I have a different approach.

Now you are not only the host, you also renovate and design the suites. Apropos: The design is inspired by the previous function. In what kind of shop are we sitting here?

F.H.L.: It used to be a light store. We used a number of lamps from the remaining assortment. There’s a photo on the wall as evidence, where you can see shop front with the lamps. And behind a cabinet we also discovered a rolled pattern, which quite likely comes from my grandmother’s time. An architect from BWM Architekten went in search of the same roller that made it and actually found it. Now the entire wall has the same pattern. We like to deal with the history of the space.

T.K.: This suite is designed by BWM Architekten, who are also partners of grätzlhotel; the next jobs we are going to tackle together. We architects anyway all think alike! We also used similar design elements in the URBANAUTS suites. Here our colleagues made the floor surface like it is straight from the street. The oak podium creates a separate zone in the space. The podiums are a reference to the street and the sidewalk. Each house has its own history and certain architectural features, which we like to incorporate into the redesign.

"Personalized overnight accommodation like the Airbnb platform is booming."

Is this customized hotel concept the latest trend?

T.K.: Yes! This new type of hotel is generally speaking a trend in travel behavior – personalized overnight accommodation like the Airbnb platform is booming. But we offer it in a professionalized form and aren’t operating in any legal gray zones. Our guests get receipts, but otherwise they enjoy all the advantages of private, independent living. With the complete city as a lobby in front of the door of the hotel room!

F.H.L.: Our guests are far more independent than in a hotel or an Airbnb apartment. We have key safes, and the number is sent to the guest. You can check in to your booked suite whenever you want. 

"Our guests are adventuresome, open-minded, and curious. Those who have worries are booked at the Hilton!"

Why are more and more travelers looking for the local, authentic side of a city?

T.K.: The overnight accommodation market is becoming exchangeable: You wake up in the morning and have no idea in what city you are because the rooms of the hotel chains look the same all over, regardless where you are. Things are becoming more human again, away from the over-structured and exchangeable.

F.H.L.: And people have growing interest in quality, in every realm. In our case, it’s the non-standardized reception when you arrive.

Are there guests who are worried about being on the ground floor?

T.K.: Our guests are adventuresome, open-minded, and curious. Those who have worries are booked at the Hilton! (laughs)

F.H.L.: Our guests are from all age groups, not just younger people. There are also guests who have just retired but love adventure. They want to discover the city in a different light – that’s what we offer. Or business people who stay three nights per week in a hotel room and are happy that there is a new alternative. The ground floor aspect also has its advantages: You almost have the feeling that you are in your own house or apartment. Coming and going is more flexible than when you are staying on the 10th floor with 30 other rooms. The thick, dark curtain to the street can be pulled closed for protection. There’s also soundproof windows. The bed can be hidden behind the curtain as well, then this area becomes a nice meeting space with a big table. Or some business people like to watch soccer together – that’s not possible in a normal hotel; there you are always public.

Fanny Holzer-Luschnig, you are the experienced hotelier professional and have already worked in luxury hotels in New York and Vienna, most recently as the director of the 25hours Hotel. What do you enjoy in your new job?

F.H.L.: I’m a person who is also looking for adventure, otherwise I would have stayed in the normal hotel business. With the grätzlhotel I am challenged in a new way. I can be creative. Also how you interact with the guests is different – more direct, uncomplicated, more personal, I like that.

Do you plan to expand the grätzlhotel to other cities?

T.K.: We already have cooperation partners in Istanbul; they are architects who started converting attics into apartments about ten years ago. The hotel project is called Manzara. We’re looking for partners in other cities, but the concept will be adapted to the respective context. What’s called the grätzlhotel in Vienna is the Manzara in Istanbul, the Kiezhotel in Berlin, and the Grachtenhotel in Amsterdam.

Thank you for the conversation and I wish you success!

Facts & Figures about the grätzlhotel here!