Japan may have pioneered the by-the-hour capsule hotel, but it’s two sleep-deprived Hong Kongers that are bringing a new, futuristically designed version to tired city dwellers.
Hong Kong-born Alex Kot and Jun Rivers have long been preoccupied with thoughts of sleep. As a young boy, Alex was diagnosed with apnea, a sleep disorder that causes daytime sleepiness and fatigue. At the same time, Jun was diagnosed as suffering from narcolepsy, a neurological disorder that affects the control of sleep and wakefulness. In light of this, it’s fair to say that both understand the importance of a good night’s sleep.
And so, in December 2016, the two childhood friends banded together to create Hong Kong’s first capsule hotel, SLEEEP, a name that advocates the fact that sleep is essential for ‘everyone, every day, everywhere’. “So many in Hong Kong struggle with getting a good quality night’s sleep,” begins Alex. “So we decided to create a reasonably priced, hi-tech environment designed to give guests the best quality of sleep possible, regardless of whether they’re staying for one hour or two nights.”
Capsule hotels were first introduced in Osaka in the late 1970s and catered mainly to Japanese businessmen who were too busy (or inebriated) to make the last train home and needed an inexpensive place to crash for a few hours. In the years since, they have gained popularity the world over, with pods popping up in Australia, the Netherlands, the UK and the US, to name a few. And yet, despite this increasingly global trend, Hong Kong didn’t seem to catch on. That is – until Alex and Jun put their futuristic and forward-thinking spin on the model.
The idea behind SLEEEP was first dreamt up by the duo in 2014. “We entered a competition at my grad school Harvard,” explains Jun. “It sought proposals to address overpopulation in urban settings, and SLEEEP was ours.” Explaining their motive, he says, “there are several side effects to population and density increases, one of them being that people tend to spend more and more time commuting. That, in turn, causes people to sleep less as they spend more time on the road. Science shows that this is not the way to achieve true happiness. So we thought we would create a product which is centrally located and provides high-quality sleep.”
But why has it taken so long for a place like Hong Kong, with its deeply-rooted workaholic culture, to catch on? “Capsule hotels started in Japan to address the problem of people with long commutes, and Hong Kong has had very successful mass transit options for years,” explains Jun. “But this is changing. People are living further away because of rent hikes.” On top of that, Alex adds, “sleep is essential to one’s professional and personal lives, but there are tons of sleep-deprived people here. I read somewhere that even our Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, only manages to get three or four hours. So there’s actually an educational component to what we want to do. We need to make this a social movement.”
Their 367 square foot space is discreetly tucked away in Sheung Wan, a neighbourhood on Hong Kong island sitting just on the fringes of the main business district, and caters primarily to solo tourists, sleep-deprived professionals and harried business travellers. Prices start at HKD 99 for 45 minutes, with the rate depreciating the longer you stay. 2 hours, therefore, is HKD 199, 4 hours is HKD 299, and overnight prices start at HKD 599 in rates that are hard to complain about.
At SLEEEP, check-in is cardless and paperless, with guests relying on either a QR code or fingerprint to enter. Currently, the minimalistic space is made up of eight eco-friendly sleeping capsules called SLPers®, each made for one person only, comfortably fitting someone as tall as 6 feet 3 inches. Guests can request their preferred mattress and blanket, whilst the interiors feature a real wood lining and various clever uses of technology. “We engineered our own lighting system that we’ve coined ‘Circadian Lighting’, and it’s informed by your sleep/wake cycle,” says Jun. “In the morning, the light in each pod will turn from our sleep mode of orange to a little blue, as a means of imitating natural daylight and thus inducing your hormones and waking you up slowly.” They’ve thought of your ears, too. In the background plays the barely-audible stylings of Max Richter “because the album was specifically designed for quality sleep,” he explains. “And in the future, we plan on integrating white noise options.”
As the world’s first capsule hotel to be LEED v4-certified (the highest benchmark for a green building) it’s clear that sustainability plays a huge part in SLEEEP’s overall mission. “We recycle the heat from the hotel’s air-conditioning system and pump it back to fuel the water boiler, and our low-flush toilets use 40% less water. We also use 100% LED lighting, vegan pillows, and make sure that all materials used are either natural or recycled,” says Jun. The interior has been certified at gold-level standard by Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, and its deliberately minimalist look won silver at the Design of Asia Awards 2017.
“We wanted the design to be something universal, as we plan to build a network of beds around the world,” says Alex. “We didn’t want strong cultural references, as, to put it romantically, whether you’re Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist or Christian, when you close your eyes, sleeping is a universal thing,” adds Jun. In terms of amenities, it is definitely no-frills. “We’re trying to create the future of hospitality, so we do without all the unnecessities like a swimming pool or cafeteria. All you really need is a good sleep and a refreshing shower. Minimalist but with quality,” they clarify.
In five years, the boys hope to have a network of beds stretching from China and Singapore to New York and London. “Our dream is much bigger than our current physical location. Sleep is a weapon to achieve the innate happiness we were all born with,” explains Jun. “It’s a tool to bring a higher level of happiness, a higher level of life and a higher level of harmony. That’s what we want to achieve.” And all whilst giving you a good night’s sleep.
242 Queen’s Road Central, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong
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