Hotel Mono is a striking new landmark in the historic Chinatown area in Singapore, the result of an extensive refurbishment of six early-1900s conservation shophouses owned by my client. The project, my first for the hospitality industry, transformed a once squalid budget hotel into a chic haven of 46 rooms which radiates a minimalist, yet assertive design language. The challenges I faced include the client’s limited time and budget, the restrictions of the existing shophouse architecture and room sizes, and poor site conditions. The shophouses had been tenanted out to a budget hotel operator for a decade, and were poorly maintained. My client’s brief to me was to create a hotel for the design-conscious and social-media-savvy urban nomad. They wanted to add design value, and up the quality of stay, but still keep room rates affordable, for they had spotted a gap in the market between the no-frills backpacker hostels and the pricey boutique hotel offerings in the area. Not wanting to pander to the cliches of nostalgia and tradition associated with Chinatown, I wanted to do something simple, yet different, that still communicates a Singapore identity. I also didn’t want its design to conform to the standard expectations of what hotels should look like. In keeping with my partiality for simple but strong aesthetics, I proposed a pared down, minimalist design language using mainly black and white. To bridge the high contrast of the two colours in the rooms, I chose a palette of nude hues such as pink, beige and brown for the bathrooms, in the form of mosaic. The colours are a fitting metaphor for the multi-cultural population of Singapore, while mosaic is familiar to many Singaporeans, being a ubiquitous material in many Singapore homes in the past. The materials chosen for the hotel had to fulfil the criteria of being durable and low-cost, without needing much time to fabricate or install. That said, they also had to be used in a way which, when put together, produced high-design value. One of them is mosaic, and the other is a 38mmthick black square metal bar that flows through the white rooms like a line drawn in space. There is a functional aspect to the bar as well – it is used as a clothes hanger and as a casing for lights too. As no two rooms are alike in the hotel, the way the bar flows through each room is also different, creating unique landscapes in each space. To reinforce this motif, loose furniture pieces such as the chairs and bed frames were customised to feature the same 38-mm thick ‘bars’. Since the hotel opened, it has enjoyed an extremely positive response from both guests and the design community alike, validating our proposal to shift away from a safe and predictable design concept towards a fresh, bold and innovative one. The cool minimalism of Hotel Mono has also created a new design typology for small independent hotels as well as for heritage shophouses.