Bellman carts: ‘Trapped in a corner of late modernism that has no saving graces’ 12.09.17

Crimes Bellman hotel cart

No matter how often hotels update their image, their baggage system remains weirdly stuck in the 1970s, writes Edwin Heathcote

Hotels spend millions on design. And the lobby is the showpiece. This is the space in which the hotel sells itself, to the city, to the guest and to the world. Every few years the chairs, the chandeliers, the counters and the carpets are changed so that it looks sufficiently swish and contemporary, cool and club-like, dark and hipster or as historically authentic as possible. But one thing stays the same. The baggage carts.

There’s something very curious about these vehicles. The design seems stuck in about 1979. Not for baggage carts the streamlined forms of art deco or the sleek lines of midcentury modernism. Nor the designer baggage of the 1980s. Instead they’re trapped in a peculiar corner of late modernism that has, frankly, no saving graces.

The design is effectively a board covered in hotel-corridor carpet (blue or red background) on cheap casters. From these unpromising beginnings sprouts the frame of two interlinked, bent-brass tubes of the oversized curtain-rail kind. The whole thing is a little over six feet tall and it culminates in a kind of implied dome with, if you’re lucky, a brass-ball finial on top. It is the aesthetic of an Indian restaurant or an airport lounge from the early 1980s. There are some variations. There are pointy tops at the junctions of the tubes or more elaborate double curves. There are chrome-plated versions with hangers in the middle to drape suit bags or wedding dresses from. But they are all shit. Weirdly, it is a typology entirely free of fashion or taste, right in the middle of exactly the representative space of the hotel that has spent millions on making itself look classy.

I often quite enjoy the contrast between back of house and front of house in a hotel, the precipitous cliff that drops from high-style to blockwork walls and lino. And I could understand if, occasionally, a piece of functional equipment migrated from one world to the other. But the bellman cart is not it. Instead it is just a piece of pure ugliness. Perhaps its job is to separate our anarchic, uncoordinated collections of bags from the hotel, to place them in a self-contained cage that the hotel can disclaim, as if to say, ‘Look at our beautiful lobby, but these rubbish bags belong to someone else, they haven’t been styled so we should ignore them.’ Perhaps the bellman cart is a frame for difference and I have just underestimated it. Or, perhaps, it is a piece of standardisation that validates the whole global network, like the crossed-key badge worn on the concierge’s lapel or the clunking ice machines in the corridors. But somehow I think it’s just invisible, in the way that bellmen themselves are supposed to be. And because it is so invisible and so ubiquitous, no one ever quite sees how ugly and ridiculous it looks.

This article first appeared in Icon 172

 

Words

Edwin Heathcote

 

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