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Something Borrowed, Something New

When Yotel joined the storied mid-Market neighborhood of San Francisco earlier this year, it marked not just the brand’s first West Coast location, but also its first historic retrofit—two words certainly not synonymous with their philosophy of “everything you need, nothing you don’t.” Nevertheless, multidisciplinary design studio NICOLEHOLLIS and fellow San Francisco native BAR Architects toiled their way through serious layout constraints to make a home for Yotel in the neglected former Grant building of 1904. Their design not only stays true to the brand’s sleekly modern and tech-driven aesthetic meant to cater to shorter stays, but also includes handcrafted elements and salvaged pieces from the building that help it remain connected to the city’s past.

Guestrooms posed the biggest challenge. “The structural bays, corridor location and window modulation of the historic office simply didn’t align with the cabin room module,” explains Susan McComb, BAR Architects’ principal-in-charge. The brand standard has three basic types: premium, first class and VIP. Building out from that framework, each room was outfitted and arranged to adapt to the architecture with elements such as bunk beds, accessibility features for those with mobility issues and additional furnishings. 

Susan McComb

“We were restricted from creating offsetting walls in front of the windows, which is why every rooms is different,” says McComb. “Bath areas ended up in many odd configurations because the cabin walls had to meet the posts in the historic window mullions perpendicularly, without blocking any of the existing glazing.” 

Rather than allow constraints to limit them, they used those challenges to inspire them, resulting in the idea for the new sky cabin model with a lofted bed. “We didn’t have a great deal of floor area but we did have ceiling height to spare,” says McComb of the narrow footprint.

BAR Architects designed dozens of configurations for the space. Several full-size layouts were mocked up in-office. The tallest team members stepped up as guinea pigs to test the comfort and functionality of the various options. Each and every aspect was debated, from key elements, such as the ladder types, platforms and bed sizes, down to the coat hooks and bolts. State water usage regulations directed the selection of the low-flow rainshower head. 

A final, fully outfitted sky cabin model rooms was eventually built and dozens more people (of all sizes) were brought in to experience and assess it, including the construction team. “This exercise informed the final direction for the configuration of the stairs and placement of the furnishings. It also opened our eyes to other opportunities such as slipping as mall desk under the stair landing, next to the sink and vanity,” says McComb. “Yotel’s guest is accustomed to having the bath area integrated into the sleeping area. In this case, the plumbing for the sky cabin couldn’t go anywhere else.” 

For the lobby, the focus was also on optimizing every available square inch. The co-working space, KOMYUNITI, starts with a mezzanine that hovers over the lobby, inspired by photos from the team found of the original bank lobby that had a similarly placed office. “The idea of a balcony was natural to Yotel’s urban concept; a place to hang out, lifted above the circulation and street level, yet protected and out of the way, fully wired and in close visual connection to the place where people come and go,” says McComb. “From the balcony, the guest can take in the full tapestry of San Francisco street life with a measure of protection and comfort.”


Reflectivity served as a strong driver for materials choices such as polished chrome, black glass and one-way mirrors that wrap the columns of the mezzanine, keeping the palette true to Yotel’s clean, minimalist approach. A chrome check-in kiosk in the lobby serves as Hollis’ tribute to British sculptor Sir Anish Mikhail Kapoor, who utilizes many similar features in his work. And of course the brand’s signature color, purple, is splashed throughout. 

The other heavy hitter driving this design was reuse, as both Yotel and owners Synapse Development Group were drawn to the historic elegance underneath the years of paint and grime. Every element that could be salvaged was, including the original cast iron staircase, as well as the original marble used as wainscot and the elevator walls surrounds. 

Yotel SF | sky cabin | HOLLIS and BARYotel SF | entry | HOLLIS and BAR

“Our goal for this project was to blend the futuristic modern style of the Yotel brand with the beautiful details of the Washington Roebling-designed Grant building,” says Nicole Hollis, creative director and principal of NICOLEHOLLIS. “So we embraced certain aspects of their brand, but in a unique way.” The custom coffee table in the lobby was fabricated from salvaged marble slabs from the building’s original bathroom partitions, while brass pendants in the VIP suite were designed with a subtle nod to Yotel’s signature hex shape. Both were crafted by nearby makers, while local artist Victor Reyes added a two-story mural to the lobby. 

Nicole Hollis

Natural materials and textures, such as the painted log side tables and an immense Shou Sugi Ban pivot door in the lobby added dram and sense of place—“just a few features that make Yotel San Francisco unique to its brand. In the end, it was almost as if old and new worlds had blended together,” Hollis says. 


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