Does this picture look homey to you? Travelodge, one of Britain's primary hotel chains, has just opened a property in Uxbridge, in far west London, that's made almost entirely out of 86 shipping containers. Each room was pre-fabricated in China (where else?) with a built-in bathroom, shipped to England, and then stacked, as a BBC video story puts it, like "a giant Lego set."
The 120-room property, banged up in a scant 20 days, was then smoothed over to give it a unified look, much like your aunt might frost a layer cake. The trick works so well that the company is slapping up another one, this one more than twice as big, near London's Heathrow Airport, and about half of its future properties will be pressed from the same cookie-cutter mold.
I wouldn't say the place's industrial provenance is being sold as a gimmick or painted with the worn-out "green" brush. In fact, you'd never know you were sleeping in a former cargo hold, mostly because the hotel chain's rooms have never been very showy. Its battery-hen rooms are short on luxuries (plasma TV, yes; phone, no) and iffy on size (beds are king-size), but they're always defined by a dignified crispness. The pricing system is also simple: The more rooms that are available, they cheaper they are. If you book far enough in advance, rooms can be insanely affordable. For January, rooms can cost just £29 right now. That's about $50 a night.
Although it's new for Britain, this is far from the first time that a hotel has been made this way. Way back in 1971, Disney's Contemporary and Polynesian hotels in Florida were built out of a joint venture with U.S. Steel, as this shag-tastic vintage promotional reel shows. Its rooms, too, were crafted elsewhere and then slipped into the buildings' frames like drawers. Back then, the idea was that the units could just be yanked out when they needed sprucing up. But then the ground settled, the metal bonded, and now renovations must be done strictly retro-style. And heck, even those rooms go for around $400 a night these days.
Travelodge's U.K. brand (owned by a different company than the American version) frequently operates out of recycled buildings, though usually they're former offices or past-it hotels. So as long as the sheet metal and seams don't show, shipping container chic isn't much of a departure, and goodness knows Americans can use the price break in Europe these days. We'll all stay at Brown's after the dollar stiffens up again. Until then, I'm goin' cargo.