On Our Radar: Trunk(House), Tokyo's One-Room Hotel

Exploring the idea of what a "one-room hotel" means in the age of Airbnb.

Contact Indagare or your Trip Designer to discuss the best destinations open for travel now and to learn more about coronavirus travel safety, new Covid-19 hotel policies and future trip-planning advice, inspiration and other ideas.

Last summer, the conversion of a 70-year-old geisha house into the one-room Trunk(House) hotel in Tokyo’s newly hip Kagurazaka neighborhood got me thinking. What exactly is a one-room hotel in our Airbnb Age?

It's a relevant question, particularly for well-traveled women. I have met some seriously sketchy hosts over the course of my solo adventures in hotel alternatives. Traveling with my family, too, we have encountered compelling reasons to return to traditional hotels, from broken kitchen appliances in the Marrakech medina to finding a stranger’s undergarments embedded (literally) between the sheets at a high-priced Paris holiday apartment on the Place des Vosges.

Especially in the Internet Age, definitions vary wildly. A real one-room hotel, I would argue, combines the trained service and transparent accountability of a boutique hotel with the privacy and live-like-a-local factor that has prompted millions of travelers to venture from nondescript hotel rooms in the first place.

I fell in love with the solo-stay hotel concept at Howie's HomeStay in the Himalayan foothills of Mae Rim outside Chiang Mai, Thailand. This singular guest accommodation sits within a multi-structure residential compound housing a museum’s worth of Asian artifacts designed by Bangkok-based architect Bill Bensley. Hungry in the middle of the night, I felt free to wear my PJs. when venturing forth from my suite, the stand-alone Teak Pavilion, with its vaulted, gilded teak ceiling, 500-thread count sheets and al fresco bathroom. I wandered past ornate living pavilions with vaulted wing-tipped rooflines and the oversized black-bottom swimming pool to the Burmese antique-filled kitchen, open around the clock (and just for me). A little pad Thai found in the fridge was all it took, and I padded back to bed.

This bucolic one-room crash pad came about by happy accident. Eager to upgrade to an even larger sprawl, American owner Howard Feldman converted his mother-in-law’s favorite suite at his five-acre Thai-Balinese pleasure palace to lure prospective buyers for a "test drive." The singular property is still on the market but, meanwhile, Feldman is relishing his side hustle as a  hotelier. The longtime Thailand expat now spends his days driving honeymooners and other guests to his and Bensley’s favorite antique dealers around Chiang Mai.

This undivided attention gets addictive. Closer to home, I sought out a solo hotel in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. L'Epicerie is the third outpost of cult perfumer Coqui Coqui, and shares the 1903 Belle Époque townhouse with the brand’s signature perfumery, spa, boutique, and bijou café. The decadent single suite features an ornate chandelier over the wrought-iron four-poster bed and a duo of enticing claw-footed bathtubs poised side-by-side in the marble bathroom. Each day, Coqui Coqui staff prepared dishes abundant with local flavors, like freshly caught tilapia with juicy diced tomatoes and chicken mole brushed in organic Mexican chocolate. We swam in “our” rooftop pool and went horizontal for organic massages in the one-room spa. Souvenir-shopping involved merely descending to the ground-floor vintage apothecary-inspired perfumery and boutique, where I loaded up on the indigenous inventory, leaving with handwoven agave plant hammock bags, buttery soft leather sandals and a surprisingly aromatic tobacco-scented candle.

Staying like a local, specifically a high-net-worth one, with round-the-clock service, is a winning combination in my travel book. Doing this in Tokyo, where exceptional hospitality and pioneering design both thrive, has me eager to return to Asia. Trunk(Hotel)’s new micro-brand extension, Trunk(House), sits five miles' north of its parent hotel, which opened with 15 rooms two years ago in Tokyo’s central Shibuya district.

For Trunk(House), Japanese design studio Tripster looked to the historic neighborhood’s traditional wood structures, repurposing cross beams and windows preserved from the original building. In its Zen-calm master bedroom, a single painting, by American artist Alex Dodge that was inspired by geishas, hangs above a futon-style mattress (but not like the one in your college dorm room), perched on a low, unvarnished wooden platform, flanked by rice-paper floor lamps. The one-room hotel’s open kitchen is staffed by a professional chef, while the dedicated butler serves meals at the elongated oak table in the sleek, black-walled dining room, which opens onto a bijou Japanese garden. In the tea room, calligraphy scrolls decorate the walls and tatami mats surround the central sunken fireplace, called an  irori, traditionally used for heating and cooking. I’m looking forward to a tea ceremony here, if only to sip from New York City artist Tom Sachs’s ceramic bowls, and to lingering in the cedarwood bathtub for two, while admiring the ukiyo-e meets-manga artworks by Masumi Ishikawa, known in the U.S. for his tribute to David Bowie on a series of woodblock prints. The best thing about no other guests? I’ll be free to belt out my karaoke go-tos under the rotating disco ball in the fire-engine-red lounge, said to be the smallest disco in Japan.

Contact Indagare or your Trip Designer to discuss the best destinations open for travel now and to learn more about coronavirus travel safety, including new Covid-19 hotel policies and future trip-planning advice, inspiration and other ideas.

Published onMarch 4, 2021

More Inspiration

Plan Your Trip With Us

We only feature hotels that we can vouch for first-hand. At many of them, Indagare members receive special amenities.

Get In Touch
Indagare employees walking up stiars

Enjoy 30 Days On Us!

Start your Self Planner
membership trial today.

Unlock access to 2,000+ first-hand hotel reviews, 300+ Destination Guides and the most up-to-date travel news and inspiration.

Already a member?

Welcome back,
log in to Indagare

Not a member?

Forgot Password

Enter your email and we’ll send you a link to reset your password.

Type the first 3 letters to begin