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Ian Schrager may have sparked a flame in 1984 with the Morgans hotel in New York City, but the watershed for the boutique hotel genre wasn’t until 1998, when Starwood launched its hip W brand. The boutique model – design-conscious, intimate, unique to its location – took off, and big brands have been trying to get a piece of the success ever since.

Starwood recently launched another group, (pictured at right), with rates on a par with budget chains (around $150/night) and loftlike rooms by David Rockwell, with high ceilings, large windows, and lots of gadgets. As with W hotels, there’s an emphasis on hangout spots, such as a self-serve gourmet café and a pool area with WiFi. Nineteen Alofts opened in 2008 (Montreal, Philadelphia, and Beijing were a few of the first), and about 30 are slated for 2009.

In 2004, InterContinental opened its first Hotel Indigo; now a chain, each Indigo updates its decor seasonally. In 2007, Hyatt opened Andaz London, where guests check in via a Tablet PC in a gallery-worthy lobby (next up: West Hollywood, Manhattan, and Austin).

Sofitel will open So Paris later this year, followed by So Berlin –small design hotels catering to a trendy set. Then there’s the partnership between Marriott and Mr. Schrager himself; together they will debut a new group, Edition. First stop: Paris, 2010.

From the Winter 2008/09 issue of Sherman's Travel magazine

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