Founder and curator Jan Hamer on the first pioneering ten years, HOLIDAYARCHITECTURE in the future, the networking concept and: plastic chairs.
By Tina Barankay
That first glimpse at the sea, a driveway lined with glowing oleanders, the pleasure of anticipation, imagining yourself in your carefully-selected holiday home, then – plastic chairs. All too often, hopes of aesthetically sophisticated holiday accommodation are disappointed despite careful research. Architect Jan Hamer’s experience of being repeatedly frustrated in his search for holiday homes with that certain special something was the decisive factor in his founding the URLAUBSARCHITEKTUR/HOLIDAYARCHITECTURE online network in 2007. This year, the portal celebrates its tenth anniversary – a reason to look back, pay tribute and consider the outlook.
From an initial blog for anyone yearning for special, architecturally sophisticated holiday homes, a broad range of special holiday properties has developed over time, and a unique network of design-conscious holidaymakers and hosts with a particular eye for what looks good. Many media reports and an enthusiastic following are evidence of the platform’s great success.
Now, HOLIDAYARCHITECTURE has around 430 holiday homes on its list – each one more beautiful than the last. The variety of properties ranges from a glass cube in Norway and a tree house in Berlin-Zehlendorf through to a luxuriously converted sheepfold in Provence. The fact that these buildings are always lovingly fitted out in keeping with their context goes without saying. Currently one or two houses are generally added to the list every week. Although new applications for inclusion on the portal are received daily, most of them do not come up to scratch. Points are primarily scored for architecture and design while tourism awards and comfort are secondary considerations.
Manshausen in Norway
Le Jas du Boeuf in France / Provence
The Urban Treehouses in Germany / Berlin
As always, networking is a vital concept at HOLIDAYARCHITECTURE. It is not possible to book your perfect property directly via the website. The portal will link you to the web pages for individual properties or provides the opportunity to make an inquiry using a contact form. The basic idea is that bookings are made directly with the property owner. The booking process should be as unique and personal as the properties themselves. For people who don’t want to browse online, HOLIDAYARCHITECTURE also comes in printed form: a series of books presents thirty or so properties each year.
HOLIDAYARCHITECTURE has given rise to a forum where hosts, readers and guests can interact. Guests’ feedback is collected using the comments function for each entry. The “HomeStories“ part of the blog takes a special fond look behind the scenes at individual holiday homes. Under the heading of Inspirations, properties are also arranged into various sections with headings such as “Wanderlust” or “Just for two”– helpful for anyone who wants to select their holiday home according to their individual needs.
Moreover, HOLIDAYARCHITECTURE offers property owners a unique range of events with regular meetings and workshops in various European cities. Here too the focus is on interpersonal contact – together with marketing issues and the communication of relevant information on renting out holiday homes. In addition to outstanding design, Jan Hamer is primarily fascinated by the people behind the buildings – their lives, where they come from and what motivates them. It is their stories that he wants to tell through the story behind their properties.
Jan Hamer has been driven right from the start by his passion for exciting architecture – his enthusiasm for the project can be seen at every level. What’s more, there’s not a single undesirable plastic chair in sight – unless they are designer classics, of course.
A conversation with someone who set about seeking out the perfect holiday accommodation.
Jan Hamer, architect from Hanover and founder and curator of URLAUBSARCHITEKTUR/HOLIDAYARCHITECTURE
You once said that the accommodation is more important than the landscape – is that how your readership sees things?
Jan Hamer: For me the house is indeed the decisive factor in planning a holiday – and its surroundings come a mere second. A great deal of feedback tells me that that is exactly how many of our guests feel too. The buildings themselves are often so much the focus of their plans that guests would rather change their holiday dates than have to find somewhere else. By choosing to spend their holidays in a particular property, our readers discover areas that would not normally have been on their list of holiday destinations.
Your HOLIDAYARCHITECTURE platform links people with a penchant for architecture and design. Do beautiful surroundings also have an effect on people?
Jan Hamer: Of course they do. An attractive environment is always inspiring and has a stabilising effect – even after your return to the daily routine when the holiday is over. I am sure that our platform has already saved quite a number of fragile relationships. ”HOLIDAYARCHITECTURE properties have what you might call a therapeutic effect on stressed couples and families” Jan laughs.
Accommodation that doesn’t live up to expectation can spoil a holiday. Do plastic chairs really bother you?
Jan Hamer: I’m not actually looking for perfection, particularly if “perfect” is based on a particular standard of luxury. What is important to me is that the accommodation should be functional and in tune with itself, and in particular that it should offer a special experience. But yes, plastic chairs do upset my aesthetic sensitivities.
HOLIDAYARCHITECTURE isn’t a reservations platform. Why is that?
Jan Hamer: The properties we present cannot be booked directly through HOLIDAYARCHITECTURE, which does sometimes lead to frustration. We provide links to the appropriate owners’ websites and have a contact form to fill in, but we don’t get involved in the booking process beyond that.
It is our job, rather, to put people in contact with one another. We set up contacts between the property and guest – and in so doing offer a high standard of quality which we regularly check. This eliminates the chance of your being taken in by fake offers.
Are most of the properties in Europe?
Jan Hamer: The majority of our guests have always come from the German-speaking area. So we will continue to focus on Europe in future – even if we do have a few exciting properties on other continents. Further expansion into countries outside Europe is not very probable as the continued quality of the properties would be more difficult for us to monitor. I do find it interesting that even in regions that we have already tapped into, new properties are continuing to emerge all the time – for example in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern or in the Alpine region or in Italy which is currently experiencing something of a revival.
Is it actually difficult to find suitable properties?
After ten years, we are now in the happy position of being able to select properties from a large number of applicants. We now regularly receive applications from properties that have not even been built yet. We have noticed that HOLIDAYARCHITECTURE has become a mark of quality to which new projects aspire.
In addition to architecture and design, when making our selection, we consider the aspects associated with the property: the owners who make the accommodation what it is and give it its unique atmosphere.
Who lets out the properties – and on the other side, who finds their ideal holiday accommodation on the platform?
Jan Hamer: Quite a number of the property owners are actually architects who plan and build the properties for themselves – then subsequently decide to let it as well. But there are some people who aren’t architects with a particular flair for architecture and design who manage to create something special from the properties – either independently or in collaboration with good architects.
The guests are people who derive pleasure from beautiful things and for whom stylish surroundings are important even on holiday. In actual fact, it is a win-win situation. On the one hand there are owners able to create something beautiful and on the other hand there are guests able to appreciate it.
What has changed at HOLIDAYARCHITECTURE over the past ten years? Are there current trends?
Jan Hamer: There is a trend towards the urban space. We now offer more accommodation in cities. Many guests also want more add-ons or special packages. In terms of design, the age of minimalism is over and a little more luxury is allowed, even retro in style.
We are currently seeing particular demand for smaller properties and at the same time for large buildings for groups and family events for which we also receive a great many inquiries.
You don’t just offer your partners a platform on which to advertise their properties, but also a unique consultancy service.
Jan Hamer: Our service really is unique on the tourism market. Many of our partners are not hoteliers as their main profession, but have come into the holiday accommodation business through a different channel. They need support in marketing and in matters relating to tourism.
However, we now come in at an even earlier stage and can develop concepts for new HOLIDAYARCHITECTURE. Project development and real estate are becoming an increasingly important part of our work.
The original HOLIDAYARCHITECTURE blog has now become a real business. How do you manage all this alongside your profession as an architect?
Jan Hamer laughs: I haven’t been managing to do this alone for quite some time now. In the beginning I did operate the platform on my own, in the evenings and at weekends. I also used to view all the properties myself. It’s obvious that I can’t do that any more. We are now a core team of four, with a total of eight people working with us. The tasks range from PR and quality management work through to individual consultancy for property owners.
A look ahead towards the next ten years of HOLIDAY ARCHITECTURE?
Jan Hamer: we’re really only just at the beginning. The next ten years will bring us plenty of new HOLIDAYARCHITECTURE – from the spectacular through to the sensationally unspectacular. Having one’s own holiday or weekend house and opening it up to others is becoming ever more popular. HOLIDAYARCHITECTURE will bring guests to regions previously barely heard of – not far away, but full of new inspiration and things to discover.
Our partners will be offered even more services in future as we are not an anonymous big business on that level either. We do already try to keep in direct contact with users and architects as far as possible. Only in this way can we respond to individual needs and refine both their and our profiles.
And – as inspiration for all HOLIDAYARCHITECTURE fans: Where are you going on holiday this summer?
Jan Hamer: My summer holiday will certainly be a cycling tour – ending up in a HOLIDAYARCHITECTURE house about which we have had a great deal of positive feedback. I am, of course, very much looking forward to it!