The incredibly shrinking hotel room

Most lodgings now only have space for a five-gallon hat and no shoes above a Size 7.

As the world gets smaller, so do hotel rooms. I realize that space is at a premium in many American cities, but why hotel operators – especially the chic ones – spend money on 500-thread cotton sheets instead of, for example, a place to hang clothes, baffles me.

A few months ago my friend Paul, after checking into a swank New York hotel, was asked if he'd like a goldfish in his room. He replied, "Actually, I'd rather have a closet." He wasn't sure if the gaunt, fashionable desk clerk, whose accent placed him either from a distant planet or in a speech-therapy program, was capable of grasping the meaning of the word "closet." As Paul explained to me, "Everything he wore could be folded up and kept in a drawer. Although, come to think of it, I don't think they had any drawers in the room either."

Now, Europeans have been putting up with small hotel rooms for years. But at least they throw in breakfast to make up for the inability of two people to stand in a room at the same time.

I mentioned this to my wife, the Lady Janet, while one of us was sitting on the bed and the other was standing, sideways, in a London hotel room. I didn't say anything to her about how we wouldn't be here at all if her ancestral country home hadn't been undergoing repairs for the past 500 years. (Something about being unable to find a good roof thatcher.)

Instead, I focused on figuring out how I was going to shave while sitting on the sink. She, on the other hand, saw no problem with the quarters, explaining that the whole point of small European hotel rooms is to encourage people to get out of them.

So, I reluctantly give Europe a pass, but America is supposed to be the land of open spaces. Big people striding through rooms named to indicate their vastness – like Great Rooms and Family Rooms, whose square footage seem capable of holding a bowling tournament.

I do pity people who walk the length of their Great Rooms in no less than 15 minutes, and then come to Manhattan or San Francisco and discover that their hotel room only has space for a five-gallon hat and no shoes above a size seven. It is no wonder that so many hotels have switched to flat panel televisions, since a traditional TV would cut the walking area in half.

My friend Anne, who's on the short side, checked into a recently renovated Manhattan hotel a few months ago. Tired from her six-hour flight from California, she fell into bed without turning on the lights, only to be confused by the feeling of something cold on her toes. It turned out to be the porcelain sink ... in the bathroom.

I'm not sure what all this portends. After all, we are getting taller and, in many cases, wider. I can see a day (and night) in the not-so-distant future when we will be forced to choose between a chair or a bathtub, a lamp or a shower. Or even, and this is a tough one, a goldfish and a closet.

• Chuck Cohen is a writer in Mill Valley, Calif.

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