I am an unabashed fan of ramshackle chic. I love the way the words sound when spoken, with the two “sh” sounds punctuated by the crisp “kle” in between. I love the idea of ramshackle chic, which in my vernacular, refers to an effortless, slightly haphazard balance of comfort and coolness; an eclectic yet approachable style that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Chic on its own, while divine, strikes me as one-dimensional. But when paired with ramshackle, that is, the slightly-rough-around-the-edges, honest wear and tear of real life, warts and all, it becomes a vastly more compelling notion.
It is only recently that I have come to realize that ramshackle chic is much more than simply an eclectic style, it’s a state of mind – my state of mind, quietly sitting behind the scenes, calling all the shots. Thus it is no surprise that the partner I have chosen, friends with whom I surround myself, house I love more than anything, are all a testament to ramshackle chic – honest, stylish, artsy, colorful, interesting, approachable, slightly flawed, and immensely comfortable.
Of course, this extends to my travel choices, where the pursuit of ramshackle chic tends to have a strong correlative impact on the overall experience. In this context, the elusive balance of yin and yang, of style and substance provides me with a familiar sense of comfort outside my comfort zone, and enables me to connect with a destination on a deeper level. Whether intimate boutique hotels, funky eco-lodges or character-laden vacation rentals, I seek out places that feel good, don’t take themselves too seriously and don’t attempt to overshadow a destination with their own self-important sense of brand identity. Looking at a place through blue-colored glasses – even if they’re water glasses à la the Ritz-Carlton, is not the cultural immersion I’m after. For me, the beauty of ramshackle chic when traveling boils down to four key benefits.
Ramshackle Chic – Four Compelling Reasons to Adopt this Traveling Mantra
1. Affordability – Hotels that are ramshackle chic tend to be less expensive, often a testament to their lack of bells and whistles or “well-worn” features – OK – so maybe the full-length mirror in the room is more knee-length and slightly cloudy, it’s a Tibetan antique, so you make the necessary allowances. Who wants to see themselves that closely while on holiday, anyway?
2. Cool & Stylish – A strong aesthetic, seemingly effortless style and eclectic design sense are all key elements that create the chic-factor. They may not scream out at you initially, but that’s the beauty of it. Once you get the feel for the place, you start to see the God-is-in-the-details touches that create character and build an emotional connection.
3. Small & Intimate – Properties tend to feel more like a private home with interesting, like-minded guests hanging around. A plus if you want to tap into a shared traveler’s zeitgeist over a cold drink. Or you can sit on your terrace, light some incense (provided in the room – those details again) and read a book borrowed from the “Lending Library” shelf in the small, comfortable poolside bar. Either way, it’s not a bad scenario.
4. Warm, Efficient Staff – Because of the size and intimacy of many of these properties, a great staff is a key management priority and often, the most memorable aspect of the trip. Balancing warmth, efficiency and respectful distance is a challenge at best. My experience is that these places create a great opportunity to engage with staff, and get a sense of their life – which creates a stronger bond with the property while giving a snapshot into the local culture.
Of course, the challenge is in actually finding these places – sifting through the ever-growing, and frankly mind-numbing set of travel resources to stack up all potential destinations against a list of criteria as long as a your arm. This process can be exhaustive, but the pleasure achieved as a result of this singularity of focus, often accompanied by lack of sleep is often what makes the difference between a trip and a rebirth of the spirit.