There's no place like a home
Stay awhile ... the Fashion Street apartment offers value for money.
Saska Graville kids herself she owns the place while staying in swish London digs.
Sometimes an idea is so breathtakingly simple you could kick yourself for not thinking of it first. Onefinestay.com is one of those ideas. I consider myself kicked.
There's none of the bureaucracy of a hotel stay.
The concept: the chance to stay in someone's home when they're out of town. "The world's first unhotel", is how the company describes itself, telling guests to "live like a local in London and act like you own the place" when they make a booking.
An outdoor area at the Fashion Street apartment.
And they really mean it. Unlike a hotel room that you'll probably just retreat to at night, the beauty of Onefinestay is that you've got a proper home base - don't just sleep there: cook, lounge around, watch TV, use free wi-fi ... In other words, hang out as you would do at home. And all for (probably) less than the price of a big city hotel. Genius.
It's been a while since I've been so impressed not just by an idea, but by the flawless execution. If my London stay (more on that later) is anything to go by, there's pretty much nothing to criticise about the way a Onefinestay booking works. The beauty is in the details. For a start, there's that free wi-fi (memo to most five-star hotels, charging for wi-fi on top of a hefty room rate is just plain greedy). On top of that, an iPhone awaits you, providing not just free local calls but a wealth of local information from the home's owner (favourite hangouts, great shops etc), transport know-how and a direct link to the "Front Desk" who can answer any questions you might have. As I say, impressive attention to detail.
Most importantly, Onefinestay boasts some seriously nice places to stay. Just a quick glance at the most recently added properties shows everything from a chic Notting Hill mews house sleeping four, from £229 ($368) a night, a Mayfair pied a terre sleeping two, from £206, and a Battersea riverside apartment sleeping four, from £127. Every one of them gorgeous.
Stylish ... the Fashion Street apartment.
Being Olympics year in London, I decided to book in to the "Fashion Street" apartment on the east side of the city in Shoreditch, with a direct Central Line tube link from Liverpool Street to the Olympics site in Stratford. (At the time of writing, it was still available over the Games period - if you're coming, book it quick). Shoreditch is one of London's most compelling areas, crammed not just with history (the 17th-century Spitalfields market, elegant Huguenot houses and Hawksmoor's commanding Christ Church) but with some of the capital's coolest bars and restaurants. And a stay at Fashion Street puts you in the heart of the action.
The booking process works like this. Prior to arrival, a £1000 security deposit is pre-authorised on your credit card and an emailed confirmation sent out, including a list of "Home Truths" about your temporary home. For Fashion Street, I was told that there was no freezer and that a nearby school might be a bit noisy at breaktime.
I was met at the property by a Onefinestay staffer, who gave me a tour, handed over the keys and left me with a copy of the "House Rules" - all perfectly reasonable, including "do not wear heeled shoes" (due to the lovely wooden floors) and "do not light any candles or incense". And that was it, I was left to enjoy my new East London home.
Rates at Fashion Street start from £120 a night (climbing to £357 during the Olympics) and I think I can safely say there is no way you would find a London hotel room that comes close to offering such value for money. Yes, you can find somewhere cheaper, but if you want style, luxury and space, expect to pay at least £200 a night - and that's being optimistic. At Fashion Street, you get an exquisitely designed one-bedroom apartment, with a roof terrace. It's like having an entire hotel suite at your disposal.
The apartment has a chic, urban feel - old floorboards and well-chosen pieces of vintage furniture, mixed with a sleek modern kitchen and very cool bathroom housed in a metal and frosted-glass "box". Far more personality than your average hotel room. And yet the niceties of a hotel stay are there too.
As with all Onefinestay properties, the bathroom is kitted out with White Company toiletries and fluffy towels, and there's even a version of a mini bar - the owner has left a shelf of wine and bottled water, complete with a price list and honesty piggy bank. A nice touch. Sitting on the smartly decked terrace, drinking wine and gazing at the back view of Hawksmoor's elegant church, I felt very at home.
In fact, feeling at home is the key to Onefinestay's charm. You can (almost) kid yourself that the place is yours. There's none of the bureaucracy of a hotel stay and the only clues to the real owner are a few locked cupboards and some clothes. Their presence is kept to a minimum by the subtle use of Onefinestay red tape, used to indicate anything in the house that is out-of-bounds - one shelf in the fridge, some wardrobe space and bathroom storage.
It's no surprise that Onefinestay is about to go international - it's too good a concept to keep just for London. A New York launch is imminent and the company's website is inviting interest from homeowners in Paris, Berlin, Boston and Chicago. The more the merrier, as far as I'm concerned - with an idea this good, the world really is your oyster.
The writer was a guest of Onefinestay.com.
Where Shoreditch, East London, onefinestay.com.
How much From £120 ($193) a night.
Top marks Too many to list: amazing value, impeccable attention to detail and a choice of properties to cater for every taste. Bring on New York, I'm hooked.
Black mark Really scraping the barrel, but the Fashion Street apartment's double bed was a bit on the tiny side for two.
Don't miss Shoreditch is home to some of London's best bars and restaurants. My new favourite London pub The Princess is a great spot for dinner and drinks (theprincessofshoreditch.com) and brekkie at the Albion (albioncaff.co.uk) is the perfect start to the day.