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Why I like to check-in at the ‘un-hotel’

Dorset Square is one of the chic properties to be found at onefinestay.com.

Within an hour of arriving at Dorset Square, one of the short-stay properties managed by London-based onefinestay, I unpack, down a cup of tea, consult a neighbourhood restaurant guide and get trapped in the building's tiny elevator.

"At least we have the emergency phone," says my friend Christine, who is also stuck in the coffin-sized lift. The house iPhone, something that comes with all onefinestay rentals, has a front-desk button that speed dials a live person; he or she is on call round-the-clock to field special requests and, perhaps, to SOS the fire department.

It is one of the perks that sets onefinestay apart from other rental services. Billing itself as the un-hotel, the company's apartments and houses (available in London, New York, Paris and Los Angeles) are exceptionally stylish, owned by the likes of architects, art consultants and fashion designers who happen to be away a lot. Browsing the online directory (onefinestay.com) is like flipping through a glossy decor magazine, free from the grainy photos one might see on vrbo.com. Properties come with room descriptions, owner backgrounds and a list of "home truths" that cover such practicalities as suitability for kids or allergy sufferers.

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Dorset Square, a two-bedroom apartment in a centuries-old Marylebone mansion block, is owned by a Hong-Kong-based, Scottish-born designer and his partner. It is decked in an impeccable blend of Scandinavian modern, Asian and art deco-inspired furnishings. The two bathrooms are stocked with fluffy towels and White Company toiletries. The stash of tea, coffee, chocolates and milk waiting on the dining-room table is "a typical English welcome," says the onefinestay greeter. She shows me around at check-in and points out the few drawers and closets that are cordoned off with red stickers. These are no-go zones that protect the owner's personal possessions. If you take a peek, you are charged a penalty.

I am given a quick tutorial on the house iPhone, which can be used for unlimited local calls and to map out sights, pubs and shops recommended by the owner. And, of course, there is that front-desk button.

Realizing that we forgot the phone, Christine and I pry the elevator door open with our hands. If you want to live like a local, be prepared to face the unexpected glitches of home life.

The writer stayed as a guest of onefinestay. It did not review or approve this article.

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