Published by: Leisure and Hospitality International Magazine
By Belinda O’Kelly
We have all been in a hotel lobby bar that just feels amazing – its comfortable yet sophisticated, quiet enough to talk but has a buzz of activity, intimate and welcoming. Yet, when pressed, it is hard to identify exactly what is making the space feel so good. Why is it comfortable? What makes it intimate? How do you set the vibe of a space?
Today designers have so many options on materials, décor, fixtures and artwork – yet often the mood is driven by the softer elements. A good designer can pick out furniture and materials, but a great designer will be able to also set a mood, a feeling, a vibe… give it a personality.
Recently, we have been impressed by designers focusing more on texture, light and sound. Though it sounds simple, these are often the most impactful design tools in setting a mood and are often overlooked. Controlling light and sound can be particularly difficult with constant variables, but by utilizing technology like auto-dimming light fixtures that take actual light readings, or a sound system that can adjust itself based on ambient noise, designers are able to control these environments in real time.
Texture, often in combination with lighting, is also being used in new ways to add interest or even act as the lead singer in a design scheme. There is an inherent authenticity to a space when you can bring out the texture of materials with lighting and avoid using décor as a distraction.
This is the next level of design, and the leading hospitality designers are embracing it.
Making it Personal and Memorable
In the age of information and technology, select hotels are intelligently seeking to double down on connecting with their guests on a more human level. This involves getting a bit more into curating the details of the guest experience. The goal is to create a memory, an identity, something that sets them apart from the rest.
At the Hotel Monaco in Chicago, they pride themselves on their “stay human” approach to hospitality and have succeeded in making a more personal connection to guests by incorporating details that evoke a more intimate relationship. The hotel pays homage to the history of Chicago and celebrates the building’s origin as a hat factory. The staff wear cool fedoras, the artwork incorporates the theme, and they are exploring a more formal hat program by a custom milliner to be unveiled soon.
These details celebrate the local context of Chicago and set the property apart by inspiring curiosity in their guests. The hotel is currently being renovated and is planning to further set itself apart with new guestrooms that match the caliber of design recently unveiled in the Fisk and Co. restaurant in the lobby. Fisk and Co. is named after the original hatmaker who previously occupied the building, 225 N Wabash.
Put Technology in its Place
Technological innovation has changed what a guest values in a hotel room, as well as what the owner needs to make their operation as efficient as possible. Even now, the location of the coveted USB chargers will impact how a guest room is planned and used. As we continue to look forward, there are even more exciting developments in technology that will allow us to further push the limits of the conventional hotel and create space for more creativity in hotel design.
With new point of sale technology, it is making it much easier to increase food and beverage sales throughout the hotel. The tablet- and cell-phone-based point of sale software allow us to serve food and beverages well outside the context of the bar or restaurant. Hotels can serve drinks and food to anywhere in the lobby, business center, lounges, pool or conference center. This allows us as designers to really blow up the conventional bar and restaurant space and mix environments more freely around the hotel.
Recently, the Hilton Chicago Oak Brook Hills Resort underwent a renovation and was able to open up the bar and restaurant completely and mix seating throughout the lobby. This allows the operational staff tremendous flexibility in serving different size parties for different occasions.
Similarly, smart thermostat systems allow us to set the temperature in the room at check in – or an hour before. In European hotels, it is common for you to have your room key plugged into a wall slot to get the electricity to work, confirming that you are in the room and need the lights. We are headed back in that direction, but we can use technology to make it feel a little more seamless. The Westin Elements brand started talking about using smart thermostats in 2016 and is now implementing them into new construction units.
As always, as technology advances, new concerns and challenges emerge. As owners, operators, and designers, we have to be mindful to keep personal attention in the foreground and use technology to support it. There is a valid concern that if the technological advancements are not integrated properly, they will detract from the experience instead of enhancing it.
Hospitality design is a captivating field largely because it does evolve with the habits and preferences of the human population. There are arguably endless components that go into cultivating an experience. Our challenge as designers is to constantly educate ourselves by researching, traveling, listening and understanding the current perspective of our guests.