Guide To Hotel Design

    This is a series guiding you through what a hotel designer is, the different sorts of designers, and how to manage the design process. It will include sections on the different areas of the hotel and suggest criteria for their design. Articles will be illustrated with the authors photographs and video.

    A Guide to Hotel Design Pt 1: Are you sitting comfortably?

    This is the first in an intended series guiding the layman through what a hotel designer is, the different sorts of designers, and how to manage the design process. It will include section on the different areas of the hotel and suggest criteria for their design. The series will be available initially only to DesignClub members, from whom comments are invited. The completed work will eventually be made available as a downloadable pdf from the HotelDesigns website.

    About the writer
    The first question you will ask is who is he to do this? Well, my friend, I am not the best qualified person in the world, and there are those in the Chartered Society of Designers (the professional body representing interior designers) and the Design Council who will shudder at the thought at what I might say. There are also others in the profession who I look up to and acknowledge as more professional and experienced than I – but whilst I will take advice and criticism from them, and willingly incorporate it into this series (just send it to me, guys), the feedback I have had from users of the HotelDesigns website is that the profession is not understood and its capabilities are underestimated. As the man said, ‘somebody has got to do it’!

    So here I am, the product of over 40 years in the art and design world, ten years spent practising art and teaching designers, twenty years practising as a designer and the remainder studying or writing about art and design. As a designer I founded a practise, and my partner and I ran it together for twenty years, in the process picking up two European Design Awards, an award from the International Spa Association for Spa Design and accolades from the press. During that time I worked on over 400 projects throughout the UK and beyond, in a practise that grew to employ at one stage 21 designers in London.

    For the last eight years, since 2002, I have created and edited HotelDesigns, visiting and photographing, with the assistance of a team of elves, some 140+ hotels around the globe, acting as a development consultant to Hotel development companies, speaking at conferences and advising manufacturers on the Hotel Design business.

    So Why Bother?
    Interior designers are a profession that is not a profession. At one extreme there are highly qualified architects and postgraduates with M.A.’s, PhD’s and professional qualifications ‘up the ying yang’ whilst at the other end of the spectrum are unqualified people who choose to advise on colours, using their taste as their qualification.

    Sadly all these are employed by Hoteliers in the expectation that they are going to get an equally professional design service, and famously even the chairman’s partner gets a hand in. If this appears disparaging I would add that sometimes these individuals are more professional, qualified and even more brilliant, like Firmdale Hotel’s Kit Kemp or Anouska Hempel of Blakes and the Hempel fame, than many a humdrum ‘professional’ architect or designer.

    The problem this poses for Clients is in knowing what they are getting when they pay their money, how to frame a brief, and how to distinguish between the different skills on offer from the members of the team that make up the construction industry professionals. My aim is to strip away some of the mystery, explain the different training the professionals receive and hopefully enable a more fruitful use of the designers to grow from an increased understanding of the possibilities on offer within the spectrum that makes up the interior design world.

    ©Patrick Goff

    A Guide to Hotel Design Pt 2: What are Professional Fees, and how are they paid?

    My grandparents on both sides of my family were farmers. It was drummed into me at an early age that money was earned and that the way to earn it was to work hard. It was also drummed into me that ‘the labourer is worthy of his hire’ and that you ‘don’t get owt for nowt’. In later years as I ordered millions of pounds worth of product for hotels on behalf of our clients I came to realise there is truth in clichés, and that indeed one does get what one pays for – in other words there is a relationship between price and product quality. It is indeed true that there is no such thing as a free lunch and those companies using ‘cheap manufacturing’ in China are finding it is not cheap as wages and social costs there rise and the transport costs leap. UK based companies such as Curtis Furniture or PTT may well become more competitive, but we and the USA have thrown away much of our manufacturing systems for a short term vision of getting something for next to nothing…
    So it is with design. A good designer will use their knowledge and experience to save the client money – often saving more than their fee. Certainly the cost of not using an experienced designer can be paid by the operator for years through increase maintenance and staff costs, and difficulty in selling their product. Good Design adds to the bottom line.

    There are a number of patterns of payment for design fees, and I would outline these, with their advantages and disadvantages, below. I would caution all designers to get a written instruction before proceeding with any work, and caution all hotel groups to control line managers so that they do not dishonestly appoint designers to do work when they don’t have authority to do so. Unfortunately at least two hotel groups ‘innocently’ allow junior or regional managers to do this in order to avoid paying for work. Designers should be aware that there are dishonest companies out there and should be formal in their relationships as Terry Addison points out in our ‘Ask the Experts’ columns in the DesignClub to avoid being taken advantage of.

    Commissioning of design seems to go in cycles with each of the following being favoured over the others at one time or another as each has advantages and disadvantages for the client. The three major ways in which design is commissioned in hotel sector are:-
    1. Design and Build.
    • In this it may well be that the Hotel operator nominates a designer to produce schemes, but chooses to pay them through the building contractor, so that there is only one set of bills. The designer is ‘novated’ to the contractor, which means the contractor is responsible for paying the designer and the designer’s contract is with the builder. Designers generally dislike this because their responsibility is to whom their contract is with, in this case the builder. Thus they may find that the materials they would like to use, or the layout of the space, may be changed for cheaper solutions that contribute to the builder’s bottom line.

    In my experience the major drawback with this approach is that the Client loses a productive relationship with the designer, and has a relationship with the builder instead. The relative benefits depend very much on the qualities of the individuals concerned.

    Advantages are that the process is transparent, professional and controllable by the Client, but only as effective as the Clients experience and management abilities. Weak management can lead to buildings that have operational problems built in, or create conflict between the aims of the designer in serving their paymaster or the Client.

    2. Design and Supply
    • Here the design will be provided by the company supplying the FF&E*, maybe on a ‘turnkey’ basis, i.e. the Client sets a budget and gets a hotel finished with all the FF&E in place so that it can be operated from the moment the keys are handed over and the Client turns them in the lock. Here the supplier provides a professional design service, with all the necessary drawings and visuals, specifications etc. but it is paid for from the margins made on the supply of furniture, curtains etc. In this type of company there is also often a manufacturing arm and a contracting arm, so the client is paying only one set of bills, simplifying the accounting procedure. This also enables cash flow to be smoothed.

    Some larger design companies will in effect offer turnkey solutions. It is effective and professional and can lead to good long term relationships. Where it can fail is if the company is intent on maximising profit from the supply and chooses the product lines with the largest margins.

    Most dangerous and in my view unprofessional are those who charge a design fee and then also take a commission from the suppliers without telling the Client. They are being paid by both the Cowboys and the Indians…

    3. Professional Fee Route
    • Here the designer enters a contract with the Client to provide a design and project management service for a fee. Fees are usually related to the cost of the project and are percentage based the percentage dependant on the size of the project in the same way as architectural fees are set, but only on the interior element (which is obviously subtracted from the architect’s area of responsibility). A contract or letter of understanding is usually put in place before any work is carried out (essential in a new relationship) and issues such as copyright are clarified.

    Fees are usually paid according to a split reflecting the work involved at each stage. This may be:

    i. Feasibility – a study of the location, local market, competition resulting in an outline proposal for development of the site or budget proposal for the refurbishment of an existing hotel
    ii. Design – the production of the initial design and plan layouts, visualisations and reasonable design development to acceptance of the scheme by the Client. By the end of this stage 25% of the fee is usually due
    iii. Tender – production of detail drawings and tender packages. This may cover joinery (millwork) drawings, design of furniture, light fittings, tenders for electrical work, tenders for tiling and marbled work etc.. A project programme will be drawn up and planning and building regulation applications made, together with appraisals under the CONDAM and Fire regulations. Tenders are issued and opened according to clear industry standards, and the Client is not committed to accepting the lowest or indeed any tender. By the end of this stage 65% of the fee is due.
    iv. Site supervision and project management – involving arranging and attending site meetings regularly, agreeing variations to the contract and checking and agreeing the contractors payments in conjunction with the Client team** Signing off the work for handover to the client. By the end of this stage 95% of the fee is payable.
    v. Snagging and rectification work – which usually covers the first six months from handover. Here the last 5% becomes due.
    vi. Purchasing of all FF&E – will be organised by the designer for the Client, usually for a percentage either on the fee to start with or separately agreed. Again I will look in another article at the rôle of Purchasing agents.

    In all the above cases a schedule of regular monthly payments may be agreed between the parties concerned of smooth cash flow thought the length of the project. A contract is normally in place which will cover all the work undertaken, and defining responsibilities. Designers in all these methods of working are expected to have Professional Indemnity insurance, usually of up to £3 million

    The latter arrangement was the one I was used to working under when in practice. It enables the Designer to work directly as a part of the Client team, building on and understanding the operational requirements to the benefit of the schemes and the profitability of the Client Company.

    If these models are used the Client can create a transparent management structure that allows them to interrogate the construction team, be aware of costs, see the implications of changes of mind or specification. Choose the structure that supports your own management capabilities, and remember the Golden Rule – he who has the Gold Rules.

    ©Patrick Goff

    *FF&E = Furniture, Fittings and Equipment. Sometime the E is taken to mean Electrical, although Electrical may be subject of separate sub contracts.

    **Client team may include Architect, Interior Designer, Quantity Surveyor, Project manager, Structural Engineer, Services Engineer and more. Oh – and don’t get upset these are not in order of importance!

    A Guide to Hotel Design Pt 3: The Role of the Designer

    Some years ago the UK’s Design Council summoned a number of the Principals from the largest interiors practices then extant to a meeting in the Council offices. There the practice leaders were subjected to a harangue on the need for them to address their failure to move the rôle of the designer on to being a fully fledged Consultant.

    Fifteen years on from that lecture has anything changed? In the hotel design industry there have been many changes amongst the clients – Forte and Queens Moat are no more, and property ownership has now transmogrified into brand management. The industry has continued to grow, but the same practices that were dominant then are dominant now – Richmond, GA International (then called Gregory Aberhardt) SMC (then known as McNeece) Gensler, Wilson’s and many other familiar names are still the largest players. Some have gone, retired (Richard Daniels, Joseph Ransley), died (Bob Lush, Neil Tibbatts) or failed but generally the industry has survived the storms of the 1990’s in pretty good shape and as the hotel industry has flourished so have the design practices.

    Despite this the Design Council would probably still make the same criticism of the industry now as it did then. Few have managed to make the shift from being designer to being consultant. What is the difference you might ask? The Consultant is a strategic thinker, and takes on a role of advising on implementation of the brand strategy across a number of areas within a company not just implementing it within a few hotels. Designers remain involved in the implementation of strategy, not in the shaping of it. Why have designers not succeeded in gaining the level of influence and esteem of, say, the architect or brand manager?

    In part, as the Chartered Society of Designers have identified, the problem is in the qualification of the designer themselves. Anyone can call themselves a designer and being a member of the professional body (the CSD has a Royal Charter that charges it with responsibility in this area) is not a requirement of practice, whereas the architect profession and name is strictly regulated through their professional body, the RIBA.(Indeed there are now no less than 5 bodies claiming to represent interior design professionals in the UK, and a house so divided against itself cannot continue to stand in high regard anywhere).

    This means that interior design is a broad church ranging from decorator to interior architect. Within this the hotel design discipline is itself similarly fractured. A designer may be the lead consultant on a £multimillion project like the Celtic Manor, or advising on the introduction of a spa into a five star hotel, and yet still not be involved in the strategic thinking.

    In many ways the profession is its own worst enemy. A recent major refurbishment has seen a major brand establishing its first UK hotel as the flag bearer for its brand in Europe. Yet the designer has delivered interiors that do not match the brand standard. Where the brand standard states that the brand should deliver luxury soaking tubs and separate showers the hotel has been created as a brand leader without a separate shower in any of the hundreds of bedrooms. Did the designer try to change this decision? The hotel manager seems to have been instrumental in choosing the bathroom ironmongery, matching it against his idea of Englishness, with the result that there is a Victorian feel to the bathrooms – not my view of contemporary Englishness, but raising the question of why was the designer so lacking in respect that the manager was given this rôle?

    Managing the Client is a difficult task. Even a long term relationship may not empower the designer. Some have managed this difficult trick (Richard Daniels with Olga Polizzi for example) but in most instances the designer is in a position once ascribed to the fine artist as being the ‘elite of the servant classes’. The profession needs to address this weakness if it is to achieve the true status the press ascribes in its worship of design.

    We need to be assertive in promoting design values, intelligent in understanding and interpreting brand values, and aggressive in maintaining design standards. The Design Council was right in its insensitive bureaucratic way, until we get away from the drawing board to the board room, design will not deliver the potential it has to become the prime management tool that it is being seen as by enlightened commentators on both side of the Atlantic.

    ©Patrick Goff

    A Guide to Hotel Design Pt 4: Choosing your Designer

    In an hotel world where standards are rising and where innovation is a constant, for a brand managing the brand identity is key to survival and financial success. For an individual hotelier then creating stylish and efficient interiors is a competitive and financial imperative. As large brands continue their paths of expansion, their brand identity creates expectations and anticipation in the guest as well as a strong presence in the market place. Individual hotels need clear identity, individuality, style and similar or better quality to stay competitive.

    The skill of the brand or hotel manager is in creating the brand loyalty, a fan club for the brand or property, in the way soccer teams have done over generations, or as with the Coke vs. Pepsi rivalry. The essential ingredients for this are both style and substance not just consistency as Marinho found out at Chelsea. The skill for an individual owner is to compete by providing a ‘wow’ factor, an unexpected pleasure for a better guest experience as Arsenal or Man U has demonstrated.

    For many guest experiences in hotels, the key is with staff, as they represent the interface between the property and the guest. However, staff must have a product that they can believe in, a corporate philosophy that they can subscribe to, and an hotel environment that they can both sell and be proud of. I have often quoted Olga Polizzi, Design Director of Rocco Forte Hotels, who has said that “design represents 15% of the spend on an hotel, but can leverage 70% of the income” (she also said employees “should not be in hospitality if they cannot smile at guests”).

    As a designer I was on the receiving end of some very intelligent yet also some very curious processes adopted by owners wanting to find a designer that they could work with, and who they believed could deliver the style (and frequently economy) that they were looking for. The first thing that needs recognising here then is that managing design is a discipline as important and functionally necessary as the accounting process. It is of course infinitely more rewarding when done properly, and needs to be approached with the same seriousness. Choosing a designer because you like their legs does not bring success – indeed seduction can bring ruination.

    The management of design has been described as a little like herding cats. Those of you who are owned by a cat will understand this and designers too can be single minded, stylish, in need of having their ego’s stroked, and determined to go their own way. Designers can also provide a source of delight, and have the potential to deliver the unexpected, exceeding all expectation in the process. Finding such a paragon is a process that needs discipline and clarity from the start. So where to start?

    There are professional listings of designers, the best for hotel designers of course being that on HotelDesigns, in the Directory, that is free to access. Here the designers list the projects they have completed, so you will be able to go and look at finished results in detail – it may be an excuse for a weekend away but there is no substitute for experiencing an interior over a couple of nights . You will be able to make judgement on ease of housekeeping, ease of service and all the other bits that design enables and the guest notices.

    Most hoteliers have favourite hotels. Who designed yours? Have you ever asked or been curious? Find out. This way you can make a list of design practices whose work you know. Ask around. What are they like to work with? Was their service good? From the answers, make a shortlist. Make sure you have visited properties they have done before you interview them – if there are problems with the maintenance of what they produce, or its functionality the housekeeper or maitre d’ will know. Have a good gossip about the property; talk with the GM and the owner, so that by the time you get to interview you can push the designers on their areas of strength and weakness. This way may cost a little money but you will find it will save tons later.

    Draw up a shortlist. Interview a maximum of five or so – more and you will need copious notes and lose the impact of each presentation. Make sure they have the professional networks and the staff to carry out the task you have in mind. Be clear in your own mind to distinguish between the interior and the exterior. After all the exterior is not what a guest notices, but a badly designed bedroom has a lasting impact.

    Make sure that the design practice has all the necessary capabilities, including things such as professional indemnity insurance (for about £2 million is normal) and be clear on the level of service you want them to offer. Will you be doing all the purchasing through your own purchasing people? Do you require maintenance instructions on completion? Will the project be tendered or done in-house? Who will supervise and manage the site work?

    Choose not just on creative ability but also on whether you can build a long-term relationship with the design team. For the hotelier the key is managing the designer and remaining in control of the process of realising their own operating standards whilst achieving an interior that has the wow factor for the guest and makes staff proud. Time spent on selection will pay off long term.

    ©Patrick Goff

    A Guide to Hotel Design Pt 5: the Bed

    The most important part of the hotel is of course the bedroom. Designers may talk of theatre, and creating a wow factor, but the whole purpose of an hotel is to provide a bed for the night for the traveller, whether they be tourist, business person or just passing through. However stunning the hotel interiors may be a good night’s sleep has to be delivered and this needs a good bedroom environment.

    A guest needs to feel ‘wow’ as they lie on the bed. This should have nothing to do with the delights of their companion, nor programmes on the room television, nor the style and decor. No, the ‘wow’ must come from the bed itself. I am a cynical traveller. Many years as a designer but more still as a design reviewer of hotels has left me with low expectations of most hotel bedrooms. The definitions I place here represent my views after over 30 years in our industry.

    Over the last twenty years, there has been a revival by the large groups of interest in the bed. Sparked by Barry Sternlicht when head of Starwood Hotels, a feature was made of the ‘W’ bed. Claims surfaced of over 30,000 beds a year being bought (it still features in the ‘W’ shop catalogue) and marked the first serious revision of bed provision by a hotel group for many years. Starwood’s were quickly followed by Wyndham who launched the ‘Heavenly Bed’, by Marriotts with plusher mattresses, mattress toppers, finer linen sheets and more pillows in 2005. Since then the bed has remained a focus for the brands and the sleep experience has been enhanced by Pillow menu’s offering a variety of pillow types:- large and small, thick and thin, soft and hard, anti- microbial, feather, hypoallergenic and other choices . Some hotels offer hot water bottles or even (yuck!) human bed warmers (the mind boggles).

    Choice of bed in an hotel is usually limited to single or double, although a guest might be able to push for a different mattress topper if they insist. Mattress toppers are of different material -synthetic material being common, natural fleece being less so. Natural materials allow the body to ‘breathe,’, whilst artificial fibres (such as plastic mattress protectors) can make for uncomfortable overheating or sweat retention. For a full specification for the bed, click on the link below. Whilst a sprung divan, allied to a pocket spring mattress can offer the most comfortable sleep experience, there are as many different solutions as there are hoteliers.

    A Guide to Hotel Design Pt 6: Creating the Darkness

    Having a brilliant bed is of no significance if the hotel room is like a floodlit motorway intersection. Bedrooms need to be able to be darkened and silent, so that guests can sleep on your delightful bed without being disturbed.

    Creating darkness in a room means that attention is paid to make room doors that fit well and windows that can be covered to block out light. Of course not all guests will be sleeping at night which makes effective blackout even more important. Just think about the demands of aircrew, or tourists coming in from another time zone who need to allow their bodies to rest and internal time clock adjust to different cycles of daylight. For these guests the sleep environment becomes even more important.

    Bathrooms are traditionally placed between the corridor and the sleep zone in a room to insulate the sleeper from the traffic in a corridor. If the room is large or long maybe the bed also needs to be placed well away from the outside wall. I stayed in a hotel adjacent to a major rail terminal where the bed was placed next to the window and a lounge between it and the corridor, allowing maximum noise to interrupt sleep from the street outside.

    In many hotel rooms the room door opens straight into the bedroom, or the lobby is short. In these circumstances the light around or under the room door can be bright, especially if the hotel does not have movement sensors or other devices to turn off the corridor light in the absence of people. A simple draught exclusion strip can cut light under a door to zero, removing the necessity for the guest to put towels down to cover the gap. Some rooms will have a lobby with two doors but this can bring its own problems by preventing guest hearing fire alarms, or knocks on the door (although there are ways of dealing with this which I will address in a later article).

    A Guide to Hotel Design Pt 7: Silence is Golden

    To be woken in a five star hotel at an ungodly hour in the morning is unacceptable. When an hotel hasn’t the wit to organise its bottle recycling collection at a time after breakfast one wonders whether the management has any idea of how quiet their bedrooms might be. Indeed why does the building design dictate the bottle bank is below a bedroom window anyway?

    To have a wonderful bed in a room with good blackout does not guarantee a good night’s sleep for the guest. The third major rule for any hotel is that bedrooms should be quiet.

    Some hotels recognise this and at least one English group, Premier Inn, has a sleep guarantee, and refunds the room cost if the guests sleep is disturbed by noise from outside the room. Some hotels however disturb the guests sleep by noise within the room. Silence is indeed golden if noise means the guest demands a refund, a legitimate complaint given that guests check into the hotel expecting to be able to sleep.

    Yet silence need not be difficult to achieve, and achieving it can be aided by design. Kurt Ritter of Rezidor believes that airport locations are the most profitable locations for an hotel. Yet you can stand in a bedroom in his beautifully designed Park Inn Liége and watch an old fashioned jet, a Douglas DC8-63freighter of 1960’s vintage, take off at decibel levels missing from modern aircraft and not hear a thing. Similarly the Marriott’s Renaissance at Heathrow in London proudly advertises plane spotting weekends with bedrooms overlooking the main runway, but guest can hardly hear an aircraft. This almost magical trick is achievable through careful design of the building structure and the use of triple glazing with the correct acoustic performance.

    Why then does any guest need to hear the hotel bottle bank being emptied at 0615 hrs in the morning? Or hear the hotels air conditioning fans on the roof? Or hear (and smell) the kitchen extract fans?

    Bedroom design should be the first criteria for architect, services engineer and planner. Building design should not leave problems to be resolved by the interior designer and the operator. All to often it does.

    A Guide to Hotel Design Pt 8: With Drawer

    Having dealt with three of the four main criteria in a hotel bedroom I wasn’t sure where to go next. The three so far – a good bed, a room with blackout and a room that is quiet – are so essential that they select themselves. The fourth is a good bathroom but that takes me out of the bedroom and I’m not finished there yet. If this guide is to work it has logically to look at the different areas in turn. Of course there are bits that should be mentioned in passing, so let’s dispose of two of them now.

    Firstly cleanliness. It doesn’t matter which inspection body you look at they will, like the AA Guide available in our download area, tell you that the prime requirement of any hotel at any level is that it should be clean. In my travels I have found biscuits stuffed down the side of chair seats, knickers left under beds, pubic hairs in baths, and even semen stains on bed throws. In every case I have made a nuisance of myself, and moved room or hotels. So above all else housekeeping and housekeepers are of prime importance in an hotel. Why then are they the lowest paid staff?

    Secondly star ratings. I deliberately am not going to look at these until the end of this series as these are so variable as standards, and awarded everywhere in such a corrupt way – yes in the UK too before the majority of my readers start saying it couldn’t happen here. I will however be discussing these as we move through the various areas of the hotel, just drawing them together in my own rating guide at the end.

    Right, so what comes next in the bedroom? We have a good bed specification, a guide for creating blackout and some rules for ensuring the room is quiet. Our guest has arrived, bounced on the bed, inspected the bathroom (q.v.), looked out the window and now turns to their luggage. Here your research into the likely guest profile conducted as a part of defining the brief for the designer will start to pay off. If the guest is a business traveller they will probably first of all put their laptop on the desk. If someone with a family is arriving for a break, they will start to unpack.

    A Guide to Hotel Design Pt 9: The Wardrobe

    Do you remember wardrobes from childhood? Hiding places in games, smelling of moth balls or camphor. Sometimes they are a fitted part of the building fabric, sometimes a great big lump of furniture, usually lined with cedar, the timber with a reputation of keeping clothes sweet smelling and deterring moths. They still have a place in hotel bedrooms, and range from the token skinny hanging rail in a Travelodge to walk in ‘dressing rooms’ in the major five star hotels such as One & Only.
    The primary purpose of a wardrobe is to hold the clothes of the guest. If you are a large function hotel then ball gowns and tuxedo’s may be the main occupants – and they set the parameters. So the hanging rail height from the floor of a robe is generally accepted as 1660mm (about 5 ft 6 inches), the length of a ball gown. Obviously the guest needs to be able to put hangars on this so the height of the rail above floor level also need to be carefully factored in to the design.

    Above this rail was traditionally the shelf for hats, and it may be that the ‘robe was vertically split to allow shelves to be put down one side for other folded garments, or split into two hanging areas either as his’n’her areas, or wet and dry areas if no room hooks are provided (see Pt 8 With Drawer ).

    Hotel hangers are often captive type, where the ‘hook’ part is kept on the rail. Generally hated by guests who find them fiddly to use and impossible to use to hang items up to dry on the shower rails, captive hangers prevent theft. Often hangers are provided in turn with padding for delicate garments or a rail for trousers to hang over.

    A Guide to Hotel Design Pt 10: Let there be Light

    It was freezing cold, one of those ice storms that happen in New York City. Cars were frozen to the roads, the pavements were like skating rinks. The flight had been stressful, welcome at JFK unsmiling and horrendous as only the USA can make it.

    I stumbled into the hotel room with a sigh of relief. Groping around in the gloom of the late afternoon dusk, I found the light switch and immediately felt I had stumbled onto a Broadway stage at curtain up. The switch turned on a spotlight above me making the gloom of the bedroom beyond into an almost impenetrable darkness that had me stumbling from fitting to fitting turning on the lights. Of course cold hands and dinky plastic switches (Americans are so delicate, my loves) caused one of the switches to come off in my hand.

    Why oh why, I cursed, can’t US hotels do it like we do in Europe – one switch that turns on all the lights. “What” exclaimed my American friend later, “that really is like going on stage. You hit one switch and the whole damn room lights up!” Furious clicking follows as the guest tries to find which of the row of switches at the bedhead turns off the lights.

    Lighting in the bedroom needs to be guest friendly, but the anecdote above shows just how difficult this can be. Add in key card operated power, not commonly used in the wasteful “there is no such thing as global warming” USA and the potential for confusion can easily be seen. One correspondent twittered they were ‘about to ask concierge to come and turn off the bedroom lights’.

    How then does a designer make decisions about lighting the bedroom?

    A Guide to Hotel Design Pt 11: Bedroom Standards

    Historically, standards were banners raised in battle as the rallying point for your side, marking your group out from the other competing parties in the confusion of war. In the commercial world of hotels, standards do the same thing, providing a known point for guests in a confusing whirl of labels such as boutique, country house, premium, deluxe, economy, or worse – star ratings.

    Where the same standards run across a large number of hotels sharing the same ethos (uniform) they are called a brand. Many brands will say their brand is their standard but unfortunately then vary it wildly from hotel to hotel.
    Star ratings are almost useless as a standard, in part because there is no consistent standard across Europe never mind globally, in part because their implementation is erratic, even sometimes corrupt. In general I believe that in the UK standards are behind the best elsewhere and increasingly falling further behind as design and build budgets get cut back. With top hotels in London now selling for prices in excess of a million pounds a room ($1.5 million) this is very much a false economy.

    Here I am not talking about service , although theoretically this is the real differentiator between five and four star, but the standards a guest can expect in an hotel. In this, Part 11 of the Guide, I am only concerned with standards in the bedroom area in the 4/5 star level – for 3 star you cut down accordingly. Initially here, of course, the first criteria for upmarket hotels is that size counts, followed by the satisfaction delivered. The aim is to leave the guest feeling well loved.

    Despite the efforts of some chains to sell as a four star experience small rooms with cupboard like shower only bathrooms, chains such as One & Only show the way. Their five star property in Cape Town has no bedroom smaller than 68 square metres and boasts his and her bathrooms. Now for hotels ‘Space is the new frontier’. It used to be that the guide for 4 or 5 star development in the UK was room size of 32 to 34 square metres This convention is now outdated by One & Only and by European chains such as Rocco Forte Hotels who look to provide rooms of some 42 square metres, boldly going where no chain has gone before.

    A Guide to Hotel Design Pt 12: Bathroom Layouts

    Get the bathroom design wrong in an hotel and you have major problems. Because of the relationship with services such as waste and water supply changing the bathroom after completion can be a major issue. Bathrooms are for many guests as, if not more, important than the bedroom itself. Because the bedroom/bathroom combination creates the overall footprint of the building they are the primary driver of cost and the primary area where developers may try to save money. Building down to a lowest common denominator may prove expensive long term, as future proofing demands building up to a higher standard.

    The bathroom traditionally stands between the corridor and the bedroom acting as a sound barrier and insulator for the sleep area. This also allows access from the corridor to the services so that maintenance issues can be sorted without the engineers having to access the bedroom directly. In addition, in some countries there is now a requirement that the toilet be in a separate enclosure to the rest of the bathroom, and this is likely to become a de facto standard even in countries like the UK where there is currently no such requirement.

    At the beginning of this Guide I stressed that “managing design is a discipline as important and functionally necessary as the accounting process”. I emphasised the need to understand the likely guest profile of the target audience for your hotel. It may be that the majority of your guests will be business people who prefer a quick shower in the morning, but the family with young children will prefer a bath.

    In deciding whether to offer shower only, consideration should be given to how many guests will be lost to competition, and vice versa with bath only. Decisions should be made in the light of the evidence from your marketing or customer surveys, not in light of your or your designers personal likes or dislikes.

    I would also like to look at the way the bathroom layout should serve the guest, and how detail design can make this work.

    It is said that you can tell an older persons bathroom by the number of pills and potions that are there. Hair dyes, cream against wrinkles, anti-perspirants, pain killers for muscle strain, statins against cholesterol, fish oils for joints – and that is just the men! While much of this may rest in a wash bag the size of a small portmanteau, a great deal – shaving tackle, tooth brushes (in my old mums case even on occasion the teeth) are left sitting out on the vanity unit. Assuming the room caters for couples this dictates a fair sized clear area around the basin where things can be laid out.

    Again the bathroom should also reflect the need of the guest sector. A bathroom shared by a family, even a mother with a small babe, may require extra room. Can a family bathroom be large enough for a layette for example? Questions like this need addressing in the way the bathroom is planned not just when fitted out.

    Bathrooms are also the new battlefield aesthetically. Marble or granite is now commonplace (and should be treated to be non-slip) soaking tubs with roll tops (usually pressed steel although best quality dictates cast iron) dimmable lights or alternative lighting layouts, coloured lights, candles, TV’s, sound systems all contribute to luxury in an area where hotels can still outstrip many homes in their provision, and create the ‘wow’ factor.

    Bathroom mirror should be free of misting and this can be effected by the power of bathroom extractors as well as by use of heated pads behind the morrir to provide a mist free area. Bathroom extraction requirements are defined by regulation, and are essential to prevent mildew and smells

    As hotels number their rooms superstitiously without a no. 13, so goes this series.

    Provision for those with disabilities is much greater than making a room available for someone in a wheelchair. It requires a fully thought out operational and design philosophy. For example, Carers may not want to share a bed or even a room with those for whom they are caring, so interconnection becomes an issue. Alarms work both ways and if you have a bedroom lobby with a door on the corridor end and the bedroom end then a visual and aural repeater for the hotel fire system will be needed, and warn guests when testing the system.

    Above all though it needs to be visually and ergonomically attractive. If it is then your spaciousness and well thought out provision you have made for all your guests will bring you much of the business, leaving the less well designed for the superficially attractive ‘yoof’ market.

    Authors Note: Whilst my knowledge is from the design and implementation of access in UK hotels through projects on which I was a part of the design team, I believe the US regulations and other European national regulations are pretty well much in line with the information in the documents gathered here, and the pictures I have used feature DDA/ADA rooms from all over Europe and the USA.

    I am also shocked that there is not even a common European standard. This an area where there should be a commmon International standard.

    A Guide to Hotel Design Pt 15: Corridor Design

    Whilst the bedroom and a good night’s sleep are the main attributes of what the guest wants from a stay in an hotel, the impression created by the corridor can also be key to the guest experience. The journey to the room should not just be as enjoyable as walking down a corridor can be made, but should also be easy in terms of the guest finding a room and should enable the guest, en route, to see everything the hotel has to offer. After all, the hotel wants the guest in the bar/spa/restaurants spending money, not in solitary isolation in their room.

    Walking long corridors with endless vistas into the distance, unbroken by any form of variation for the eye, is boring. There are a number of ways that the designer can alleviate this through the planning, furnishing and lighting.
    If possible, the building layout should consider the guest from the start. The design should ensure that lifts are centrally placed with corridors kept short. If corridors are long, then consideration should be given to insetting doors so that the eye is not presented with a long tunnel. The eye line can be broken by alcoves, which should also help locate where room doors are.

    There are a number of additional tricks that the designer can use which emphasise location. Whilst graphics or floor numbers can be used, often a visual clue can be placed outside the lift as an alternative. As the lift doors opens the guest can recognise where they are through colour, or a unique arrangement of furniture, perhaps a piece of art, that is unique to that floor and enables visual recognition of arrival. Lighting can spotlight the doors, perhaps incorporated into the door numbering, indicating door locations easily and visually.

    Lighting positions can be at irregular intervals down the corridor. Lessen the predictability and it will relax the guest by providing visual interest. Emergency/maintained lights also need to be designed to fit seamlessly with the interior scheme, and escape route lighting also needs to be chosen to be both visually effective but also to harmonise with the interior.

    Incidentally, corridors are where the largest energy saving can be made – the lighting can be controlled through motion sensors to ensure lights are only on when people are present. Corridors are often heated to the same level as rooms whereas most guests dress before walking down them so they can be heated to a much lower level.

    A Guide to Hotel Design Pt 16: Reception – Make it Smiles Better

    Reception should be the friendly face of the hotel. The space needs a smile, so the interior created must be welcoming, warm, and friendly. Unfortunately, the designer has no influence over the staff, who must also smile their welcome. A famous hotelier once said to me that they could not understand anyone being in the hospitality industry if they could not smile a welcome at guests.

    As a designer, I tried to imagine a guest arriving in the hotel. So come with me whilst I imagine, and see how it leads to a set of criteria for the design.
    Imagine it is November. Imagine yourself as a salesperson that has not had a good day. Your car is full of samples, and no one has liked them. Much as you might want them all to be stolen overnight, your first requirement is that they are safe in the hotel car park, so as you arrive you look for the most secure place to park. It is dark and pouring with rain so as you run to the door into the hotel, you are looking for a welcome, perhaps a nice fire to dry off in front of and a welcoming armchair to sink into. A drink put in your hand would be nice, together with some slippers and a menu for a good restaurant. You have been here before so recognition would be good, along with someone taking your bag to your room and making you feel as at home as you ever are on your travels.

    Is this fantasy? Not really, some hotels are able to use computing power to achieve this. Others dispense with a reception desk altogether and greet and register with a hand held tablet computer, putting a guest at their ease and sitting them down to register them. If a guest is a regular then make them feel welcome back. Use your geography, the layout of the hotel to help deliver the surprise and pleasure of a proper welcome.

    A Guide to Hotel Design Pt 17: Reception – Make it Function Better

    Your Reception staff smile and the guests feel welcome. But does your reception area reflect the quality and ethos of your brand? Does its design enable staff to work happily and efficiently and the two do, of course, go together. In this part I want to look at how reception works at different levels of service.

    First a sideswipe at star ratings or rather the attitudes that they engender. For someone staying in a three star hotel their stay may be something they have scrimped and saved for. They may not have a millionaire daddy to indulge them as if they were George Osborne, but their money will have been hard earned and their decision to spend it with you is a high compliment. They deserve to be treated with the same respect and concern as if they were a multi millionaire buying the top suite at a five star. If you are a five star and some bum turns up in jeans he may actually be a millionaire so don’t give him the ‘bum’s rush’ out the door because true class doesn’t judge by appearances – and after all he might be Charlie Sheen!

    Whatever level you operate at treat your guest as you would like to be treated yourself. It’s called being professional. As designers have learned, you must obey the Golden Rule – he who has the Gold, Rules.

    Ergonomic efficiency and the efficient setting of staff levels are all a part of both operational and design criteria. I have already given examples of receptions which appear unmanned with an alarm calling staff to the counter before the guest gets there, freeing staff for other tasks. With staff costs a major part of any operation an efficiently staffed and run Reception is not just essential for good guest relations but is also an ingredient of profitability.

    In three star brands cost efficiency in terms of staff numbers are essential, and with typical 3 star 100 bed units operating with between 30 and 40 staff good design can assist with minimising the staff numbers needed.

    Travelodge have taken the approach typified by RyanAir. Processes are automated as far as possible in order to minimise costs – costs which are in turn reflected in a minimised room rate. Increasingly this means on line check-in processes validated by automatic terminals in the reception lobby. Human intervention is kept to a minimum.

    A Guide to Hotel Design Pt 18: Reception – Make it a Profit Centre

    The prime rôle of the Reception area is to welcome guests. It can also offer ways of making additional engagement with the local community to the commercial advantage of the hotel. Design can enhance this relationship by making areas around Reception work as almost community spaces.

    Design alone of course cannot make the space activate in this way, it needs operational criteria to fall into place. There are some very good examples of where the two mesh to give an impressive increase in income with very little effort.

    Important in this is of course the design criteria given to the interior designer at the beginning of the project, and a key part of this is knowing the hotel’s local market. If the hotel is on a transport interchange, can it attract waiting passengers into its areas for relaxation and drinks? Can it act as a meeting point for families? Should it mesh with the local business community, and if so in what way? All these considerations can affect the design of the public areas.

    Around Heathrow Airport there are a myriad of hotels, for many hotel groups representing their most profitable properties. In many of these, there is a wide selection of meeting spaces allowing businesses to gather their staff for the day. It can be easy for a person in Munich to meet with colleagues from Sweden and Portugal for a day by flying into Heathrow for a face-to-face meeting in an airport hotel, and flying home again the same day.

    With its network of routes, reaching across the globe, Heathrow is not just a travel terminal but also a node on the global communications Network. With the increasing use of high speed rail it may be that hotels such as the new Renaissance St. Pancras may service the same sort of market

    A Guide to Hotel Design: Pt 19 Using Colour

    The use of colour in interiors has come back with a vengeance. Until recently there was an emphasis on ‘minimalism’ that was not really been minimalist, simply bleak. Minimalism was all about balancing empty against intense, purity of shape and form and a specific kind of aesthetic. In hotels it was reduced to cheap – less is less as it were.

    Now an era of colour and pattern is upon us, with the digitisation of the production of wallpapers and fabrics allowing full creative freedom for designers. There is a return of the idea that hotel interiors should create drama, and a sense of place.

    Lighting is changing rapidly, partly because of concerns about energy consumption, but the introduction of LED lighting is becoming a game changer. It gives a freedom to the designer and a purity of light almost unknown before. As cost and rarity both disappear from the equation, the LED will become the dominant format and hotel energy bills will plummet. The ability to paint with light combined with digitally dyed carpets and digitally printed wallpapers and fabrics gives an unprecedented freedom to designers.

    Like all freedom however, it comes with a set of rules. Colour and light can change the perception of space, and in an attempt to nail down ‘advancing’ or ‘recessive’ colour, and to see how lighting can change depth perception I knocked up a little ‘light modulator’.

    The ‘modulator’ had movable partitions, into which I could project light, whether white or coloured, to see the effects it had on the perception of space. By photographing onto slides (which were scanned for this article) I was able to project the imagery and play with it, as I shall explain.

    A Guide to Hotel Design Pt 20: Colour in Interiors

    A Guide to Hotel Design Pt 19 showed there are basic design and aesthetic rules on the use of colour. With the move back to pattern and colour from the off-white minimalism of the last decade or so, it seems appropriate to take a fresh look at some of these rules.

    Artists revel in colour and its power. You only have to sit in front of a Monet to realize the powerful emotional tug colour can have. His abstracted use of colour through his ‘Water Lilies’ series and the observational changes he records through series such as the ‘Haystacks’ show the power of colour to change perceptions. This work has continued to be exploited and extended through the work of artists such as Bridget Riley and Dan Flavin.

    This very power makes the misuse of colour an abuse of the viewer. Professional designers are often guilty of colour misapplication and poor taste, creating violent clashes or room schemes that do not support the room’s function. It’s not as if the rules of colour are new. Goethe first expounded a printed theory of colour many centuries ago, and related colour to emotions. The Greek and Romans had symbolic meanings for colour in earlier millennia, some of which are still at the base of the theories of colour taught in art schools.

    Artists like Klee and Albers, and pedagogues such as Itten worked with designers closely at the various iterations of the Bauhaus in developing theories of colour in interiors, carpets etc., some of the effects of which are only lately being revealed through the work of the restoration groups on Bauhaus properties in Germany. Yet despite this research, and the teaching of colour theory in art college across the world, ignorance in the use of colour continues to be displayed.

    A Guide to Hotel Design: Pt 21: Bar Design

    One of the many skills I gained as an art student was an in-depth knowledge of beer and an ability to throw three treble twenty darts whilst drinking. This qualified me to become firstly a bar cellar man and subsequently a landlord, proud member of the local Licensed Victuallers Association, my first working professional body membership.

    My experience for some four years running various bars gave me an insight into the vagaries of bar design, which became very useful later when involved in the design of bars in pubs and later, hotels. As a designer it is worthwhile working in a bar for a while before designing one.

    I realised, through experience, that providing bars for functions such as the Trade Union Congress was very different from providing a bar in a disco or for a wedding party. From the project start, every bar needs consideration according to function and clientele. There are also numerous ever changing factors involved in terms of Health and Safety, policing and staff welfare. All these detailed in official guidance from the relevant authorities – but the design is compromised if the designer has no awareness of the local licensing laws and the needs for compliance.

    In the UK, major changes or new creation of bars need the approval of the local licensing authority (see UK Gov). Frequently specialist plans have to be drawn up by the designer for submission, all colourfully marked up to show the cellar areas etc for the benefit of the authority. Law varies across the UK never mind intercontinentally so local research or guidance is an absolute necessity.

    A Guide to Hotel Design Pt 22: Spa Design 1

    Hotels Resort and Spas was a heading for a section of advertising in the London ‘Times’ Newspaper in 1958. There were some names then that would be recognised now, but the concept of a Resort or Spa has changed over the years and continues to evolve.

    In the busy 21st Century many people are looking for more than just somewhere to stay when booking their hotel. For example 95% of conference bookings specify that there should be a swimming pool in a conference hotel even though surveys show only 7% of delegates will be using the facility. A Spa is emerging as a central part of the experience for weekenders as well as a stress release for business guests – recent surveys show men use spas at least as much as women.

    When considering the creation of a spa it is important to understand that they are very specialised facilities and just as you would not leave the design of your new hotel kitchen to an inexperienced team equally your spa should be created by designers who fully understand the technical requirements of the operation and are also committed to the principles of ‘spa’. For those hoteliers or their designers pondering the addition of this kind of facility, let me point to the experience of the UK’s Chester Grosvenor, who gave up some bedrooms to create a spa and treatment rooms – and have seen a 20% lift in bookings since the completion of the project.

    The Dictionary defines a spa as a mineral spring or a place or resort where such a spring is found. The second definition offered is the name of Spa, described as a Belgium town where the benefits of mineral springs were noted in the 14th Century. The oldest in the UK is the Roman spa at Bath, still there and in use today.

    A Guide to Hotel Design pt 23 Spa Design: the Treatment Room

    The treatment room is the heart of a spa, and the guest experience there is key to the whole relaxation focus of a spa.

    It is not enough, as in the traditional East European spas, to emphasise the health aspects of spa treatments, although their attractiveness for de-stressing is a superb selling point. Proving spa treatments as part of a health treatment is fine, but providing them in an ‘NHS’ hospital environment is not.

    Traditional treatment ‘cubicles’, all white tile, overhead lights and no sound system, possibly also with curtains rather than doors, fail to deliver privacy never mind an acceptably cosseting environment for treatments.
    The strong traditions of spa treatments in Eastern Europe, especially where there are thermal springs such as in Hungary or Slovakia, have been undermined by the socialist approach that frequently involved the demolition of attractive fin-de-siécle buildings and the creation of hospital style environments. Such environments frequently are at odds with the treatment regimes being developed by chains such as Shangri-La, with their mix of Eastern philosophy with modern understanding of relaxation treatments, beauty therapies and sports massage. A spa treatment day is for many a luxury ‘treat’ and needs an environment that reflects this.

    The modern approach to ‘taking the waters’ makes demands of the architect and designers in the layout of complexes, ambience, and the development of suitable room environments. The key for 21st Century spa users is that they finish their treatment feeling relaxed and pampered.

    Treatment rooms are the heart of the spa and their design needs to be based in the treatment regime and philosophy of the spa itself. Therapists for one type of therapy may require a differing environment to those of another, and to avoid the need to build endless variations of the treatment room, designers need to pay attention to design of the major factors involved in creating the right treatment environment – light, heat, and sound as well as the sybaritic and tactile.

    Guide to Hotel Design Pt 24: Spa Design: Fitness

    The treatment room (see Pt 23) may be the heart of the spa, but an essential part for many users is the fitness suite. Spa and massage may be an essential part of wellbeing but so is having a healthy body.

    Among the other components of the Spa is the fitness suite. This is not to forget the need to develop a menu offering that supports the concepts the spa is built around. It is no good offering people the ability to feel good if your menu is full of salt, sugar and grease. A true spa treats the whole person not just their skin.

    Frequently a gym will have a cafe operation attached dispensing popular energy drinks, high protein snacks and the like. This can provide the basis for a whole food or healthy eating restaurant alternative to the main hotel restaurant operation.

    Exercise generates endorphins that are at the base of the feeling of wellbeing that comes once exercise it over. For many ‘feel the burn’ becomes a motto, and there are addicts to exercise as there are addicts to tobacco and alcohol and arguably, they can do themselves almost as much harm. To share a gym with a tribe of male and female body builders can be disconcerting to the average guest. This means your spa and gym need to have clear membership policies – and if you have a large constituency of outside members who want the emphasis to be on muscle building rather than just keeping fit, then maybe there needs to be some differentiation in the gym layout to give segregation.

    Many hotel gyms are just a room full of kit sold to the naive hotelier by a fitness machine manufacturer. As with any other area of the hotel, the staff expertise needs to be involved in the decision-making. If your gym is going to be unstaffed then there are areas that you need to create to avoid any unpleasant legal complication arising from assault or injury. A small gym may be more of a liability than a commercial draw. If a small spa and gym complex is developed it may be attractive to have a large paying external membership, but then perhaps times should be set aside just for guest use only, or a user number limitation imposed.

    Guide to Hotel Design Pt 25: Look Backwards to the Future

    After two dozen articles on Hotel Design in the series, and with more to come, I thought a reiteration of some principles was in order before I write the next two dozen parts.

    Over the last few years I have visited some 300 hotels in 31 countries across 4 Continents, not just for the full Reviews, which have covered hotels from Birmingham to Bombay, but also through our Miniviews and Industry News articles that have carried smaller items on major hotels from the Seychelles to the Stafford, Cardiff to Cyprus. These hotels have been both newly built establishments and refurbishments or conversions.

    What do these have in common, and what deductions can be drawn about the future of the hotel room? I have been involved with the design and development of new and refurbished hotels, since 1978. Those years proved one thing above all else – everything moves up market all the time.

    The hotels that have had the most problems in dealing with this have been those once new buildings that were built down to a price or to what was perceived as the minimum standard that could be achieved whilst meeting the star rating requirements. Seeking guidance on the redevelopment of his hotel, one owner was taken aback when advised on the removal of one room in three in his thirty year old building in order to increase the size of the remaining rooms.

    It hadn’t occurred to him that the hotels popularity with coach parties and backpackers was indicative of how far below the four star level it had fallen.

    A Guide to Hotel Design Pt 26: Hard wood Flooring

    Something of a revolution in thinking happened in the 1990s, as designers made a shift away from carpet in interiors to using various forms of hard flooring. Wood became fashionable , but there was also an increase in the use of tile, terrazzo, marble, and other types of stone finishes. In part this was driven by fashion, in part by a perception that such hard flooring was easier to deal with and cheaper to maintain – i.e. cost. This article looks purely at the different types of wood flooring available , but I think it important to remove some myths from the specification process.
    Advantages of Timber Flooring:

    1. Quality: the perception of timber is that it is an ‘up-market’ floor finish, depending on the timber of course
    2. Longevity: Go to places like Ightham Mote and you will see timber floors that have been ‘in situ’ since the 14th century.
    3. Cost: Prices vary with the timber but tend to be lower than for high quality carpet
    4. Maintenance: the floor can be refurbished to look like new.
    5. Wear resistance: is high and pieces can be spliced in to renew sections without any overall loss of visual quality.
    6. Ageing: as timber ages it gains a patina of polish and use that enhances its appearance
    7. Damage resistance: Spills can usually be mopped up, dropped objects may leave impact marks, as can high heels, but the result adds a visually acceptable patina of wear. Even limited burn marks can be sanded out and repolished to match undamaged parts
    8. Relatively easy to fit as part of a build programme

    Disadvantages of Timber Flooring:

    1. Quality: the perception of timber can be that it is a cheap flooring finish (depending on the timber of course)
    2. Maintenance: A timber floor can deteriorate in appearance very rapidly with the use of incorrect cleaning materials
    3. Damage resistance: Easily marked by high heels and scraped by metal furniture. On the wrong timber finish this can caused unsightly permanent damage
    4. Can be a difficult retrofit (as can marble) changing levels etc
    5. Cannot be laid on some subfloors without intervening protection – not recommended to be fitted directly onto concrete for example.
    6. Ageing: Some timber can warp and split. In most timber interiors this can be acceptable as part of a patina of age, but in some hotel installations it may be considered unacceptable
    7. Noise transmission both through impact and reflection can be very, unacceptably, high.
    8. Not as warm or soft underfoot as carpet

    As you can see one man’s advantage can be another’s disadvantage. Hard flooring is typically used (for example) in an Italian style trattoria eatery where it reflects and multiplies sound. Where quietness is a consideration than carpet would more normally be used. Making these decisions are the province of the designer.

    Guide to Hotel Design Pt 27: Creating a Boutique – Definitions and Dangers

    The concept of the boutique hotel has changed perceptions of the hotel market. Mistakenly credited to Ian Schrager and his individual hotels in the Morgans group in the mid-1980’s, the concept is much older. If we are looking to innovative modern iterations of boutique then we must go beyond Schrager to Anouska Hempel’s Blakes Hotel of 1978. Visiting as a designer I was excited by her first use of narrowly focussed downlights,black table cloths and Samurai armour along with the sheer visual drama this created. Schrager started with nightclubs at the end of the 1970’s and took the drama and use of electro-art into Morgans in 1984, bringing boutique to the USA.

    What changed with these hotels was that they were controlled by the designer. Without an accountant questioning the value of design they were able to realise an innovative, idiosyncratic, vision of the complete environment which both excited the guest and ultimately became very profitable. Pitched initially at the less than 100 bed luxury end of the market, their impact on individual owners was marked and led to a wave of boutique-style hotels and b&b’s opening that began to impact on the identity and profitability of chain hotels . Barry Sternlicht, now owner of the Louvre/Golden Tulip group was the first CEO of a major brand to drive a vision of a corporate boutique with the very successful development of the ‘W’ brand whilst he was CEO of Starwoods. Reputedly the most financially successful hotels in the Starwood Group, their high RevPAR rapidly had other brands following the same route looking for similar returns. Dare I mention Denizen? No – perhaps not…

    Many hotels are uniquely and individually designed, and what set boutiques apart initially was their placing at the luxury end of the market, with high individual service standards as well as highly individual design. What the hype and noise from the general press obscures is that successful boutiques come out of a clear operational and design philosophy and a trusting relationship between hotelier/developer and designer. Whilst boutique branding may take brands into more defined design areas than they would have ventured into before, it is inevitable that controlling the look to match a brand standard will ultimately stifle design innovation and remove the inspirational differences that Hempel and Schrager pointed the way to.