A Guide to Hotel Design: Managing the Process

    150 150 Daniel Fountain
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    Before we start to look at the nitty gritty of what happens inside the building, lets for a moment consider how you are going to manage the process. After all you are neither building a retail shed, nor a domestic block of flats, but a destination to which you hope people will come back again and again. To achieve your goals in planning your hotel you need to be able to communicate and manage your development team – you do have a development team don’t you? Oh my god! Well then we’d better look at some objectives for it, and who that suggests should be in the team. The starting point is of course that you have done you market research as suggested in my first article. If you haven’t, stop reading this and do it now.

    Let’s assume that you have progressed as outlined in part one. No doubt you have been impressed by some of the hotels you have seen, but equally you will be sure you can do better, so you are moving forward with confidence. You have the support of your bank*, your accountant is enthusiastic and you know what star rating and price range you want to operate in. Now you need to find a designer who knows what they are doing, and who should, if they are good, be able to save you their fee by knowing their way around the contract market (and no,definately not a purchasing agency).

    I am not talking about the architect (good at the outside and at running a team, great on contracts and knowing everything (they say) but not an interiors specialist), nor the builder, nor contractor. Nor yet the structural engineer or the quantity surveyor, services engineer or kitchen specialist. I mean the person who understands the relationship of the internal parts of the hotel and how to make sure that they all contribute to the operational effectiveness and thereby the return to your bottom line, someone who is going to give your hotel a sense of style that will set it apart from the competition.

    The obvious way to find a good hotel designer is to go back to the hotel you admired most and ask ‘who did this?’ You could use the Interior designers in our Directory– they are all checked out by us for their relevant experience, and list their previous clients and jobs.

    Once you have a name, check their track record – not what they say on their CV but actually look at hotels they have done and talk to the operators – at the very least see if we have featured their work in our Review section or in a Miniview. Get a short list of two or three, and maybe get them to pitch ideas for your hotel – a paid pitch or they won’t give it real attention. Designers, like chefs, do not like giving the results of their efforts way for nowt, and you shouldn’t expect them to. Nor should you choose them because they have nice legs or a big lunch box – this is about finding a serious contributor to the success of your business, not a lucky charm.

    What about qualifications?

    If you are in the USA then your designer will almost certainly have to be licensed by the State you are in – this is a requirement in around 30 states that I am aware of. If in Europe the picture is different. In the UK there are formal qualifications but no requirement for them to be taken. The courses are mainly BA/MA courses, although there used to be some good HND programmes until the politicians – don’t get me started! These programmes often share part of their courses with architecture courses ensuring that the students are introduced to the main planks of building design.

    Most professional designers are registered but again there is no requirement to be a member of a professional body – the one with the Royal Charter and obligation in representing designers is the Chartered Society of Designers, who are in our Directory, and who will also help you find a designer if you want. However the most successful designer in Britain since the 1950’s was Bob Lush (now alas dead). Not only did Bob run the largest interiors practice in Europe in Richmond International but he also had as his assistants good designers, many of whom now run their own successful interiors practices( for example Francesca Basu, or Jane Goff). Bob trained in the theatre, and was not a professionally trained interior designer, although one could argue that theatre is what hotels are all about (see Radisson Berlin if you don’t believe me!)

    All this brings me back to the first point I made – look at the jobs that you like, ask who did them and talk to them. Make a short list and see who you then want to work with.
    A good designer will then give you a fee proposal that should list:
    • Their professional working methodology including allowance for design development
    • The basis on which they will charge their fees and expenses
    • The number and type of drawings they will produce
    • Details of the production of Tender documents and processes for their area of responsibility
    • The approach to running the job on site
    • Their level of attendance on site, attendance at site meetings, site supervision etc.
    • Fee stages i.e. what they charge and when so that you can see where your cash flow is going to be
    • Ordering systems, control books and record of installation for you and your housekeeping staff to refer to. This should include a comprehensive list of all suppliers and their contact details for your maintenance crew.
    • Clarification of copyright

    Designers will normally charge a fee based on the cost of the interior fit-out, including lighting, joinery, soft furnishings FF&E and so on, although if they are involved in the planning of the layout of the hotel, as they should be, then they should be getting a fee for that too – deductable from the architects share of course. Obviously the elements in the interior package should not form a part of the total the architect is basing his fees on. Equally neither should the interior designer be paid a fee for the work of the kitchen designer. Included in the fees of all the professionals should be an amount for coordination work with the other professionals, but this is not the same as charging a fee on their share of the work.

    Alternatives exist in the form of companies that will provide design services as part of a turn-key solution in which they also fit out your hotel. There is also the design and build route, where the designer is employed by the contractor, but I would personally advise against this route as the designers first responsibility is to the employer – in this case the builder who may not have the same overall goal as the client (his profit may come first for example)

    You should also have on your developmenmt team the other key players in your team – chef perhaps, maybe your head housekeeper, or marketing manager, all those in fact who will know what operational criteria should feed through into the brief. They may not need to meet the designer but there may be advantages in some dialogue being constructed.

    You need to manage a process that, on a typical new build, can run into tens of millions, and millions for a simple refurb. In managing remember the Golden Rule, – he who has the Gold Rules.

    • Support of a bank – an archaic term from an earlier age when you had a relationship with your bank and did not just get ripped off by them

    Patrick Goff

    Daniel Fountain / 21.11.2014

    Editor, Hotel Designs


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