Creating an appealing hotel design is no longer just about making a space easy on the eye. Sensory design has grown rapidly as a movement in recent years, incorporating smell, taste, sound and touch from the initial design, not as an afterthought, and interlinking closely with trends such as wellness and curated, personalised customer experiences. A prestigious panel of industry experts gathered at the Independent Hotel Show 2021 to discuss some of the innovations at the forefront of sensory design.
Hamish Kilburn, Editor of Hotel Designs, kicked off the discussion by commenting that, while all hotels are different, all hospitality projects can benefit, regardless of budget, from looking at their designs from a 3D perspective.
“Sound can be used congruently with other senses to help support the journeys we’re on every day,” added sound architect Tom Middleton. “It can reduce anxiety, help with peak performance and productivity, help you become les anxious and overwhelmed and, vitally, help you get a better night’s sleep.”
Mark Bruce, EPR Architects’ Board Director, who following this panel was crowned Architect of the Year at The Brit List Awards 2021, agreed. He said: “What has changed recently is that we value all of the senses more. Acoustics was a form of design and sadly often it was a plug-in or an add-on, an afterthought. We’ve now found ourselves in a really interesting place in terms of our experiences in hotels.
“As all of our lives get busier and more frantic, hotels are a little moment of luxury and when we start looking at all the senses holistically we can understand the value of that. It’s not just about having a great soundtrack in a bar, it’s about influencing the customer experience and making people enjoy themselves more by understanding the science and embedding that in the design.”
Marie Soliman, Co-Founder of Bergman Design House, added: “I get asked ‘what makes you loyal to a specific brand?’ and the answer is that I care how I felt in that hotel. People forget how the room looks, but they don’t forget how they felt. The room needs to be about them, with the right light and the right sound.”
Bruce commented that even corridors were becoming a sensory experience, in addition to being a functional route from A to B: “The gaps between the experiences are just as important as the experiences themselves. Those few metres can be thoughtful in themselves.
“With Six Senses [the luxury hotel brand’s debut London property, opening in 2023], we looked at how we can use sound, light and smell to help people with their moods, and to get them ready for their experience.
“First thing in the morning people don’t want to walk into a dark corridor, so we worked with some very talented light engineers to mimic certain types of light across the year, with calming music and smells. Not plug-ins, but very subtle undertones to help with your heart rate and your mood. What we’re talking here about isn’t hugely expensive; we all have LED lights and speaker systems.”
“Having a sense of where the customer might be emotionally and mentally is key to adapting sensory design to fit the occasion,” added Middleton. “There is a social responsibility. Every hospitality brand right now needs to be considering the anxiety that guests will be experiencing getting out there, travelling and flying again.
“We need to understand that, as human beings, we’ve had our nervous systems decimated over the past year and half. Anxiety is going through the roof, as is mental health generally, so wellness is a key word right now: emotional and mental wellbeing. We should be supportive and kind.
“We’re handing over trust to brands as we’re going to go into this environment.” – Sound architect Tom Middleton.
“I design with empathy, and we all need to be more empathetic in the way that we approach design so that the whole journey isn’t too hyper-stimulating. The reason I use that word is that we’ve been hyper-stimulated for nearly a year and a half by fear, uncertainty and overwhelm.
“We’re handing over trust to brands as we’re going to go into this environment: trust that it’s going to be safe and we’re going to enjoy ourselves. Trust that it’s even going to help us feel more relaxed and less anxious. That’s my responsibility now: work with all these sensory inputs and the ecosystem of senses within designing and make sure that the guest does feel supported. I think that’s our responsibility within the industry.”
Main image credit: Independent Hotel Show London