Travel won’t look the same for months, at least. With a tentative return to ‘normal’ still in the medium-term future and experts predicting a full global industry recovery for hospitality likely still years away, patched-together design solutions and austere Plexiglass screens won’t cut it. Essential business travellers, the guests who are willing and able to travel during the pandemic, and those venturing out once vaccinated still expect the ‘hospitality’ in the hotel stay.
Designers have to find ways to meet those standards without making spaces seem clinical or isolated. That requires some creative thinking of how layout and surfacing can work together for an optimal guest experience that keeps hospitality truly hospitable.
It’s crucially important to understand that while cleaning standards have become more enhanced and brought to the forefront due to the pandemic, hotel owners and operators won’t be binning their supplier list, and designers don’t necessarily need to do a major rethink of what materials to use. Rather, it’s about effectively communicating what is often already in place and a heightened awareness of surfaces, materials, and surroundings.
“While beautiful, marble is usually not a surface option for high-traffic hotel spaces. In many ways, the hospitality industry is quite proficient in materiality with respect to sustainability, sturdiness and hygienic design,” says Day. “For example, high-touch surfaces are sealed, and we already put glass tops on wood. We’ve been designing to the necessary level of cleanability for the last decade.”
Fabrics are already strictly regulated for cleanability and moisture content, as well as being treated in various ways to improve durability and stain resistance. We will see more of easy-to-clean and antimicrobial fabrics, carpeting and wallcoverings in the year ahead that are luxurious and beautiful.
Even with few supply issues with the ‘what’ of surfacing (Day adds that during the pandemic there are and have been some logistical challenges getting orders filled on time due to Covid regulations in factories), there are plenty of changes to the ‘how’. Each project will be unique, depending on location, type and opening date, but occupancy limits and social distancing require creative use of surfacing.
Don’t worry about having to add permanent wayfinding into design. Day says no clients have yet asked her to incorporate that into flooring or wallcovering in a hotel, and she doesn’t see that coming in the future, either. Quick changes to regulations make temporary solutions such as removable signage a more practical option if it’s needed.
The more elegant solution for enforcing social distancing? Taking advantage of surfacing designed for separating spaces without leaving them looking or feeling subdivided. Screens and greenery have long been used in compact spaces to create the feeling of privacy or individual space. Now they have a starring role in doing just that. “There are companies now branching out into screens that really are design elements, not just practical necessities,” says Day. And, she adds, some of them have quick ship programs that will get product onsite in four to six weeks.
The flexibility of screening is another advantage. Many projects are in locations where phases of reopening dictate multiple changes to occupancy, layout and amenity options in public spaces. “Phase one could be just eight to 10 occupants allowed in the lobby at one time,” says Day. “By Phase three, those spaces would have a layout that is designed to allow more space between people [not to return to pre-Covid design] but would not have occupancy restrictions.” Bars and restaurants would also have a phased approach. Day sees greenery as another way to gently encourage people to keep their distance.
Conference rooms will likely see less use of these techniques. Portable chairs and multipurpose layouts in many larger spaces mean they are essentially adaptable. Simple rearrangement of seating and so on can satisfy social distancing requirements.
Overall, Day doesn’t anticipate major changes to the materials palette, but there are some innovations and trends she sees as emerging in the near future.
A stronger finish: Additional sealants
Day predicts that antibacterial sealant options will improve. These will provide an extra layer on top of products already being used to treat surfaces.
Intimacy without isolation: Screen play
Screening elements in public spaces, such as lobbies and lounges, allow for privacy without the feeling of being alone and act as partitions for social distancing.
Even more glass
Seamless and with top-notch cleanability, glass may take a greater role in surfacing. Look for it on bar tops, as a topper for other materials, as panels that create visual separation, and as operable walls to invite nature in as décor and to promote reciprocal indoor/outdoor flow.
Greens, blues and earthy hues connect us back to nature. In deep tones, these colours evoke a sense of calm. We will see more spaces enveloped in nature-inspired tones, from painted wall panelling and wallcoverings to drapery, mixed with warm woods and natural stone.
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Main image credit: Will Pryce