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Part 6: Creating the darkness

355 250 Hamish Kilburn

GTHD

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.

Credit: Mar Adentro architectural photography, created by Joe Fletcher

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).

Part 5: The bed

355 400 Hamish Kilburn

GTHD

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.

Part 05

Credit: Hotel X Toronto

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.

Part 4: Choosing your designer

355 250 Hamish Kilburn

GTHD

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.

Part 04

Credit: NM Architects

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

Part 3: The role of the designer

355 250 Hamish Kilburn

GTHD

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.

Credit: NHow Marseille

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

Part 2: What are professional fees, and how are they paid?

355 400 Hamish Kilburn

GTHD

A guide to hotel design part 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.

Credit: Ovolo 1888, Darling Harbour, Australia

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!

Part 1: Are you sitting comfortably?

355 250 Hamish Kilburn

GTHD

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.

Credit: Pixabay

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