Christina Zimmer, principal at Stonehill & Taylor Architects in New York on the trend for uniqueness in urban hotels


We've been through a hotel boom in New York and other major American cities in the past few years. Every segment, from ultra-luxury to select service has benefited. But at the same time, the increase in hotel rooms made the city hospitality market a lot more competitive.

In a city like New York, hotels needed to put more emphasis than ever on design and 'uniqueness' to help offset the city-wide reality of smaller room sizes and higher rates, as well as to stand out among competition. This strategy helped drive the independent/ boutique hotel market, but also pushed major brands into creating non-standard room designs. Brands such as Marriott Residence Inn specifically state that its prototypes are not allowed in NYC. Our designs look to achieve an authentic experience, unique to that locale. For example, in The Refinery Hotel, our work was heavily influenced by the location (New York's Garment District) and the building's past (a former garment factory).

While we have seen prominent examples of the elimination of room service, food and beverage operations continue to be crucial for urban hotels for the added revenue they bring, almost more importantly is setting the vibe, brand and buzz.

Different types of venues within a single property give guests options while keeping the energy flowing. This helps ensure that the hotel gets used by more than just the guest, and that locals are repeat users as well. Winnie's Lounge at The Refinery is the smaller, more subdued bar adjacent to the lobby with an intimate feel and great mixologists, while the Refinery Roof Bar can accommodate up to 200 people, is acoustically bright, and a place to see and been seen.

The NoMad Hotel provides even more dining and drinking options: the quiet Library Bar (its expansion is currently 'on the boards'), the Elephant Bar, the Skylight or Parlor Room Dining...and the Roof Bar with its own private dining room in the Cupola.

For the operations end of the equation, by paying attention to how the venues are staffed and operated back-of-house, we help clients stay profitable. We also incorporate areas that can be reserved or sold separately into the design and create flexible set-ups to accommodate the large breakfast crowds, while expecting and designing for the smaller lunch crowd. When designing a roof bar, how we move people and services up and down the building is a major consideration that should take place in the early planning stages. Also, ensuring a space isn't mothballed in either cold or warm weather is a must; the Refinery Roof Bar was designed for year-around use.

Hotels have an added pressure in keeping up with the ways we live and work with technology, and integrating design into hotel technology is a challenge we tackle frequently. iPads are ubiquitous, so are web-based guest services systems; guests use their own devices to view movies and listen to music. Mobiles make hotel phones all but obsolete - some brands now require only one phone per room and have eliminated the service from bathrooms.

The standardised design and reliable service that American hospitality companies once exported to the rest of the world is giving way to a more localised and unique design approach in major American cities.