Focus: Q&A


Three hospitality design specialists give us the inside track on the latest thinking and trends in the hotel sector


All Images: Whitaker Studio

Ariane Steinbeck
Ariane Steinbeck is MD of RPW Design, a specialist in hospitality interior design

What are the main challenges facing hotel designers at the moment?
Industry segmentation has led to the continual creation of new brands – there are so many and it can be hard for the end-customer (and the interior designer!) to tell them apart these days. It’s quite challenging for hotel designers to interpret the subtleties required by brand directives and it's even more challenging to design a scheme that’s new, and exciting, and unique—but that is what separates great designers from the good ones. It’s best to keep it simple and design a hotel space that works very well technically, is on-brand and brings joy to our ultimate clients, the guests.

The Big Ben room, at the London Marriott Hotel County HallThe Big Ben room, at the London Marriott Hotel County Hall

Have you noticed any emerging new trends as hotels strive to compete against not only each other, but alternatives such as AirBnB?
There’s a place for AirBnB but there’s also a place for having a hotel, with advantages and disadvantages to both. I don’t think there are any particularly new trends emerging; everyone really wants to do the same thing and this is also the right thing to do – create the best possible experience for the traveller. There’s no shame in that if there is somewhat of a level playing field.

What’s the key to a successful hotel interior?
A marriage of service, comfort and uniqueness. If you can evoke a positive emotion with the design, you’ve succeeded.

What defines luxury in hotel design nowadays?
Luxury is quite an elastic definition and depends on the beholder! For me, it is the absence of ‘trend’ and the absence of obvious opulence. Large amounts of gold and precious materials aren’t luxury to me. They are just entry-level insecurities about how you want to be perceived.

When money is new, there can be a tendency to want to show how important you are in the way you spend it and how you are perceived by others. Again, I don’t mean that in a negative way at all…what may have been perceived as nouveau riche, historically, is a fine example of craftsmanship today.

Views from the Fairmont St Andrews, ScotlandViews from the Fairmont St Andrews, Scotland

Is the traditional hotel lobby an endangered species?
No! But its design and function depends greatly on where you are in the world. In the Philippines for example, everyone likes to sit in the lobby to see and be seen, and to do business. But many lobbies elsewhere are getting smaller, some double up as bars/nightclubs, which will no doubt appeal to some guests. The hotel lobby will always exist in some form as a living room to the city, and that’s a fine thing to have.

Fast forward 20 years – how do you expect hotels to have changed?
I’m sure they will have changed. Some of the self-service elements made possible by new technology, for example, will have prevailed, but again so will the continuation of great, ‘old-school’ service. There will always be something for everyone – I don’t think that will ever change, and the brand segmentation we see today fills that need.

What’s your next big hotel project?
We have several prominent international and UK hotels on the go including the InterContinental London Park Lane and London Marriott Grosvenor Square, as well as hotels in Tbilisi in Georgia, and Malta. We’re also working on the new Curio brand in Docklands for Hilton and some boutique brands just outside London. We recently completed the Fairmont St Andrews and the London Marriott Hotel County Hall.

 

Russell Sage
Russell Sage is founder of hospitality design expert Russell Sage Studio. Clients include the Savoy Grill, The Zetter Townhouse, and The Hospital Club

What are the key challenges facing hotel designers at the moment?
To ensure that the clear vision the client had at the start of the project is still what speaks at the end.

What’s the key to successful hotel design?
A sense of place, personality and an understanding of the quality that is being aspired to. It should also have the ability to allow the staff to shine – guests should be able to get to know the staff and be able to grow a personal relationship with the hotel.

What defines luxury in hotel design nowadays?
Luxury is not about gold leaf and chandeliers any more. It’s about time and space – giving people the luxury of complete relaxation and comfort so that they feel they are being totally looked after and can achieve a sense of calm. It’s also about perfect hospitality, and that means understanding how food and beverage works in a hotel and solving any problems relating to this in our design. It used to be that luxury couldn’t be funny, but now there can be luxury and humour at the same time. That’s one of the joys of our work – turning luxury hotels into a really enjoyable experience with a particular appeal to a younger demographic.

Super Deluxe room at The Zetter Townhouse, MaryleboneSuper Deluxe room at The Zetter Townhouse, Marylebone

Is the traditional hotel lobby an endangered species?
I’m working on a project to reinvent the hotel lobby at the moment. The traditional hotel desk is both a curse and a necessity of sorts. The desk needs to be there for guidance and to help speed people through the hotel but at the same time, it’s putting up a barrier. The lobby can be the deepest experience of the hotel brand and we’re looking at designs that put the guest at the centre of that experience. Sometimes, hotels have been so desperate to speed up check-in and get people straight up into their rooms that they miss out on what the lobby can contribute.

Fast-forward 20 years – how do you expect hotels to have changed?
I wouldn’t want a hotel like Claridge’s to change! Hopefully, hotels will discover beauty again and there will be a return to the grand tradition of hotels.

The front entrance staircase at The Goring hotel, LondonThe front entrance staircase at The Goring hotel, London

What’s your next big hotel project?
We have lots on, including the ground-floor areas of the Principal (formerly Hotel Russell) in Bloomsbury for Starwood and the Belmond Cadogan Hotel in Chelsea for Raymond Blanc. Outside London there’s our 100-bed Zetter Townhouse in Manchester – a conversion of a Victorian fire station next to Piccadilly Station – and we’re also working with artists Hauser & Wirth on a large hotel in Scotland.

 

James Dilley
James Dilley is head of ID/hospitality at architect and interior design practice Jestico + Whiles

What are the key challenges facing hotel designers at the moment?
The way people live has arguably changed more in the past five years than in the whole of the century before that. How people access the world, via media platforms such as Instagram, has had an impact on the way people travel. We’ve found that millennials in particular are interested in collecting experiences and memories rather than things.

When they travel they like to share that experience with as many people as possible. The challenge for hotels is to make sure that they are creating those experiences and memories. Our clients now talk about ‘Instagram moments’ rather than ‘wow-factors’. It’s essentially the same thing, except that you have to be able to share it. You can almost predict the top five pics that will appear on social media of a hotel. As a result, the bar is constantly being raised – for example with the inclusion of a cantilevered swimming pool or an amazing sky bar.

Jestico + Whiles is working on a new W Hotel for the St James development in EdinburghJestico + Whiles is working on a new W Hotel for the St James development in Edinburgh

Have you noticed any emerging new trends as hotels strive to compete against not only each other, but alternatives such as Airbnb?
A key trend running through leisure in general is a sense of authenticity and locale – one of the reasons that people use Airbnb is that they want a more authentic experience. To meet this demand, some hotels are looking to create a more informal, domestic, experience while, at the same time provide that wow/Instagram factor as well.

What’s the key to a successful hotel interior?
That’s a big question! To create the best experiences you need to combine great service with a great environment. We can’t design the service but we can enable it. Provenance, authenticity, theatre and experience are the four ingredients of any good hotel. We’re finding that some of the most innovative work is happening at the luxury and select services [budget] levels. Select service hotels are cutting out the bits of service that people don’t necessary need or value and are instead putting more energy into focusing on the hotel environment.

What defines luxury in hotel design nowadays?
The more human interaction there is in the service, the more the sense of luxury. This can also be expressed in the attention to detail; guests enjoy the sense of something real and authentic. Restaurants and open-kitchens are very important to creating this sense of place. The hard piece of toast and little slab of wrapped butter just doesn’t cut it anymore. People ideally want to go into the kitchen and choose their bread from the oven, or maybe enjoy the theatre of their waffles being cooked right in front of them.

Jestico + Whiles is working on a new W Hotel for the St James development in EdinburghJestico + Whiles is working on a new W Hotel for the St James development in Edinburgh

Is the traditional hotel lobby an endangered species?
Some hotels have attempted to do away with the formal welcome service as it can be intimidating, but they are struggling with getting rid of the hotel desk altogether – the lobby is all about orientation and people can get disoriented without the desk. I think it will continue to prevail in traditional and luxury hotels because people need service with human interaction and care.

The lobby has however had to become more responsive and accommodating to different activities at different times of day and night and serve as a good meeting point. A lot of guests are now much more comfortable about coming down from their rooms if they’re travelling on their own and like the option of sharing long tables, where they can get their laptop or tablet out or even have a conversation with other guests.

Fast forward 20 years – how do you expect hotels to have changed?
People will want more unusual experiences – we’ve been looking at concepts recently where hotels have been created out of redundant shops. The definition of hotels could be very different. There are already whole websites out there such as Canopy & Stars that focus on more unusual venues, raising the bar in terms of ‘Instagrammable’ experiences.

What’s your next big hotel project?
We are designing a W hotel as the centrepiece of TH Real Estate’s 15,800 sq m, Edinburgh St James development. W Edinburgh will feature a striking exterior facade crafted from a winding steel ‘ribbon’. _ is will evoke the festival spirit of the city and create a landmark building that reinforces the city’s reputation as a leading international capital. We’re also working on the new W Hotel in Marrakech and the interior design for a new P&O cruise liner, and have ongoing projects in Malta and Tbilisi, Georgia.





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