Opulence or convenience? FX looks at what guests want and what some designers have done to provide It.
Edited by Francis Pearce
'What is Luxury?' is the title of a recent exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London; but it is also a question supremely relevant to hospitality. The objects on display at the V&A ranged from fabrics from the Middle Ages that signified the wealth of their owners by the depth of their dyes to a mobile printing system that takes social media and converts their content into 'personalised' magazines. The curator wrote that 'attitudes to luxury are shaped by cultural concerns and personal dreams', while critics generally concluded that the 'new luxury' was, in fact, time: the patience and skill invested in objects, through craftsmanship and, crucially, the time to appreciate them, away from the world, in one's own space.
The hospitality sector continually remodels and reshapes its definition of luxury, sometimes through service, but often through design. As in any form of retail, this is all about the 'experience' and this means that hotel design is in four dimensions, possibly a fifth, if you count the emotional space that a guest inhabits. In this Hotel Focus, we look at examples of 4D design and the meaning of luxury.
Design plays a number of roles in creating the guest experience, whether by generating the feeling of enjoying something special, in the form of bespoke furnishings for example, or enabling a hotel to make sure check-in is hassle-free and the guest's room is ready.
Investors are piling into Vietnam, and Ho Chi Minh city in particular is being transformed. Even though land prices are set by government decree, property prices are soaring and every square metre of the city's upmarket District 1 is especially precious. One of its new landmarks in the Times Square Building -- a new, 164m-tall building housing offices, retail space, serviced apartments and the five-star Reverie Saigon hotel. Chief architect, Kent Lui, has had to find ways to squeeze luxury -- or to use his word, 'grandeur' -- into a Cinderella-like footprint and he has done so with an eye-popping and eclectic piece of interior design that he describes as 'opulent and extravagant -- and unapologetically so'. He is so confident that guests will want to replicate at least part of the experience of staying at the Reverie that examples of its mainly Italian furniture and lighting are available to buy from designer outlets in the building. The hotel even has its own procurement office in Milan, a city steeped in design heritage. That tradition is celebrated in the recent redesign there by architect Marco Piva at the Hotel Excelsior Gallia, which has suites dedicated to other Milanese design heroes. The extensive refurbishment encapsulates the Italian ability to mix the ornate and the minimal, classic and contemporary -- something that takes time to appreciate.
As the V&A exhibition emphasised though, luxury is not determined by price. In London, where time and space are in short supply, company Whitbread has found ways of saving both at Hub, a Premier Inn budget, city-centre hotel with an eco-friendly office-block conversion in Covent Garden. Guests can use an app to book in and set their lighting, room temperature and streaming TV channel long before they take up residence in their 11.4 sq m rooms. The neatly accoutred rooms contain 'everything you need and nothing that you don't', a kind of Epicurean ideal trialled and reworked many times as JSJ Design took the idea from conception to reception.
The hub's design extends to using materials that look contemporary and comfortable but also accommodate Whitbread's carefully costed and scheduled cleaning regime, a reminder that good design works for staff and operators as well as guests. For example, by allowing better use of space and facilities through a quick change of use, say from a dining room to a conference space.
The Ageas Bowl in Hampshire looks out on a stadium; its design allows the hotel to convert guest rooms to use by spectators and for hospitality. At the Dorchester Grill in London, the lighting cleverly reverses the decor for day and night-time sittings. But it is not all about technology or appearances. As James Dilley of Jestico + Whiles argues on these pages, design also has to enable hoteliers to provide services immaculately.
Don't like the view? Here's a way to take the room to a new location.
Space is at a premium and location is a priority for all hotels. The young team at Serbian boat design firm Salt & Water has a low-impact solution for both issues at lake destinations: a floating hotel comprising catamaran 'rooms'.
The concept won the most recent Millennium Yacht Design Award. It comprises a central, floating 'construction' consisting of reception, restaurant, event hall, offices and cafe linked to apartment catamaran units. Each apartment can be easily separated from the dock and navigated by guests. The catamarans accommodate up to four guests and have a salon, galley, bathroom, hall with storage space and sleeping area above the salon. Outside, there is a flying bridge and a beach platform for swimming, diving, fishing and sun bathing.
The catamarans travel very slowly so that the guest can take in the view through large windows in the front, designed as 'frames of the nature'.