Design created in an ivory tower

Design created in an ivory tower

An ideology popularized by the Dada movement was that “everyone is an artist.” When translated for interior design nowadays, the phrase would be something like “everyone thinks they are a designer.”

It is rare to find hotel operators and investors who keep out of design issues. Normally, the situation goes like this: During the initial meeting, the investor announces his statement (at which point it’s better not to adamantly disagree): “Good design can be created within any budget ? the quality of the hotel’s scheme is not a price issue.”

Okay, the limits are set!

Then the hotel operator’s project manager points out that the standards manual not only contains quality specifications, but also very clear guidelines explaining how to design for this specific brand’s identity. But as this criteria needs to be discussed further with the marketing, architectural, guest experience and branding teams, we have to fly to London, Brussels and New York, where most probably we will find out that the design direction for the brand is open to interpretation, since each hotel must have its own distinct personality.

So then, we might as well move forward with a design which, based on our research, we believe suits the location and the brand, right?

Generally, no! Because once we get the operator’s project manager on board, we find we must also please someone from the “design and architecture team” who conveys a very personal approach to the brand. Once we think we have at last won this person over, a regional managing director suddenly appears! And of course by picking apart this and that and rejecting some of the details, the concept is thrown out.

At the same time, the investor asks that his hotel has a clear design statement that will make it stand out in the crowd; yet at the same time he recognizes that traditional design will be valid for another 100 years (without refurbishment). And he is serious when he says that he has to get the design approved by his wife, since she has great taste and has always wanted to become a designer herself.

Naturally, the operating company agrees that it prefers a spectacular design as this will attract guests ? just so long as it is not too different from the brand’s previous 200 projects.

So with all this juggling we may have managed to achieve acceptance by all parties so far, but then, out of the blue, the person responsible for design leaves the company, and the successor finds all of the “old stuff” from the era of his predecessor completely stupid and rather uninspiring.

Obviously, everyone has designed their own private living room, everyone prides themselves on having good taste and almost everyone believes that their personal taste would also be perfect for a hotel project ? well, except for professional interior designers, as they know that personal taste has nothing to do with designing a hotel!

The key questions which need to be addressed are: Is it going to be a “relaxing” design or a “spectacular” design? Do the interiors need to stand out in the crowd or just be cozy and comfortable for the guest?

When we design a hotel project, we are always balancing many decisions and influences that will, we hope, ultimately please those who visit the hotel.

Not only do all the people involved in the processes of financing, building and operating a hotel have an opinion and want to influence the design, there are also a lot of facts, directives and guidelines that affect it as well. Obviously, the budget is a major factor in determining the design, along with the location. The brand standards of the hotel need to be represented as a three-dimensional package, so of course the rooms sizes and public areas are also important issues. The category of hotel also implies certain characteristics within the style; for example, a sea resort will be completely different from a business hotel; a family hotel needs a different approach than one primarily known for its spa. A club hotel where people want to have fun and socialize will require a different set of criteria than an airport hotel, where for the most part people are checking in right before or after an exhausting trip. A conference hotel can never be a boutique property, and a hotel in Mumbai should look different than one in Helsinki.

But none of these factors have influence on the interior design. They don’t provide a clear path about how to design the hotel.

The combination of these factors is very inspiring for designers. Achieving a hotel with a great design still requires the creative process of human beings; the ultimate satisfaction comes from finding a solution among all these restrictions and influences that makes everyone happy and, most importantly, is valued by the guest.