Form follows function… or maybe not?

Form follows function? or maybe not?

Life is all about compromises.

Everyday I negotiate with not just my wife, staff and clients ? but also with hotel operators.

Twenty years ago, the ultimate direction we were given for our projects was to deliver a functional design – and even better, one with a style that was not too specific or specialized. That way ? or so the idea went – the hotel had the potential to be ?everybody?s darling? as well as housekeeping?s best friend.

We specified carpet whose patterns would hide almost any stain ? but then if you dropped your eyeglasses you would never be able to find them again. Curtains were perfectly adapted for guests who wanted to use the fabric to clean their shoes, and nightstands had to be sturdy enough to prove that operators could stand on one without breaking off the plaster from the wall. In the bathrooms we installed ashtrays and fixed bottle openers. Funny times.

Looking back, it seems the operators might have preferred to have guestrooms with tiles not only on the floors but on the walls – or maybe even a padded cell. The primary argument was that the rooms had to be easy to clean, so no glass shelves because they might cost one more minute to clean in each room ? which when multiplied by 200 rooms equals 200 more minutes every day of the year, and results in 70,400 more minutes, or 1,173 hours, or 49 days of extra housekeeping expense.

Most people would believe that interior design decisions are made by a hotel?s vice president of architecture and design, or maybe the managing director? but they are not. It is the investor?s wife, a highly ambitious amateur designer (since she once chose a beautiful color to paint her living room ? a shade, of course, that is very similar to that in a photo of Brad Pitt?s house that was just published in the latest edition of Vogue) who, together with the head of housekeeping, has customarily provided the brief to the designer.

Fortunately, the good news is that hoteliers have at last recognised that design should reflect the needs and expectations of their guests. Some hotels have begun to use lighter colors in the carpet, painted walls instead of textile-backed wall vinyl and, even, formerly controversial white curtains. The consequence, of course, is that the operational costs are higher. But guests are willing to pay for it  as for them it is worth spending extra money to be surrounded by a d?cor which looks nice and is not merely practical. I still believe that we, as designers, should not make the lives of the housekeeping staff more complicated than necessary. Yet we also have to make sure that a hotel will attract the guests it needs to survive (and to give the housekeepers a job).

But then, even in my own home, I am exposed to the risk of my friends telling me that, in general,  ?design? is not practical ? especially when they use our guest bathroom toilet, which is somehow built for squared backsides. But it looks good.