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Hotel room design: The decision-making process

It occurred to me that many people who stay in hotels — whether they work in the industry or not — might be surprised to know the convoluted decision-making process that goes into designing a hotel room. Here’s a typical scenario of how it often goes.

First, I get a call from an international hotel chain saying it would like us to work on a very interesting new hotel project, and if we are interested, the investor will be in touch. It goes without saying that we are definitely interested.

Some time later, we receive a formal invitation from a project-management company to participate in a competition for this specific hotel. We are one of four designers who have been invited to submit a concept design and fee proposal. Our payment for this first stage is minimal and doesn’t cover our costs, but at least it demonstrates a certain level of seriousness from the investor. And to be honest, we would not have participated if we weren‘t paid for this initial presentation.

So let’s say in this instance we win the competition. After some negotiating we get the contract, and at this stage we feel by winning the competition our preliminary design has been more or less approved, so we discount our fee. So far, so good.

But … representatives from the project-management company come back to say that while they liked the design it does not fit into the budget — which had not initially been provided — and therefore it has to be modified.

So we change the design.

The investor takes the new design home to proudly show his wife his beautiful new hotel. He is always a little unsure about design-related questions, and his wife informs him that the current trends are quite different from what he is showing her, and to support her ideas gives him a stack of glossy coffee-table magazines with several pages tagged.

Of course the investor then comes back to us, hands over the magazines and asks for the design to be changed. So now we are tasked with creating the atmosphere of Madonna’s living room in a 24-square-meter bedroom and within the project manager‘s specified budget.

So we change the design.

We can now present the design to the hotel operator, who had originally brought us into the project. However, the new manager of architecture and design — a designer who takes this new role very seriously — writes up the meeting minutes of what we felt was a positive presentation. The result is that there are 287 points highlighting that our concept veers too far away from the brand‘s design philosophy and it would create potential operational problems.

So we change the design.

Finally the decision to build a sample room is made, but the question is, which one? By this stage so many variations have been designed, so it’s agreed that two mock-up versions will be created: an executive and a standard guestroom. We go into detailed planning and prepare a small tender package, and the two rooms get built by two different contractors. As expected, the conclusive result combines features from both rooms.

So we change the design.

At this stage we face the fact that there are a lot of participants in this process, many of whom had not been involved up to now:

  • The structural engineer had to reinforce the concrete beams, so the height in front of the windows was reduced, and now the windows won’t open. So the architect changes the façade, but then the window is different on the inside.
  • The M+E consultant explains that the air grill needs to be changed due to updated building regulations.
  • The hotel’s general manager is on now board, and having had a bad experience with parquet flooring at his previous hotel, persuades the investor to change the material.
  • The general manager has a wife who always wanted to be an interior designer; she has several “good ideas” the investor feels obliged to take on board.
  • The investor’s wife, who can no longer see the “Madonna” feeling in the design, now discovers that we have used a blue color in the fabrics, which of course is an impossible color for hospitality. Sorry, it must be our fault.
  • The hotel operator is now happy that the design is “on brand,” but wasn’t aware that the SVP operations person also has some very specific ideas about design — for example, believing lampshades can’t be light and transparent because they will be stained by the colorful socks guests drape over them to dry. He also knows guests like to clean their shoes with the curtain, so again, no light palettes there, and as guests tend to sit on the nightstands (not on the chairs or the bed), an additional leg is required on this piece of furniture.
  • This is verified by housekeeping, who immediately insists these points had previously been raised along with the fact that glass surfaces are a costly nightmare that require daily cleaning.
  • The project manager keeps out of the design but does point out we must reduce costs by 30% because part of the FF+E budget had to be reassigned to the electrical installation, as the operator wanted to have LED lighting and the investor wanted to install a bus system. Also, it is stressed that the MUR inspection was far too late, as tenders need to be sent to the suppliers within the next five days.
  • The architect is missing the big picture in the design as to how the interiors relate to the exterior.
  • The hotel consultant, who was quiet for a long time then obviously had the feeling that he should also say something, feels that the design should have a bit more of a “family touch” since the hotel desperately needs tourists on the weekends, and the current approach might appear too business-oriented.

Of course there are many more details that are discussed, such as whether the wardrobe handles are too small for ladies with long fingernails to grasp or if they project too far and would cause guests to hurt themselves as they walk by. And there is the usual discussion about what the access panel for the fan should look like, how comfortable the chairs are and whether the wood grain is strong enough — or perhaps even too strong. Patterns and colors are questioned by everybody, and then of course become questionable choices.

So far everything is normal.

The project manager writes up the minutes — all 20 pages of comments — which leads to the inevitable conclusion that none of the parties are happy with the sample rooms.

Now we suddenly have a crisis on our hands because the design had been coordinated by us and approved with the client and operator before the mock-up rooms were built. Looking at the project-management minutes, I can’t see any possible solution that would please everybody, save another 30% from the budget and still allow us to start the tendering process within the next five days.

So a meeting of the bosses is organized. The CEO of the hotel operator confers with the investor to have a general discussion about the project — and perhaps also about the capability of the interior designer.

As it turns out, the CEO likes both sample rooms — and now so does the investor — so some additional funds have been made available. Everyone else now agrees the rooms are great, and personally they never understood what the others had to criticize about them.

Design accepted!

After an objective, professional discussion and many arguments, all participants come to the conclusion that the interior designer has done a great job!

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