Love at first sight
Here is what you probably see when the hotel room door swings open: a narrow view of the room with the side of the desk, the side of the flat screen TV, the foot of the bed, a sliver of carpet between, the drapes at the end, and perhaps a lounge chair. In the foreground are the closet door, the bathroom door, the low ceiling over the entry concealing the heat pump above, the recessed downlight, the room door, and the carpet at the entry. It sounds uninspiring.
The inspiring design trends that sprouted in the high-end boutique hotels and spread to the general market have helped the picture. Open bathrooms and glass walls give a more spacious and liberated first impression. The loosening of design ideas to include au courant décor and more unique concepts to achieve a “hipper than home” look may turn our customers’ lips upwards rather than down. But hotel rooms being smaller than homes in our bigger-is-better country may remain a perceptual threshold for the quantity-not-quality crowd. How does the physical manifestation of this temporary abode become a psychological communication that says “you are being well cared for” with an added asterisk that says “and you are getting something a little special,” and how do we convey that in those first five seconds?
We are doing a hotel now where the design theme “spring” finds expression in a guest room carpet woven with words from a Robert Frost nature poem, an expanded chair rail composed of abstract photographs of lilies, and in isolated strong slashes of color derived from the poetic image of “a leaping tongue of bloom.” Another current hotel room design of ours employs 1930’s De Stijl vocabulary, chosen as being contemporaneous with the original building, to deconstruct the normal furniture into its constituent volumes that slide past each other and appear to float in space below an abstract ceiling pattern composed as an image for an entire floor, such that every room’s ceiling is different.
But these are noted here not for their individuality, nor for their variance from the brand prototypes (both are major national brands), but specifically because, over and above these significant steps, the designs are also conceived so that they are perceived as something special first and foremost from the guestroom door threshold.
Hotel rooms are frequently designed solely from an orthogonal perspective. The room lays out with the bed against the long wall opposite the entry door side, the furniture bunched on the other long wall with the TV centered on the bed or the midpoint between bed centerline and lounge chair, and other FFE and features following the X-Y axial configuration, which unfortunately, but inescapably, takes the short dimension of the “box” as the primary axis due to the primacy of the bed location. This consigns the initial view of the room, and all other “first” views of the room, each time a guest returns to the room, to an oblique viewpoint that is closed down by flanking bathroom and closet to a tunnel vision of essentially a side view of the room ensemble.
Western architecture is built on Greek classicism, and no other architecture has been so studied or so pervasive in our architectural history or environment. But until relatively recently, no one understood why these extremely well-ordered, well-proportioned temples and other classic symmetrical buildings were located in an apparently random fashion on their sites. The breakthrough analysis revealed that the odd locations and rotated geometries from building to building were all very carefully created so that, from the initial arrival point at the site, all the building formed a highly regulated configuration, with major elements from the grouped buildings coinciding with the five degree markers along the circumference of a circle whose center is at that initial point, and the angle from each building to that center forming the y-axis of a uniquely rotated grid. Once again, the genius of the Greek architects was affirmed.
Our two hotel room design examples do not compare to even the most modest Greek temple site, but our designs similarly consider that first vantage point as a design threshold. The wording on the carpet or the sliding volumes are oriented so that the first image of the room provides a gestalt environment that is intended to leap into the mind’s eye, so that the first impression is powerful, and whose first five seconds is borne out by next 60 seconds and then by the next 24-96 hours, rather than an initial disappointment that forces us to try extra hard to overcome that initial setback.
We may question love at first sight, but we hear of enough examples of a spouse being picked out from a single glance to give the concept some credence. A hotel room may not be as consequential as a life partner, even when it is the setting for the wedding night, and when the marble saddle of a room becomes the threshold of a marriage once it is crossed. But if we take care of each hotel customer with this level of consideration, his and her first impression will also be a cause for celebration.