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Risky business

In an earlier blog I explored why as an interior architecture practice we get to be more imaginative when designing “concept” schemes versus actual hotels. To elaborate further, I think it comes down to how budget drives an investor’s willingness to take risks.

As a designer I often dream about creating luxury “design” hotels, yet it seems to me the big brands have largely forgotten about developing luxurious concepts focused on contemporary tastes and instead tend to fall back on their limited-service brands that have little to offer in the way of stylish aspiration. Of course the W brand is an ongoing success story, but recouping the initial financial outlay is perhaps considered too lengthy in the short-term eyes of investors. Motel One (the fastest-growing chain in Germany, and possibly Europe), Holiday Inn and Hampton by Hilton are some exceptions, as they offer a faster return on investment and therefore can afford to have “modern” designs — although not truly brave ones — since refurbishment costs can be easily recovered within seven years.

Motel One Stuttgart
Motel One Stuttgart

At the same time, the luxury end of the market has become even more conservative, with iconic hotels such as The Savoy in London and the Four Seasons Hotel George V in Paris — both designed, incidentally, by Pierre Yves-Rochon, who at an age when most people are retiring, is now enjoying great success with his classic style of interiors — setting the standard. Possibly the reason is that not only is he a wonderful designer, his concepts also reflect the current reverence for nostalgia — and investors are more confident that this traditional type of design will be in fashion long enough to recover refurbishment expenses.

The Savoy, London
The Savoy, London

And so we look to the budget boutique hotels to see where design trends are germinating, with 25hours Hotels, Superbude and Michelberger leading the changes in Europe. These hotels all began as one-off “boutiques” then multiplied and became recognized brands — and, as a result, trendsetters! 

Michelberger Hotel
Michelberger Hotel

These low-budget projects can present a real challenge to designers, because furnishings from celebrity names and famous manufacturers are too expensive to use. On the other hand, “necessity is the mother of invention” and pushes us to be more creative rather than rely upon designer pieces. Low-budget hotels can take more risks because the investor has less to lose, while luxury hotels that take longer to recoup an investment due to smaller room counts or lower occupancy levels must inherently be “safer.”

For today’s investor, it takes courage to be revolutionary in a luxury hotel, and it is certainly safer to do so in big cities where there are more bookings. Fortunately, there are some recent wonderful “zeitgeists” that keep my dream of creating luxury “design” hotels alive. Patricia Urquiola has delivered two very successful examples of charming, modern hotels — the Mandarin Oriental in Barcelona and the Das Stue in Berlin — both at the luxury end of the market yet flourishing with cutting-edge designs that will endure.

Mandarin Oriental, Barcelona
Mandarin Oriental, Barcelona
Das Stue Berlin
Das Stue Berlin
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