Abby Shehan, senior design director at Premier, talks with host Robin Trimingham about AI technology and how it’s being used by architects and designers to support and streamline the creative process.
Stressing that AI tools enhance but don’t replace human creativity, Shehan explains the various ways that it’s being applied to reimagine the way that humans interact with their surroundings and space, especially in a hospitality-driven environment. She also discusses the advantages of using AI to choose everything from colors and textures to art and lighting installations, in order to attract and delight target customer groups.
Highlights from Today’s Episode
This episode was supported through the generosity of the following sponsors:
Front of the House (fohworldwide.com)
Since our start in 2002, FOH has transformed an industry accustomed to the ordinary by offering stylishly unexpected and uniquely trend-forward collections for hospitality and food service. fohworldwide.com
Abby Shehan: Let’s let AI think inside the box. So we have time to think outside the box because right now AI is collecting data. It has all of its information from data that it’s just been collecting over time. Well, we can use that and let it do that work for us so that we have the time to imagine a better world for ourselves going out.
Robin Trimingham: Welcome to the Innovative Hotelier podcast by HOTELS magazine, with weekly, thought-provoking discussions with the world’s leading hotel and hospitality innovators. I’m your host Robin Trimingham. The influence of AI on interior design for the hospitality industry has brought about significant advancements and improvements in how hotels, restaurants, resorts and other hospitality spaces are designed, decorated and tailored to provide exceptional guest experiences. So I thought it would be interesting to explore how AI technologies are being used by architects and designers to enhance creativity, streamline design processes, and create more personalized and memorable environments for the hospitality industry. My guest today, Abby Shehan, is Senior Design Director at Premier, and she’s here today to offer insights regarding how AI interior design technologies are supporting architects and designers to create spaces that are visually appealing, functional and responsive to the evolving needs and expectations of guests. Join me now for my conversation with Abby. FOH is a global food service and hospitality company that manufactures smart, commercial-grade solutions. Headquartered in Miami, the company designs and manufactures all its restaurant and hotel products. They have showrooms and distribution centers located throughout the globe, and their products are always in stock and ready to ship from any of their distribution centers worldwide. Welcome, Abby. It’s a pleasure to meet you.
Abby Shehan: Hi, Robin. It’s nice to meet you, too. How are you today?
Robin Trimingham: I’m great. This conversation is going to be a little bit different. Normally when I talk to people on this show, we’re having a very serious conversation about data and how it supports the hotel industry. But hotel design, where, of course, it’s serious stuff. It’s a much more, I’m going to say, esoteric kind of subject in some respects. So maybe it would be great if you could start by briefly telling us, where do hotel design trends come from? Where are they drawn from?
Abby Shehan: Well, first of all, thank you so much for not asking me a lot of hotel data. That sounds very scary. Luckily for me, I get to do the fun part of the hospitality industry and that is designing the hotels and working with owners and work with just the hospitality industry in general to help create the best space that we can, that makes people want to come, make them want to stay and make them want to come back. Isn’t that what we all want, the end of the day? But, you know, we always start with the traveler. It’s really not so much a trend that’s been from day one. The trend follows the traveler and most of the time a hospitality designer. They have to really have a true passion for human environmental sciences that interconnection between an environment and how people live in it. So that portion of our job changes dramatically throughout the years. And so far right now, because we chase the traveler, I would say that we are seeing a much higher emphasis on spaces that celebrate connectivity, new technology, a much higher focus on health and wellness, and just personalized service is what we’re seeing now. So we’re curating spaces more and more to the local environment. So I would say that the biggest trend is that our teams are doing a lot more historical research and trying to find that little special moment for each one.
Robin Trimingham: That’s interesting that you should bring up historical research. One of the brands that I worked with a lot in the past has a lot of iconic hotel properties, and they’re all very different. But they were all built in the era of steamship and rail travel. So the idea was that you weren’t coming for the week or the weekend, you were coming for the month or the whole season, and they were literally designing hotel rooms with walk-in closets that were absolutely enormous, because the way they allocated rooms back then, it was madam, Madam, steamer, trunks, madams maid, and then the far end of the hallway was madam’s husband. And that’s how they did it. It’s fascinating to think just how much our use of space when we travel has changed. So I think some people look at Hospitality design as a little bit chicken and egg. What do you do? Do you think about how to make it a really cool space, or do you think about who’s going to be there? Like, I know that I think you go down the path that says you have to really think about the guest before you embark on any kind of a design project. But why are you saying that?
Abby Shehan: Well, it’s because we tailor the space to the guests. The word be our guest. That’s never going to go away. And I also feel like it’s a lot brand-driven these days. Different brands are trying to create their own identities and stand out and more and more with their online presence, with the click of a button. People, people used to just hearing about the best hotel by word of mouth, right? Now they are using interiors more than ever as advertising to get people to go to the hotels. So we are visually making the space to that it photographs well, so that whenever people are looking online, where you type in the best hotel and let’s say Kansas City, we want our hotel to stand out from the others. And the different brands are also trying to keep their own identity separated. Like a Marriott looks different than a Hilton. A Ritz-Carlton feels different than a Sheraton. It has a lot to do with that as well. Advertising and brand development.
Robin Trimingham: You bring up an interesting point, and you’re making me think of a question that I would love to ask you, because some brands, it’s about making absolutely everything cookie cutter. Absolutely. So the same so that you might walk into 1 in 1 state or another state, and you wouldn’t even be able to tell the difference in the floor plan, the colors, the whole thing. To what extent do you think that makes for a good experience? And to to what extent would you say that’s overkill?
Abby Shehan: And okay, so the brands you’re talking about, the prototypical hotels, those are what we in the hotel design industry refer to as select service. And there’s a lot of value to that because there are certain guests. I mean, there are guests that travel 5 to 6 days a week and they live in hotels like it’s their home. We have found that a lot of those guests prefer Select Service Hotel because they know what they’re going to get in each town, they know what breakfast requirements are and that their rooms will have a certain standard. And then the other hotels that are not prototypical, those are what we call full service hotels, and those have more of a curated experience. And that’s where you might want to go have your wedding or take your family on a fancy vacation. And we see that the end user usually uses both. If you’ve got a traveler that travels 5 to 6 days a week, they are going to gravitate more to the prototypical because they know what they’re getting. They’re not going to be surprised. But then whenever they take their family to a fun outing or a vacation or just they typically choose these full-service hotels.
Robin Trimingham: You were talking before about what I’m going to call Insta moments. You probably have a design term for that. That’s a lot more official, and the importance of making your hotel beautiful, maybe, or noteworthy in some capacity. Can you give us a couple of examples of the kind of things that you would do to create that sort of ambiance?
Abby Shehan: Yes, that we have to have wow moments in every hotel. Now that’s one of the first things clients ask for is like when you walk in, what’s the Insta moment? What’s going to make people post? And so some of the recent ones that we’ve been doing, which I think have been pretty cool, is we have been using the use of color a lot because color stands out more in Instagram than a lot of the more neutral spaces. So even if we’ve got a very neutral space, we find pockets or windows of areas where someone can go back and take their time and take a selfie. I mean, I can’t even believe we have to do this anymore. Like you told me 20 years ago that I was going to be creating a spot for somebody to take a picture of themselves. I wouldn’t believe you, but here we are. We also do interactive moments. We just finished a project in Oklahoma City. It was a newly built property at the Bricktown. It was the Bricktown Renaissance, and they have this huge digital screen that when you walk by, it takes a picture of that person’s shadow and rolls with you if you will. Wow, that’s been really fun. And then we just recently completed an I sound installation at the. It’s at the Walk of Fame in the Hollywood, the street, Hollywood and Vine. There is this alley that honestly was the Scary Larry Alley. And we created these digital arches that have AI sound art installations in them. And so when people are playing the violin or breakdancing or even just walking down that hallway, the light goes with you and moves with you, and it actually is just cool because you’re walking down the street and in a once dark alley, you’re at the Walk of Fame and then you become the star as well. So we’ve been seeing a lot of applications.
Robin Trimingham: I’ve been places where there’s literally been some kind of a sign on the wall, and I don’t remember how exactly how they put it, but the old school thing would have been the little sign at Disney World saying, this is a Kodak moment. Take your picture here. What do you think of that? Do you think that’s helpful or is that overkill?
Abby Shehan: If you do it right, people are like, that’s really cool. I want to take my picture. I don’t think you have to tell them these days they’ve become their own best photographers will tell you.
Robin Trimingham: Yeah, that’s fair enough. You talked earlier about how guest spaces are being used differently than it was even a couple of years ago. Can you give us a couple of examples of what are some of the most striking or noteworthy differences?
Abby Shehan: I think that the most noteworthy differences that we’ve seen is that whenever we had our Covid fest after when we emerged from Covid, we. Had always really focused on huge amounts of space for meeting rooms, indoor pools and stuff like that. And whenever Covid, whenever we were getting over that hurdle, a lot of those spaces were being transitioned into bigger fitness spaces. So more than ever before. It was unheard of for us to take meeting rooms away because those were revenue-generating spaces. But now, because so much is being done over through technology, we are actually transitioning those spaces into more healthy spaces. Gyms in particular, and a lot of our guests, they look for that whenever they’re seeking out their hotel destinations. One of the other things that I’ve been seeing is in guest rooms in general. They’re looking for a lot of hard surface, not a lot of carpet. They want everything to feel very structured, and we’re using less fabrics and we’re using more like hard surface floors and less rugs. A place where they can feel comfortable walking with bare feet. So the envelope of the guest rooms actually feel a lot more old than they used to. But clean?
Robin Trimingham: Yeah, clean is certainly important these days. It’s very interesting because it used to be so much that you would be looking for a room with all the soft furnishings, but guess times change. Let’s switch this conversation up a little bit. So how are AI applications transforming the entire hotel design process for the better? When you’re talking about all of these things.
Abby Shehan: We are able to show concept spaces faster than we ever did before. And what that’s allowing our clients is just options. So use. We would spend maybe a month developing a space and you might get two options with limited visualization. And now we are able to show 5 or 6 different options of their space so that they just have more options and they can see it very quickly. And that saves us a lot of time upfront. And it allows us to get ahead of any of the pitfalls that might happen. And the client isn’t always guessing what they might get. They’re going to know. So I would say that’s the biggest thing. The second thing is time. And we have these lightning-fast resources now where we can just get data, information to write narratives, information about the location that we’re designing within. We get all of this really quick data. Therefore, we’re able to make more informed narratives that span throughout the whole design.
Robin Trimingham: So are you telling me then that you could be showing them choice of floor plans? Like a guest rooms where we’re putting the bathroom? How big is the closet? Stuff like that.
Abby Shehan: Yes, I was on a LinkedIn live just recently, and one of the architects was talking about how he was able. His team has a program that’s able to generate different floor plans for multifamily properties. So where it would take, again, months for an architect to go in and lay out all of the units in an entire building, he’s able to use a program that’s able to generate all these different options. So think about the end user like what that can provide for them. They might be able to find 3 or 4 additional rooms that they’re going to get revenue for. Or they might say these closets are way too little. We’re never going to get guests to stay in these. So let’s just go ahead and change that. Now, the upfront work that we’re able to do provides them with information to make everything so much more just the time and the money and everything. And when you really think about that, whenever we start to expand, what that’s going to do for our world is be able to plan entire cities with different options so that we can space plan out in big portions of space so that we can select materials that are easier to get. We’re going to be able to plan electrical grids and plumbing and gas lines more efficiently so that we’re not learning as we go. We’re going to be able to plan whole spaces at one time so that we can get materials without having to expedite shipping, or maybe we can 3D print them. I just think at the end of the day, if we use this correctly, we’re going to have landfills, less construction waste fuel. We won’t be using as much of that. And just our overall footprint on the environment is going to be better established.
Robin Trimingham: In 2002 is a woman-owned global food service and hospitality company that manufactures smart, savvy commercial grade products including plateware, drinkware, flatware, hotel amenities, and more. Driven by innovation, F.o.h. Is dedicated to delivering that wow experience that restaurants and hotels crave, all while maintaining a competitive price. All products are fully customizable, and many are also created using sustainable, eco-friendly materials such as straws and plates made from biodegradable paper and wood and PBR-free Drinkware F.o.h. Has two established brands. Front of the House focused on tabletop and buffet solutions, and Room 360, offers hotel products. Check out their collections today at f.o.h. Worldwide.com. It is interesting the CO2 footprint in the construction industry. I had a podcast guest, oh, a couple of years ago from Africa, and they were talking about 3D printing whole buildings in like rural villages out there because it was so much more convenient once you got all the 3D printing stuff out there. So I think you’re right. We’re really on the cusp of some very, very big changes. So I read that I can help designers ensure that colors and fabrics align with the intended atmosphere and target audience. Talk to me about this.
Abby Shehan: It really can. And it’s new. We’re still learning it, but there are programs. Just the other day we had a client and they had a photograph of their building, and we were talking through just different colors with them and how that would look compared to the other buildings on the block. And we put the photo and then we just typed in coastal, and it provided us with what the building would look like with coastal colors or coastal finishes and everything and how it blended. So yes, we definitely are getting on the verge of it being way more top-tier, but we already have been using that to a certain standpoint. Our interior renderings have gotten so much better. The use of Photoshop has gotten a lot easier for everyone to use, so we can actually apply the actual finishes to the elevations.
Robin Trimingham: Yeah, I think in a lot of ways, just about every week for the next, I don’t know how long. People just keep coming up with new ideas and new ways to use all these programs. You were talking about lighting a little while ago. How much would you say that guests are influenced by lighting within various spaces, and how does AI help us? In a sort of a practical way? I know you were talking about an art example that was very cool, but I would imagine that inside the building it’s got more practical applications.
Abby Shehan: Oh my God, I don’t know how much time you have, but I can talk for two hours about this. Lighting and interior design is by far the most important element that you have to take into consideration. It is like the secret ingredient that makes a space magical. And in my opinion, it is the difference between a good designer and a fantastic one. So I think that lighting actually was on the forefront of AI systems like Lutron and similar. Those programs have been they monitor light throughout the day and have day and night zones, and that’s actually been happening for decades now. And it’s getting better. So what it will help us do is that transition from day to night, how the space feels during the day versus that nighttime. Our AI capabilities are able to do that, and even go as far as how many people are actually in the space, like if there’s 2 or 3 people in the space, do they want the light to dim way down, or do they want to keep it the medium level? I think at some point people are going to that lighting is going to start to do that as well. I also think that lighting used to always be considered with a foot-candle of candlelight. So if you go back and look at all of the spaces that you consider really cozy or just sexy, those are the equivalent of a candle. And so that Kelvin lighting, that Kelvin scale is a 2700 Kelvin. So now with the introduction of more computer screens, people are starting to see 2700 Kelvin, which was the go-to lighting level as too yellow. So you’re going to start to notice in a lot more projects that you’re going to start seeing colors become a little bit more cool, like to the 3000 to 3500 Kelvin rating. And then you’ll see the ones that go way overboard. And it looks like a Walmart shopping center. So there’s a span. But the way we perceive light now as humans and what makes us comfortable is changing.
Robin Trimingham: That’s interesting. And that obviously would be to our over-exposure to the blue light from the computer screens. Huh. I never really thought about that. I know that you were talked about AI being able to solve problems in construction. Can you give us a sort of practical example of what you mean by that?
Abby Shehan: I think that if we are using AI as a master planning tool, it’s going to minimize delays and costs, but it’s also going to help preserve the environment. And what I mean by that is when we’re talking about generating different floor plans, generating different ideas for people to look at that doesn’t just span within the. Here your design realm. It spans with our mechanical, our architecture, our structural. It’s then overall the client and developers are going to, I think, start expecting to see everything fully developed before they start making major decisions. And what that’s going to do is cut down on cost and budget because they’re not getting surprises during the construction realm. I also dipping it’s going to be really key because these technologies in our procurement and shipping and warehousing is going to give people fuller, broader spans of where something is actually coming from, because right now most things come from overseas and you order it and it comes from overseas, and then it is delivered within a certain amount of time. Not a lot of people know the full spectrum of that. And what that does to cost and like little decisions can save millions of dollars. It could also save months of time just because we’ll have a full understanding of where we’re going and where it’s coming from.
Robin Trimingham: I imagine it could also be used to help you. I’m going to say source more locally maybe.
Abby Shehan: Yes, definitely. I think that local sourcing is going to start becoming more of a focus for us in particular. But I think that sometimes people just don’t know where to go, and the cost of local sources does cost more than it being shipped from overseas. But that’s just in that pocket. Sometimes they’re not looking at it at a broader view, like it might cost less on a good side, but it might be costing them double on a shipping side.
Robin Trimingham: Yeah, we’ve all learned a lot about procurement in the last couple of years, whether we wanted to or not. I’m thinking about all of the legacy properties out there that are going to have to be upgraded or retrofit added, and I’m thinking about things like Hvac and electrical and cabling and all of that. Can I help streamline that kind of a process?
Abby Shehan: I think so I think that it actually might help our legacy buildings more, because now these days, there’s more and more wireless options. So it may be instead of having to go through and redoing your entire Hvac for new thermostats and stuff like that, now I gives us different options there where we’re not having to rewire everything, we just have to get a faster internet stream. I also think that elevators pretty much know that they need to filter that into budgets and time, and adding outlets and different audio options. We’ve been adding thermostats and most importantly for our hotel operators, the internet, the search engines, sometimes those legacy properties, they’re so beautiful and historic. That’s what people are drawn to. And with the algorithms and how people search and the search engines, those are definitely helping our legacy projects get guests.
Robin Trimingham: That’s interesting. So what kind of design enhancements could I bring to a legacy property?
Abby Shehan: Connectivity, for sure. We will be able to have touch of the button. We’ll be having wireless everything, wireless internet, wireless phone charging we can combine. Get that sweet spot of keeping what is what’s making our historic building, keeping that charm, but then adding the comforts of tech with our with. It’s a blend. It’s a very specific blend, but I definitely think that the connectivity is our biggest. That’s been our biggest ask from our developers is figuring out how to keep the space historic and charming. But allow people to be comfortable and sit and work all day long at the hotel.
Robin Trimingham: That’s fascinating. I was talking to an eye specialist, and he was talking about there being sensors in some of the newer hotels that could tell what temperature you preferred the room to be on an individual basis, and then adjust every time that you came into the room.
Abby Shehan: If that’s true. And then there’s also connective. Cards and connectivity for lighting. So the sensor knows when you are in the room. And if there’s no movement for a while but no movement mean like no human movement at all. The all of the lights will turn off. And so you can put that in pretty much any property now because it’s wireless.
Robin Trimingham: That’s cool. I guess that would save a tremendous amount on electricity as well. Yes. So given all the benefits and innovations that we’ve been discussing, I’m sure there’s going to be some skeptics who are sitting there going, well, what do we need humans for? If I can do all this design stuff, what’s your response to that?
Abby Shehan: I’m not scared of evolution, and I definitely love technology. And whenever I think back to even just a few years ago when the introduction of AutoCAD, where when you really think about it, less than two decades ago, people were hand drawing entire drawings, scanning and sending them off. Now, if you ask anyone to do that, they won’t know what you’re talking about. So if anything, it is a tool for us. Whenever Pandora’s box opens and I fully reveals itself, I feel like our entire communities are going to change and the landscapes will have to change to evolve with that. And I think that what I will do is let’s let I think inside the box. So we have time to think outside the box, because right now AI is collecting data. It has all of its information from data that it’s just been collecting over time. Well, we can use that and let it do that work for us so that we have the time to imagine a better world for ourselves. So I think we should evolve with it.
Robin Trimingham: Yeah. And that’s what it’s really all about, isn’t it? If you could give a message to everybody who watches this broadcast, what would you tell people?
Abby Shehan: I like the idea of embracing lifelong learning, and to treat AI as a partner that can handle repetitive tasks and lightning fast speed research, so that we have the time to focus on our soft skills and keep our humanity by nurturing the people that are going to be working with technology and AI all the time, because that in itself can be very exhausting. And so what we can do is we can use it as a tool so that we have more time. We can expand on our soft skills so that we are able to create spaces that really can nurture the people that are going to be living such fast lives.
Robin Trimingham: That’s a very insightful point because you’re right. If we’re not building better humans, what is the point of everything?
Abby Shehan: Exactly.
Robin Trimingham: Abby, it’s been a pleasure to chat with you today. Thank you so much for finding time to do this. You’ve been watching The Innovative Hotelier. Join us again soon for more up-to-the-minute insights and information specifically for the hotel and hospitality industry. You’ve been listening to the Innovative Hotelier podcast by Hotels magazine. Join us again soon for more conversations with hospitality industry thought leaders.