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The Basics of Hotel Design

Written by Ms. Jacqueline Tan Co

Designing for a hotel is a combination of amalgamating ‘objective’ tasks and goals with ‘subjective’ preferences, styles and overall look & feel – the latter making each project standout in its design and uniqueness.

Basics of Hotel Design

Whilst there are countless variables to be looked at, the exciting journey to be embarked

upon when designing hotels is second to none.

First off, let’s define the protagonists.

The Operator – they are the entities that manage or operate the hotel. The big brands are

known for their names (ie, Marriott, Hyatt, Shangrila) whilst there are also companies who

offer consultancy services to get a hotel started and may stay on in the background, to

provide support to the Owner. They could sometimes be one and the same.

The Owner – as the name states, they own the property. They are the entities in charge of

appointing everyone involved in the project. The property is theirs and their stakeholders.

While majority of the design and operations fall on the Operator, the client would have the

final say just in case of any disagreement.

Designer – specifically referring to Interior Designers in the case of this article.

Other Consultants – in this case, written from an Interior Designer’s perspective “Other

Consultants” refer to all other parties that are required in order to ensure a successfully

designed hotel. These consultants include the architects, landscape consultants, kitchen

consultants, AV consultants, lighting consultants, art consultants, MEP consultants, and

many other specific fields that are required to complete such a huge embarking.

1) Embrace Your Hotel Brand’s Identity

Basics of Hotel Design

Embody the ethos of the hotel you are designing for. What are their values? What are they currently known for, or what would they like to be known for? What are they striving to be? Who is their clientele? Are they a business hotel, a leisure hotel, or mixed-use? Are they basic, mid-tier, luxury or even ultra-luxury? How do they run their operations. Are there signature outlets that need to be prioritised? Do they have any request for this specific project?

These are just the basic questions and the deeper you are into the project the more of these questions arise. Majority of these questions should be easily answerable by a manual or the Operator’s representative; however, there may be some that needs a designers’ point-of-view, especially if re-branding is taking place.

2) Know Your Owner’s Preferences

Aside from the above fundamentals, it is critical to know the Owner’s preferences. Does it complement what the brand seeks? If yes, great we can proceed with the next stages. If not, it is the Designer’s role to assist in mediating and find the grey area to make sure the Yin and the Yang co-exist harmoniously.

In case there is no Operator, the Designer and Owner could choose to define the required parameters (with hotel management consultant, if applicable) before the project begins.

3) Designing To Budget

While it has become so atypical to know the projects’ figures, being able to ascertain #1 and 2 should allow a designer enough overview into the design possibilities and restrictions.

Value engineering has been a common practice. As designers, we should be prepared with an answer as to what elements could be simplified, what materials could be reengineered, and cherished design aspects may need to be let go. Hard as it is, the goal is to focus on the big picture to ensure that the overall look and feel is achieved in such a way that guests and users do not feel the space is undercut.

Basics of Hotel Design

4) Be Sensitive To Market Trends

While hotels are meant to last and designed timelessly, there are certain trends that should be adapted. A designer must always be aware of what is in the market, especially with technology.

Within half a year, a product could already be superseded or outdated when a new technology is discovered. A very productive way to stay updated is through keeping good connections with suppliers and vendors who are always helpful in providing presentations and samples.

5) Know Your Clients

Who are your end-users? This is an important question to determine your base ergonomics, your cultural appropriations, the amenities, etc. A simple example of this would be looking at the anthropometric measurements of hotels in Japan versus hotels in North America, notice the height of door viewers as a starter.

A high importance on private spaces would be noticeable when going through more traditional hotels in the Middle East. These subtle discrepancies tell of the layered approach and thoughtful research designers had undergone in order to provide such personalised touches to accommodate the targeted end-users.

6) Curate a Sense of Place

Basics of Hotel Design

In the same sense as the above point, it is important to know and blend or complement your environment. Are you designing a resort or a city-hotel? What is the type of environment the hotel has to blend onto? What locals patterns or colours could inspire you? What is a special story to tell your guests that could assist them in immersing to this pseudo-world Above all, avoid creating a pastiche. A resort in Malaysia would be appreciated a hundred time more if it did not look like it’s been uprooted from Maldives.

7) Coordinate and Communicate

Working on huge-scale, meticulous projects such as a luxury hotel would require a village. Internal coordination with teammates guarantees that a design is cohesive and aligned with the agreed goal.

Further to that, it is equally important to ensure coordination are happening with other relevant consultants (as mentioned above), in order to guarantee a timely and well-coordinated package, avoiding abortive work and cost incurred to the project.

Basics of Hotel Design

8) Document It

Especially for hotel rooms, the repetition could go up to thousands, there is no room for error. It is imperative that the design is properly documented so that even in cases where construction is delegated to several teams, they are holding one and the same document.

This also saves designers a lot of unnecessary time and effort in regurgitating information to multiple different teams and chasing timeframes that would have been seamless if done right the first time around.

9) Be On Time

Submitting documents are time-sensitive especially when projects are going full steam ahead. One late submission could cause domino effects to the rest of the consultants and in effect cause unacceptable project delays. In cases where the agreed upon deadline could not be met through no fault of the designer, it is professional to inform other parties and the client.

Basics of Hotel Design

10) Renovate with Care

On top of the list above, when designing for a renovation it is vital to respect and consider the original structure, especially if it is a heritage property. Outside of the tangible elements, if there’s a story to re-tell for today’s generation, that story must be told, and the design should support and complement it. It must be, to an extent, a time machine that is relevant for guests of today.

From D+C Magazine April to June 2023 Issue, "The Basics of Hotel Design" by Ms. Jacqueline Tan Co

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