The importance of details, experiential design, evolving technology and social media were all points of emphasis among a handful of design executives speaking at BITAC® Luxury earlier this week.
The panelists represented an array of companies from owner/operators to major brands as well as design firms and spoke during a panel entitled “Over The Top: Design Details That Make The Difference.”
The group weighed in on recent design trends within the luxury segment.
“The buzzword now is experiential. At the luxury level, and really every category, it’s how can we offer our guests unique experiences. So it does extend beyond the physical surroundings in your room. People used to just want comfort and a good night’s sleep but now people are looking for something unique. So it goes from curated design into those curated experiences,” said Patti Seay, director of design, Hilton.
Kristin Spivey, director of design, Stonebridge Companies--which owns and operates a portfolio of more than 60 properties--offered a nod to the ‘soft’ brand and boutique hotel movement and some of the design freedom that comes with it.
“As developers we’re really enjoying working with the brands where it’s a brand-within-a-brand. We can just really help mold the design of the property and the experiences that one might have,” she said.
Ray Chung, director of design, Johnson Studio at Cooper Carry, highlighted technology as a key factor going forward.
“There’s an extreme change coming and it has to do with people’s expectations of the technology and the problem of investing in hundreds of rooms at once in something that might be outdated right away. So you have to be smart about what can be replaced quickly. How are smart speakers going to be used? Can it affect the motorized drapes? Can it change the level of lighting? Can it be customized to how you like the lights when you come home?” he asked.
Citing another trend, Chung also noted that people “are becoming more ecologically conscious and they are responding very well to things that are noticeably sustainable or ecologically sound.”
Suzanne Meyer, senior designer, Niemann Interiors, also emphasized the experience as she touted the importance of small details in creating what she termed a “small discovery” for the guest.
“You’re going into a room and maybe you’re not noticing something right away until you experience the room throughout and you see different details that you didn’t necessarily expect before,” she said, citing a project the company worked on in St. Petersburg, FL, that features unique drapery depicting the local art scene.
Seay underscored the point.
“It’s all in the details. We talk about thoughtful details and [having] everything in its place. Instead of cluttering up a surface with a lot of collateral how can we house those amenities and really give those surfaces back to the guest? It’s thinking about where things are and where is the convenience? You talk to 12 different people they use the room differently. How can you be flexible but intuitive enough that it works for everybody?”
Chung offered his perspective on how everything comes together within the guestroom.
“One thing I really like to try do for luxury is compose the room; that’s a very visceral moment. When you can see the bed and it’s more than just the double loaded corridor with that room and the toilet in the same place every time. You walk in and you see a composed elevation; it’s minimized, elegant and actually a little cold. There is something to bright surfaces and reduction of detail that today signals luxury,” he said.
Meanwhile, when it comes to public spaces there is no one-size-fits-all approach, according to Spivey.
“We like to use artwork as kind of a delighter and a ‘wow’ factor; just having unexpected moments. You always want to have some kind of feature that grabs you as you enter. It really depends on the property and how the property is used and how we might have different zones within the lobby. We do like to incorporate technology and connectivity in all of our lobbies,” she said, adding the company generally likes to use “natural materials” as well.
Meyer also emphasized drawing on local elements to enhance the guest’s “sense of arrival” as being critical.
“Bringing in your culture [is important] whether it be a city or a different country so you know you’re grounded. ‘This is where I am and I can see that related in the artwork or in the design elements throughout,’” she noted.
Seay agreed that art, as well as lighting, are both “extremely important” while stressing it’s about far more than luxury materials.
“You’re dealing with a very savvy customer. You can’t fake it. They know what quality is, they know what luxe fabrics are, so you have to deliver on that promise. It’s details and it’s organization. Your reception might be sit-down desks and maybe a more private transactional area versus your community and socialization areas. Beyond ‘wowing’ them when they walk in what is the experience when they sit down with the staff? We want to give them permission to be themselves and relax in a comfortable setting,” she said.
Chung noted, most importantly, the lobby should be intuitive.
“Everything should be composed so you feel like you’re in the right place. There are visual elements like chandeliers that help you navigate so you know where your going and you’re being taken care of as you’re walking through,” he stated.
Meyer, meanwhile, touted the importance of social media, even at the luxury level.
“I think social media is very important, especially for the younger generations. I think a lot of younger generations maybe gravitate more toward Airbnb. How do you get those guests to come stay at a hotel? Well you’ve got to have those cool social media moments where they can hashtag it and say ‘look at me, look where I am,’ because that younger generation does want that validation,” she said.
Chung agreed that the bar has been raised.
“People are so much more sophisticated about design and worldwide design. They’re looking at influencers and they’re looking at one beautiful thing after another so you really have to be original and authentic to the place. It has to be a well-composed moment and a real brag-worthy moment,” he concluded.