3 Design Principles for Better Hotels: Local, Social, and More Authentic

The hospitality industry is in the middle of a wholesale transformation.  Hotels are remaking themselves with more social spaces and locally inspired designs to appeal to the tastes of today’s travelers.

Some of this change in the industry is in response to Airbnb.  Home sharing networks like Airbnb are experiencing unprecedented growth, providing travelers with an alternative option to traditional hotels.  But in spite of the apparent threat to the hospitality industry, hotels are doing better than ever.  Hotel occupancy rates hit record highs in 2015, and demand remains strong.

The reason hotels and resorts are succeeding is because they are responding to the changing demands and desires by travelers today and offering unique and authentic guest experiences.  Travelers want to stay at a hotel that is active, social, and plugged into the local culture.  And this is not necessarily something you will find renting a stranger’s spare bedroom.

Through our work with hotel owners and operators across the country, we have developed a few key design principles.  These strategies lead to spaces that draw people in and keep them coming back.

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The Value of Place

Not long ago, the interiors of a hotel in Miami didn’t look that much different than one in Denver, Colorado or South Bend, Indiana.  But travelers today want a genuine experience that reflects the local culture of the place they are visiting.

This is the primary selling point for Airbnb, which invites you to “Live There” instead of “staying there”.  While crashing on someone’s couch may or may not deliver the type of authentic experience you are looking for, the hotel industry has the advantage of greater resources and services that can connect guests directly to their neighborhood.

Whether it’s oceanside, mountainside, or somewhere in between, our very first move is to create a sense of place that reflects the local culture.  Each hotel should be a unique, one-of-a-kind destination that connects you to the local people, geography or history.  It should be a celebration of what’s unique and special about the area.

For example, at Hotel Jackson, the interiors present a modern take on the western motif.  The entire place is rooted in the Wyoming way of life.  The materials, patterns and colors pay homage to the tools and trades of both the ranchers and the Native American tribes of the area.

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Enlivening Interiors

The other tool that hotels have at their disposal is their ability to bring people together.  In our digitally connected world, millennials and young travelers want real connectivity, not just virtual.  Hotels are offering greater social spaces that are lively, energetic, and bustling with activity throughout the day.

Hotel lobbies have become multipurpose, flexible spaces that connect to food and beverage offerings.  Hotel lobbies should be active, social spaces that offer a variety of options, including games, music and arts.  It is a place to see and be seen.

At The Roost at Topnotch, a shufflepuck gaming table sits in the center of the bar.  At the Samoset Resort in Rockport, Maine, the hotel lobby flows into a dining and bar space that features a wood-fired pizza oven.  Guests can watch the drama and spectacle of the chef preparing a meal.

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And at Salt Kitchen and Bar at the Wentworth Resort, the breakfast buffet transforms into a Chef’s Table, activating the space from morning to night.

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The third design principle we emphasize is a focus on authenticity.  Yes, authenticity is a loaded buzzword these days, but for hotel design, we see it as essential to creating the kind of honest guest experience that travelers seek.

For a space to be authentic, it must be crafted from natural materials: wood, stone, and fabrics that people can touch and feel.  Natural materials not only reflect a sense of environmental stewardship, but also offer a direct link to the natural world beyond.

Natural materials are important, but there are also other ways to achieve authenticity in design.  Functional or structural building components can be revealed.  A design can celebrate the history of a building or the area.  And the new can be just as authentic as the old.  Authenticity is achievable through art, and the artistic telling or reinterpretation of a narrative.

At Timber Kitchen and Bar, Bangor’s history as the lumber capital of the world is translated into the interior design with multiple wood species, soft materials and textures, and an abstracted river of logs seemingly floating down an invisible river.

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In the end, our goal is to create unique, engaging spaces that are timeless, not trendy.