Good Design for Hospitality

By Himank Goswami

Recently I went out for dinner to a luxury hotel and was offered a table next to the window overlooking a beautiful garden. The ambience was enchanting with a candle lit table and soft background music. 

But soon the evening started turning unpleasant when we realised that our table was right behind an extremely busy service station. We could hear the waiters mumble, sounds of the cutlery and worst of all, the irritating noise of the cheque printer every now & then. 

The restaurant failed to deliver (at least to us) what it was designed for despite being a high specification space. We often come across plentiful of such instances where practicality and usability are compromised over design.

So what is a good design?  A good design is essentially a combination of how it looks, what it does, what value it adds to a space, is ergonomic and user-friendly. It is important to know and realise that a design, especially a design in the hospitality industry, first needs to work well and then look good! 

In addition to the aesthetic appeal, a good design needs to fulfill the purpose it was designed for, every single time, flawlessly. A good design is the culmination of innovation, functionality, durability, detail and elegance. A well-crafted space or product can easily have a positive effect on its user and her/his well-being. Below are some characteristics of a good design in the context of the hospitality industry. 

Functional and Ergonomic —The foremost expectation from a good design in hospitality is that it must perf o r m & perf o r m well. It must work before it looks good. Make a low back but great looking bar stool and the guests will curse you.  
A backlit mirror over a vanity is an example of aesthetics infused with functionality. The backlighting enhances the visual appeal of the mirror but at the same time lights up the face for a better reflection in the mirror. Whilst a sunken marble bathtub only looks good but disappoints upon usage. 

F o r m Follows Function — Architects have been debating this issue for long.  Function follows f o r m may be true for certain building types like a museum but for hotels f o r m follows function holds good. The design must follow an ‘inside to outside’ approach. A hotel has a very important goal to accomplish; to provide comfort & experience to its guests and ensure their well-being. This can only be achieved by meticulously linking different functions in the most efficient fashion.

Height and Light —The two most important factors in any space are height and light. High but proportionate ceiling infused with plentiful of natural light can transf o r m any space. This is true for a lobby, a restaurant, a guest room and even staff cafeteria, lockers & offices. Natural light has immense health benefits in addition to increasing the occupant’s productivity and comfort. It does also save the energy costs, thereby facilitating the hospitality property’s profitability.

Innovation — For example, incorporating a bar counter in a hotel lobby is innovative design. It can not only transf o r m an otherwise mundane lobby into a vibrant and buzzing space but can also generate additional revenues. Innovative design could be a key differentiator between an average and an extraordinary product.

Last year, I stayed at a luxury safari lodge in western India. The lodge operates for just seven months in a calendar year. To keep the infrastructure and maintenance cost under check the entire lodge is literally packed and transported 200 km away every year, leaving only the concrete plinths behind for those five months when the lodge is not operational.

The guest rooms are made out of tents and the entire BOH is planned in shipping containers. Despite this seemingly temporary infrastructure, spending a night at the lodge shall set you back by USD 900 and shall provide once in a lifetime experience.

That is an example of innovative and unorthodox thinking…

  • Durability — A maintenance unfriendly and short life span design can hurt the investor’s finances and can affect the bottom line of a hotel. A good design has yet another important objective to achieve; sustainability. For example, a timber wainscot without corner guards in a corridor is asking for trouble. The aim should be to incorporate designs and materials which look spanking new even after years of rough use.  Succinctly speaking, a good design ages well! 
  • Detail-oriented — A carefully crafted space or product down to the last detail stands out and takes itself a notch above the competition. For instance, that very special and attention grabbing piece of furniture in a guestroom has the potential to make the entire room feel premium. 
  • Less is More — The best designs in the world are also simple. Take the examples of the home pages of Google and Yahoo where the f o r mer is simple & user-friendly and the latter is cluttered and confusing. To me, a loud and ‘in the face’ design is nothing but visual pollution.
  • Profitablity — A good design stands out from the competition, can increase the brand value of the product and facilitates it to sell well. A well-crafted bar cabinet displaying liquor in a suite instead of hiding it behind a shuttered mini bar has the potential to attract more guests, thereby contributing towards increasing the hotel’s bottom line. 
  • Contextualism —The architecture of a hotel should gel well with its surroundings, respect what already exists and not be pretentious. A design which is appreciated in New York may not make sense in Nairobi and vice versa. 

To sum up, the secret of a good hospitality design is to think from the perspective of a guest and an investor. A design which is not appreciated by a guest and doesn’t create value for an investor, cannot be termed as a good design in the realm of hospitality business, no matter how great it looks. A good design should serve the purpose well for which it was created, should look beautiful and ensure the well-being of its users.

Good Design is Good Business 
Thomas Watson Jr.  


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