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HI Connect® Designer Spotlight - Michele Espeland

Today we speak with Michele Espeland, Associate Principal, Cuningham Group Architecture, as part of our series focusing on the hospitality designers, architects and purchasing pros participating in HI Connect® 2015.

Monday, February 16, 2015
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HI Connect®®
HI Connect®
Experience a Design Revolution

We’re getting ready for our BIG HI Connect® event coming this March 25-27, 2015 at the Gaylord Opryland in Nashville, TN. Act Now and register to be a part of this amazing event now in its fourth year!

We’ve got dozens of built out fully constructed out vignettes created by leading hospitality designers, architects and purchasing professional. And those attending HI Connect® will get to step into their master creations, get a tour and see products in the context in which they belong; in a real hotel environment!

HI Connect® offers attendees an incredible opportunity to view, first hand, original concepts designed by industry designers, architects and purchasing companies in collaboration with suppliers shown in context within a real environment. You’ll see guest rooms, bathrooms, and public spaces such as Bar/Lounge, Spa/Fitness to name a few. This is a truly the most collaborative effort ever at any hospitality event.

As part of our countdown to HI Connect® 2015 we’re interviewing the people that are bringing their creative vision to life. Read the story below, or for a more fully in-depth interview listen to their story.

Act now to be a part of this game changing event. For more information relating to this unique and dramatic experience at HI Connect® experience March 25-27, 2015, visit our dedicated website to learn more. Register now for this unique event setting a new standard for hospitality tradeshows. Or call 631-424-7755 x150 for an immediate response.

For today’s interview, Editor-In-Chief Glenn Haussman speaks with Michele Espeland, Associate Principal, Cuningham Group Architecture, whose team is creating an amazing Upscale Guestroom during the three days of HI Connect®.

Glenn Haussman: Thanks so much for joining me. I’m very excited because you’re focusing on Upscale Guestroom for HI Connect®, and that’s where we’re seeing I think a lot of action happening in that market. What are you thinking about these days in terms of pulling something together for an Upscale Guestroom?

Michele Espeland: Well I said this last year and probably the year before, but it still is always about amenities and service. But when we look at design in architecture, we have to parallel those. We have to make it so the guest is experiencing something different than they are in their own home.

Glenn Haussman: That’s gotta be tough though, Michele, experiencing something different. We’re living in a world where everybody seems to have everything. How do you create something new like that?

Michele Espeland: They do have everything. It’s about putting it into the guest room in a different way, so the TV might be positioned differently. It might be on a telescopic bracket so you can see it from different points in the room. It might be the size of the TV. It might – I can see hotels starting to put in maybe a 3D TV as an upgrade to their guest room. So they need to parallel themselves with what they have in their own home but yet finding a way to up-ticket even more.

Glenn Haussman: That’s a tall order for you guys.

Michele Espeland: It is.

Glenn Haussman: And as you’ve gone on in your career, it’s probably become more and more complicated to wow the guest with that next great thing. But you’ve been able to do it, and I’ve seen it come to life every single year you’ve participated in HI Connect®.

So my question to you is then how do you continue to find those new pieces of inspiration, those new things that are gonna enter into the dialogue and excite those people?

Michele Espeland: Well we all have to travel. We have to analyze the spaces we’re in. We have to absorb our surroundings, but then we have to actually create something new. And that is a challenge and it’s something that takes time, and it takes an effort that we have to sit down and analyze through the design concept and what the demographic needs for that region or that environment and understanding where we’ve come from and what might be the future. So it’s a non-answer on purpose, because you don’t really know it until you know it.

Glenn Haussman: So my question is then how do you get to the point where you know it? What are some of the strategies that you participate in to help you find those answers and have them sort of coalesce magically and get that ah-hah moment?

Michele Espeland: Sketching. Sketching it out, putting pen to paper, and really thinking through what could we do different here. Hand sketching, building it and modeling it in 3D, looking at light effects, looking at spatial relationships. Even ceiling heights, something as simple as making your ceiling height grander than it might be in a standard guest room makes a difference.

Glenn Haussman: That’s something that I haven’t talked about before, using that computer technology on the design end to create the environment before it’s actually built. Years ago you would really just have to start moving around furniture probably to figure it out.

Now you can create this lifelike virtual environment and really get an understanding of how everything is in proportion to each other.

Michele Espeland: Absolutely. It’s a tag line that I use often in the office, especially as we’re starting out with a new design concept, tell me what the space feels like, not looks like, to start.

Glenn Haussman: That’s interesting. So you’re dealing with a different set of senses.

Michele Espeland: Yes.

Glenn Haussman: Those undetected senses that we haven’t really put names to yet.

Michele Espeland: Right.

Glenn Haussman: That overall vibe, right, that you get when you’re in a place.

Michele Espeland: What emotion does it give you.

Glenn Haussman: Right.

Michele Espeland: Yes.

Glenn Haussman: And that makes a lot of sense because that’s what we’re talking about these days over and over and over again is delivering an emotional connection to the guest which really gets them excited about the property, prevents you from having to charge you know low rates because you’re a commodity, and gets people to be more loyal.

Michele Espeland: Absolutely. The emotions are really important, and we have to also remember that those emotions don’t just apply to the guest room. They have to apply from the minute the guest sees the property. So even though I’m an interior designer, we work collaboratively with landscape with architecture understanding the guest experience, that emotion that you get from the first moment your eyes see the property.

Glenn Haussman: And what kind of emotion are you supposed to get, but I guess the answer really is depends on what the point of the property is?

Michele Espeland: Absolutely. I’d say though no matter what you want them to be excited.

Glenn Haussman: Yeah. And that’s a very important point too. Well we always call that curb appeal.

When you’re driving by, you wanna go ooh I wanna stay there. I want to see what’s behind those doors.

It’s kind of like the weeny that Walt Disney would talk about in the theme park, what’s gonna draw you in and pull you into the place. And without that you’re missing a big element of the entire guest experience.

Michele Espeland: Absolutely. It has to be from that very minute and different levels of excitement, what’s appropriate for the demographic for the region, but it always needs to spark emotion.

Glenn Haussman: So you’re doing that but sometimes you get free reign because you’re working with a boutique hotel experience. Well I won’t say free reign. You’ve gotta focus on budgets and all of that kind of stuff and the return on the investment, but you have I think wider range probably. Then how do you balance that ability to deliver that emotional connection, something that’s exciting and new but still stay within the ethos of brand standards when you’re doing with you know a flag property?

Michele Espeland: Yeah, so it’s a good point between independence or boutique properties, and we do both. But also working a lot more with flags and brands in the last couple of years we have balanced that and analyzed what the differences are. It does become a bit more of a challenge to bring a unique design concept to a property that has brand standards, but I think it’s actually refreshing to have those parameters and have an understanding of what they need to bring to the table, versus a boutique or an independent might be not as educated about how to do that. So there’s more of an education process that we have to put into that effort with a boutique and an independent than with someone that has a flag and is already seasoned.

Glenn Haussman: Mmm, that’s interesting. So it’s a different series of challenges for you, but two different expressions. So you get to you know have a little benefit here, a little benefit there; it kind of spreads itself more easily. But I gotta say it seems to me that though the brands have a lot of standards, they seem to be loosening them up a little because they understand that people want authenticity in a sense of place. How is that changing the dynamic between the designer, the owner, and the brand?

Michele Espeland: I’m really glad that they’re doing that because we get a little freer rein with regards to design. We know that there needs to be consistency between the flags and the different locations of those brands, but that’s within the service and the amenities and the type of scale of the property. The design itself we’re given more free reign than you were ten years ago with regards to brands and actually creating a design concept that makes sense to that demographic and to that region. Whereas a boutique or an independent we still have to come up with a design concept, but it has less parameters. Sky is the limit, but yet you have to educate on the same parallel path about service and amenities to the operator, because they’re not necessarily have all those things in place. And when you walk out the door and you’re done building the property, things might fail if you don’t align it with service and amenities.

Glenn Haussman: So how do you go through that process to make sure that it’s all cohesive once you hand over the keys?

Michele Espeland: Through the year of design process. It’s that year long of design and documentation that you’re consistently communicating to those clients that here’s what they need to do. We all say communication’s key, it’s key in any industry, but I feel like it’s even more important when you’re aligning yourself with someone that hasn’t done that before. And that’s true for any design, whether it’s a restaurant or a spa, hotel, even a corporate office.

Glenn Haussman: Would you say that the changes that you’ve seen in recent years, I think there’s more of an emphasis now in the upscale environment, especially that every square foot needs to be revenue producing. How is that changing your approach to being able to deliver something that’s really trend forward and is making money where it needs to?

Michele Espeland: That is a bit of a challenge. There still has to be transient spaces, but I do realize and we all realize that we’re here to make money. They’re here to make money in their hotel business, and if they don’t do that, then they can’t be there. So taking those different amenities, whether it’s a lounge that has a coffee service nearby. You can still have your casual spaces but they have to be adjacent, and quickly adjacent, people are impatient, nearby a mobile coffee cart that maybe is there in the morning, and then it can switch to a bar situation at night. But there’s always those revenue-based kiosks per se that they can bring around to different spots. Especially in hotels and resorts that have banquet facilities, they really need to have the transient type of spaces to adapt to prefunction, adapt to reception type of environments.

Glenn Haussman: So you’re talking about adaptability, which makes a lot of sense, because especially in the public spaces you want that to be revenue producing morning, noon, and night.

But a room that would really sparkle at night and create a certain sort of energy wouldn’t feel right at six AM, so how are you able to deliver something that works morning and at night?

Michele Espeland: Through the finishes, layers of finishes. We use drapery a lot, and it’s something you can push aside and pull forward at night. And it might add that edge and that moody atmosphere, but in the morning you’re opening up the windows to the view. Lighting effects, that’s huge, and furnishings. Furnishings can be stacked and put in a storage room, and I know that’s a little bit more effort, but it is a commitment that we need the owners to understand that if they want that to be a 16-hour space that they have to have those abilities to put some effort into it.

Glenn Haussman: Right. And if a little bit more effort you’re gonna have an opportunity to make more money in the turnaround, right?

Michele Espeland: Absolutely. And then you use that same space throughout the day. You’re not wasting your cost on square footage and it’s only being used for half the time.

Glenn Haussman: Right, yeah. Great, all right. So I think we got a great understanding of what you’re bringing to the party, but now I wanna learn a little bit about what’s going on at HI Connect®. Now don’t tell me too much, but when you’re going into creating an upscale guest room like this, what were some of the ideas and notions that you want to see brought to life in your concept?

Michele Espeland: Well that we are seeing as we flush the design out and it’s in construction right now, we really decided that we needed to push the envelope and think about how do people not use the space now and how could they use it in the future, adding a few more layers and surprises, and I think you’ll see that when you see our space come together in 3D. We also recognize that the purpose of HI Connect® is to show that overall design sense and pushing the envelope, so we’re having a lot more fun with it this year than we have in the past.

Act now to be a part of this game changing event. For more information relating to this unique and dramatic experience at HI Connect® experience March 25-27, 2015, visit our dedicated website to learn more. Register now for this unique event setting a new standard for hospitality tradeshows. Or call 631-424-7755 x150 for an immediate response.

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