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HI Connect Designer Spotlight - Michele Espeland, Cuningham Group

Today we speak with Michele Espeland, Cuningham Group, as part of our series focusing on the hospitality designers, architects and purchasing pros participating in HI Connect Design 2014.

Sunday, March 02, 2014
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Cuningham Group Architecture, P.A.
Cuningham Group Architecture, P.A.
Architectural/Interior Design firm
HI Connect Design
HI Connect Design
Experience a Design Revolution

We’re getting ready for our BIG event HI Connect Design coming this April 2-4, 2014 at the Gaylord Opryland in Nashville, TN. Act Now and register to be a part of this amazing event.

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

HI Connect Design offers attendees an incredible opportunity to view, first hand, original concepts designed by industry designers and purchasing companies in collaboration with suppliers shown in context within a real environment of a guest room, bathroom, 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 2014 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 below.

Act now to be a part of this game changing event. For more information relating to this unique and dramatic experience at HI Connect Design, this April 2-4, 2014 visit HI Connect Design to learn more and register for this unique event that sets the new standard in hospitality tradeshows.
For today’s interview, Editor-In-Chief Glenn Haussman speaks with Michele Espeland, Senior Associate, Cuningham Group who is creating a modern Guestroom during the three days of HI Connect Design.

Glenn: So I’m thinking about a modern guest room. I’m seeing a lot more than that and I kind of feel like it’s almost playing off of where we were five years ago with like the lifestyle hotels. How do you see the whole modern guest room?

Michele: That is very accurate. The lifestyle hotel is still prevalent and we’ve looked at the modern guestroom as an interpretation of anywhere in the world, you could be anywhere in the world, a business traveler or for personal travel and feel welcome in your guestroom. It’s real important to have a level of design that meets your expectations and still meets and exceeds what you have at home. That’s number one priority for us.

Glenn: Yeah, that’s absolutely critical. So I think it’s interesting that you say, that you agree that the lifestyle hotel and the modern guestroom kind of overlap with each other. I’m kind of feeling like lifestyle hotel was the first implications of where we were going with the future of design. And now that’s just playing itself out in a typical modern guestroom. I don’t think you need to have a lifestyle hotel to have a lifestyle type of experience in a guestroom. How do you see it?

Michele: No, that’s true, but every hotel still brings in the lifestyle qualities, whether it’s amenities and services that are within the hotel. And that still remains key as a requirement to the hotel’s success. So lifestyle hotel doesn’t mean that it can’t be traditional or it can’t be transitional, but you’re right, modern is what brought that lifestyle hotel genre into the market, especially in urban settings. But now we’re seeing lifestyle hotels being accepted out in suburbia, too and it’s really a requirement.

Glenn: Yeah, it really is. I think travelers have gotten so much more sophisticated over the last number of years, that this is really a permutation that you have to have in order to capture the excitement and imagination of that guest. And you’re absolutely right. They want to have experiences that they can’t have at home. So how does that play out to you in a typical modern guestroom that you see out there, in the ones that you design?

Michele: Well, obviously when people look for a hotel to stay in, they’re looking at photos and guest reviews of what other people are saying and seeing about the hotel. I think a lot of people are drawn to properties that are different than what they have at home. And a modern guestroom hotel is going to be very clean and basic geometry. But what’s interesting is we’re really playing that up in contrast to a quirky geometric and organic feeling.

So that is what’s different to what people might have in their house because it’s a little bit uncomfortable. Meaning aesthetically if a challenge for someone to have in their own bedroom at home. But the contrast of that is there’s still an era of casualness. There’s still a comfort level that comes through a great bed, lighting that’s appropriate, the amenities and the service that needs to be there with the hotel, no matter what the style is.

Glenn: So what you’re saying basically is that you’re pushing forward the style of design to a place that you would like to stay in but wouldn’t necessarily make your living room, right?

Michele: Absolutely, absolutely.

Glenn: Interesting. So why choose to do a modern guestroom at HI Connect Design which is, of course, April 2 through 4 at the Gaylord Opryland?

Michele: Well, for us, it’s fun. This is a hypothetical client and it’s our opportunity to really show design push. We’re pushing the envelope and showing potential clients that we know how to be creative and functional at the same time. We’re using simple designs in a quirky way and truly showing an honesty of materials through the design palette. And that is something we don’t always get to do with everyday clients because they might have stronger aesthetic concerns for their conservative clients. And here we get to really push the envelope.

Glenn: That’s awesome. So what do you mean by quirky? I love the idea of doing something that’s offbeat, different, quirky. So how would you define that for our listeners?

Michele: Back to that comfort level of mixing shapes and mixing patterns and having strong neutrals versus strong color, so we’re really playing up a strong neutral palette and then a splash of color. So it’s very unbalanced, very asymmetrical and the different geometric designs mixed with organic, as well as neutral colors mixed with color. It’s very much a different balance than you’d put in your home, where you’re going to sleep in every day. So here it’s really, the best word I have for it is quirky because it’s not what you do in your own space.

Glenn: I love it. It sounds really interesting. And I can’t really wait to see how it plays out. And of course, we’re not going to tell you guys listening out there exactly what she’s doing because that would really spoil it. You’re just going to have to come out and check out what Cuningham Group and Michele Espeland are doing with this modern guestroom. Okay, so what do are you finding, Michele, that guests are most influenced by these days when it comes to making a stay decision in a hotel?

Michele: Other than the obvious destination, where they’re going and what the choices are and of course, price point, I still think that they’re looking for, and we already mentioned this and everybody says this in their interviews and publications, but they’re looking for something they don’t have at home.

This goes back to the aesthetic, to the amenities, whether they’ve got a bar on site or an infinity pool, it’s all those things they might not have that experience at home. Not that they couldn’t, but they just don’t based on where they live and their limitations. So it’s really expanding their own lifestyle, what they desire from their lifestyle but maybe can’t have it at home for one reason or another. So it’s pushing their own lifestyle into what they wish they could have.

Glenn: Well, I’m glad that you’re actually putting out some very specific things that people can’t have at home. I think that we’ve gotten some sort of sense of disbelief that there could actually be things that we don’t have in our homes anymore. ‘Cause we’ve all got great bedding. We’ve all got pretty nice design. We’ve all got massively sized TV’s with a lot of different TV channels. So the hotel industry’s kind of had to reinvent itself in order to deliver those types of new experiences. And I think you really said it best with having things like an Infinity pool for example or more aspirational type of concepts. So where do you find ideas for these aspirational ideas to put within a hotel?

Michele: We like to say we make everything up, but the reality is we read a lot of publications and really study what the trends and the fads are because those are two different things. And understanding what guests need and then, of course, what can be afforded to be put in a property, based on size imitations, the site requirements, the region of the climate, and what can actually happen. So it’s really just being observant. I think we really pride ourselves on sharing communication and getting out there, traveling, and understanding what’s out there, and then how do we melt all of those different things into yet a new experience.

Glenn: Yeah, I think that’s really interesting to take some of these things you’re familiar with, re-jigger it and create something that’s new and exciting that kind of excites that particular guest. But speaking of that individual guest, how has the guest changed in the last five to ten years do you think?

Michele: Well, they’re a lot pickier. Now I speak for myself included. We like, you said, we aren’t just looking for 85 TV channels and a big screen TV and it has to be flat screen. All those things are expected now. Your toiletries of a higher level are expected.

It’s really having ourselves feel special and feel honored to be there and having that place through everything that we do there at the restaurant or at the poolside service or room service or housekeeping. It’s all about personalized service.

Glenn: Yes, personalized service. And all of this though seems expensive. Delivering personalized service in an atmosphere that is really conducive to a sense of being something beyond what one would have at home, beyond what one would afford. So how are you able to create a product that’s affordable for the owner while still getting that guest to have that same sort of visceral reaction when they step into the property?

Michele: A lot of those things I just mentioned were really a little bit out of our control. But yet, in the very beginning, we’ll mention to a client that we can design the most gorgeous room within the budget and the best aesthetics and the most comfortable chairs and beds. But the reality is and it comes down to them. For example, I was at a two and a half star hotel just in a small rural town and what made that service stand out is the housekeeping the next morning said, “good morning, Ms. Espeland, how was your evening?” They knew who I was. That didn’t cost extra. That didn’t cost me anything extra in the build out of the space. It just took some training by management.

Glenn: Right, and look what it did. Now you’re repeating that story and thousands of people are hearing what you have to say. And I think that really is where we’re heading. It’s people feeling acknowledged, people feeling loved, and getting that sense of acceptance wherever they are. And really just wanting to feel special. Right, exactly. So where is all this going, Michele?

Michele: Well, in the hotel industry, we don’t know. I think it’s always been an unseen chartered territory where you’re not really sure what the next thing is going and I can’t deliver all my secrets.

Glenn: Of course not.

Michele: Some of them are going to be revealed at HI Connect, but others are to be determined. And we’ve got a bunch of things on the books right now, where we’re trying to study how to push those envelopes and in the end, it depends. It depends on what the property and management will be accepting of. The reality is a lot of this, we just don’t know. We have to play it through and we have to see what tolerances hold, what budgets can hold, and how we can push the envelope even further as time goes by.

Glenn: Alright, I’ve got one more question for you. How do you tell the difference between a trend and a fad?

Michele: Fads will last for a year, maybe a year or less. A trend is three to five years.

Michele: I think sometimes you can see that, but the reality is a good designer is going to have an intuition right away. If they see something on the market, whether it’s the color of the year or a particular style of art or geometry or what not, we’re going to understand right away if that’s going to hold the test of time. And you can do that by understanding what history has shown.

And a trend will last a lot longer, but it’s also going to come back. Fads annoy people over time and they just start throwing them under the table and saying why are we doing this. It happens a lot quicker in fashion because those things are more transient. A hotel room you’re not going to remodel every six months like you can do with your wardrobe. So therefore, a trend is not as risky.

Act now to be a part of this game changing event. For more information relating to this unique and dramatic experience at HI Connect Design, this April 2-4, 2014 visit HI Connect Design to learn more and register for this unique event that sets the new standard in hospitality tradeshows.


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