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Design Driven Changes

BITAC Panel Cites Outdoor Spaces, Operational Shifts As Focal Points Following Pandemic

By Dennis Nessler | July 29, 2021

An emphasis on creating more outdoor spaces, accommodating operational changes within the guestroom and developing smaller meeting venues are among the latest trends in hospitality design.

Speaking during last week’s BITAC Purchasing & Design East—which took place at The Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne—a trio of designers took part in a panel discussion entitled “Design Driven Changes: How Hotels Have Evolved Through The Pandemic And Beyond.”

Sandy Moon, owner and designer, Focus Design, pointed to the widespread emphasis on outdoor amenities and spaces within a hotel, particularly in warmer climates like Florida.

“Everything from the outside is coming in so that transition between the outdoors and interiors is huge. We’re spending on some projects as much money on the exteriors as the interiors, if not more,” she said.

Moon added, “it was already heading in that direction, but COVID cemented it.”

Alice Limer, founding principal/CEO, Fusion Architectural Interior Design, reinforced the point. “The trend moving outdoors was pre-COVID. What you’re seeing now is the need for more all-season outdoor spaces,” she said, further stressing the importance of covered outdoor spaces.

Celia Barrett, principal designer & CEO, Barrett Design Studio, introduced a new concept that she recently learned of called “sensory immersion” and elaborated on the potential impact of technology from a design standpoint.

“It just sounds kind of wonderful and exciting. I want to get excited about what’s coming in the future. I think AI [artificial intelligence] is going to be a really big entry into hospitality,” she said, later mentioning “high-def visuals” which could be applied to meetings as well.

Limer, meanwhile, focused on some of the design changes that may be in the offing as a direct result of operational changes caused by the pandemic.

“It’s going to become more of the norm where guests are going to check in and maybe for two or three days they’re on their own. How do you dispose of trash? How do you facilitate the extra towels and extra sheets they want? Through the pandemic everyone’s been willing to go down to the reception desk and grab an extra towel, but moving into the future thinking about design is that going to be something that we work in architecturally into every floor?” she wondered, hypothetically suggesting the possibility of an extra closet and or a towel vending machine.

Limer insisted further change within the guestrooms could be coming centered around the cleanability of certain fabrics, particularly when it comes to branded, focused-service properties.

“There was a trend away from vinyl’s in guestrooms. It was not residential enough or wasn’t warm and inviting enough. I think this [COVID] is going to flip it. I think people are going to be more inclined to accept [vinyl] because they trust that it’s cleanable. I think that’s something that brands are going to be reconsidering,” she said.

In the last 18 months, contactless or touchless has become important to guests as well, according to the panelists.

“With COVID things switched over to touchless, whether it’s faucets, toilets, or sanitizer dispensers. It’s interesting to see where that’s going to head now moving forward because people are starting to push away from that I would say,” said Moon.

Barrett suggested when it comes to hand sanitizer stations specifically, there may be a way to better support them from a design standpoint.

“Instead of the little ugly metal things maybe it’s somehow built in to the chest or furniture or wall, both in public and in the guestroom,” she said.

Of course, the emergence of social media continues to play an increasingly important role in the design process. Limer acknowledged that it is certainly part of the thought process for her team, although she cautioned it doesn’t always work out as intended.

“We absolutely do think about it. Internally when we’re planning we get excited about an aspect of the design and we’re thinking that‘s the ‘Instagrammable moment or that’s what you’re going to see. It’s almost like it’s pre-planned but it’s interesting because you think you’re designing that one Instagrammable moment, but it’s something else about the design that grabs the public,” she said.

“Sometimes we’ll kind of design in a specific area that people can kind of gravitate too, if it is a really cool shot you can have the guest upload their Instragram moment,” said Moon.

Meanwhile, bringing in the local environment through the use of curated art remains an important element of telling the story of a property and its location, according to the panelists.

Moon, however, cautioned about some of the potential pitfalls of going with some of the cliché images.

“One of the things that’s real important—because I see a lot of properties doing this—when we’re talking about local art sometimes it’s a fallback where they’ll say ‘we need to show a picture of the bridge.’ We know there’s a bridge, it’s got to be a little more curated to local artists, true artists,” she said.

Barrett took it a step further.

“If you’ve got a good art group they can help you work out that curated look and that makes a difference. It’s not just the pieces hung on the wall, it’s the 3D pieces, it’s the interesting things that you can come up with or add to. It’s also all of the materials that you’re using that need to tie back into the story,” she concluded.


Dennis Nessler

Dennis Nessler is Editor-in-Chief of Hotel Interactive, parent company of Hotel Community Forum. Nessler brings more than 28 years of editorial experience to his position, including some 17 years in the hospitality industry. As part of his duties, Nessler not only covers the industry editorially but moderates various high-level panel sessions at hospitality events and frequently conducts one-on-one interviews with C-level executives.

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