The Next Chapter Of Hospitality Design

By Dennis Nessler | November 24, 2020

While hospitality design has changed dramatically in the last several months since the outbreak of the coronavirus, a pair of prominent designers recently identified the art of storytelling as one key element of design that remains essential for hotels.

Speaking during BITAC Purchasing & Design West Virtual Connect last month—Celia Barrett, principal designer & CEO, Jackson, MI-based Barrett Design Studio, and Elizabeth Dillon, director of hospitality, Oakland, CA-based Arcsine—discussed the considerable impact of the pandemic during a panel discussion entitled “COVID Changes: The Next Chapter Of Hospitality Design.”

Whether it’s the story of the design of the hotel or some of the recent efforts around making sure their properties are safe, Barrett noted communication is key for hoteliers in putting guests at ease.

“I think it’s going to become a marketing thing to get it out there that their hotel is safe and to list these things that they’ve done. People should feel good about sitting in the lobby because we’ve made an effort to make it all safe for them and at the same time a wonderful, cozy experience. It’s going to feel like home, it’s going to be comfortable and you’re going to feel like you understand the story of the hotel as we go back to that because that was so important to the traveler. I think we can show the public that this can be done,” she said.

Dillon also expressed concern about bringing the story of a hotel or restaurant to the guest in the post-COVID era.

“I do hope that doesn’t get lost in this and I think there are still ways to tell the story even if it’s virtual. I think that getting the stories out there [is critical] and we need to make sure that when we can all be back together in a space that that can happen pretty seamlessly. So I think you need to have a COVID plan and a post-COVID plan and being able to figure out how those blend nicely together without having too much impact on the guest is really important,” she noted.

Dillon further elaborated on the balancing act that is required, particularly when it comes to public spaces within the hotel and social distancing.

“Definitely you want to make sure that when we’re hopefully out of this that you have the right layout and that you didn’t compromise the layout too much in the current time. I think a lot of our clients are hoping they can get back to the original layout, but that might mean right now ordering a little less furniture,” she said.

Barrett reinforced the point. “Now there’s a whole other group of elements that we have to keep in mind as we’re designing. It’s a whole different way of thinking,” she said.

Dillon, meanwhile, touted the continued emergence of outdoor spaces as designers look to avoid large gatherings inside.

“The spaces where you can add the outdoor element and the fresh air are really important. I love them, I hope they don’t go away. It’s just lovely to sit outside when you can and I really hope that some of these outdoor spaces stay,” she commented.

Meanwhile, in the wake of new more stringent cleaning standards and protocols designers now have to make sure that the fabrics being used can hold up and maintain antimicrobial elements.

“If a fabric doesn’t already have those properties we’re adding an alta finish to pretty much every fabric right now. We’re also looking at using some outdoor fabrics inside. We’ve been doing that for a while, but I think the cost of adding a finish definitely at this moment outweighs [the risk],” said Dillon.

“Pretty much every company has been bringing us antimicrobial, bleachable fabrics for a while now,” noted Barrett.

She later expressed concern about the future of fitness facilities in the wake of the pandemic, noting they may “go away, if not entirely, be very simplified.”

Barrett added, “I think some small equipment can be literally delivered to guests in their room, but the [hotels] that take it real seriously with big equipment I’m not sure how they handle it.”

She further commented on some of the potential changes when it comes to the guestrooms, “perhaps it’s going to be touchless doors and it’s going to be touchless faucets.”

Dillon, for her part, sees more hard surfaces as a key trend, particularly when it comes to flooring, which she added creates another challenge.

“I know definitely there’s going to be a sound issue. I think that maybe more area rugs or washable area rugs, something where it’s not permanent but if you needed to you could take it and wash it,” she noted.

Dillon also acknowledged the growing popularity of exterior corridor hotels in this environment.

“The hotels where you have an outside entrance used to be really undesirable, and those seem to be huge out here [in California] right now. Anything that has a cottage element or stand-alone element or you can enter from the outside has gone crazy out here,” she said.


Dennis Nessler

Dennis Nessler brings more than 28 years of editorial experience, including some 17 years in the hospitality industry. He 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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