Feature: Inn the mood

Hoteliers agree: design has never been more crucial to the traveller’s experience. The best designers have risen to the challenge, with cleverly considered palettes of materials and finishes enhancing every waking – and sleeping – moment.

by Elizabeth Choppin
November 2017

The very best hotels around the world have one thing in common: they are splendidly designed spaces to sleep, eat, drink, and take it all in. From London to Los Angeles and Budapest to Seoul, design studios are whipping up hotel interiors for a new breed of design-savvy traveller. Overt opulence is making way for home comforts and an updated, intimate feel. Meanwhile, the demand for ‘instagrammable moments’ is also on the rise, making the exchange of ideas within hotel and residential interiors easy and, some would say, inevitable.

Looking at a cross section of recently opened hotels – from top-end luxury to independent boutiques – there is a trend toward unique, distinctive interiors with a strong sense of place and an emphasis on comfort. London design practice David Collins Studio is known for its work in high-end hotels around the globe. Although the interiors vastly depend on the project, there is a similar approach to each design, says commercial director Lewis Taylor. “We’ve realised in recent years – whether in hotel bars or public spaces – that the customer is very international and well-informed. They don’t want to go someplace looking exactly like the last place they stayed in,” he says.

As a result, the days of a branded hotel dropping down like an alien spaceship in Tokyo, looking the same as its sister in Milan, are fading fast. Hoteliers now want less standardised properties, preferring an indigenous quality with a strong local flavour. This is easy enough in the 20 rooms of Budapest’s Callas House Hotel where David Collins Studio has ensured local linens, artwork, and echoes of the neighbourhood’s Art Deco heritage are all featured.But they also applied the same thinking to Seoul’s recently opened Le Meridien, a gargantuan 359-room, five-restaurant property. “When we were working on the design in Seoul, we knew it would be photographed for social media,” Taylor says. “We wanted to give it enough identity that it could be recognised as that particular hotel. We thought about focal points and vistas in the space, and we positioned the seating and art to create a strong image.”

It’s a sentiment echoed by Canadian hospitality design duo Yabu Pushelberg, whose recent work includes the London Edition and the Four Seasons hotels in New York and Toronto: “People are investing more in experiences versus physical things. They’re looking for experiences that speak to them as individuals. In response, we have seen more specific lifestyle segmentation in the hotel industry. More people are travelling than ever before and they are looking for unique experiences.”

At the other end of the scale, some of the same principles apply to the work of Chzon Design, a small Parisian practice. It has made a splash with interiors for the Henrietta Hotel in London and a handful of boutique hotels in Paris, including Hotel Panache, the Grande Pigalle, and Hotel Bachaumont – all celebrated for vintage styling in the bathrooms, metallic light fixtures, and achingly beautiful bedheads veering as far from boring beige rectangles as possible.

The current trend in hotels is to create “places to live”, says Chzon founder Dorothée Meilichzon, with interiors less of a ‘total look’ and much more versatile in their use of colour, texture and materials. “Instagram allows us to see the details people loved the best – and it is not always the ones I was expecting,” she says, confirming social media as one of the key drivers in the cross pollination of hotel design and residential interiors. It’s a tool for professional designers, of course, but it also gives the novice enthusiast easy access to the latest developments.

Designer Tara Bernerd, who spruced up London’s outdated Belgraves Hotel – now named the Hari London – and designed the Sixty Hotel in New York, as well as several Thompson properties in Europe and the US, agrees ‘without a shadow of a doubt’ that hotel design affects homes, and vice versa. “We’re all touched by the world and how people travel and live,” she says. “One seeks to find some kind of home in the hotel they choose. But it’s very often qualities from residential that we see more of in hotels now.” Grand, palatial lobbies with high ceilings, where people are wowed into reverence, are no longer the goal. Concierge desks are shrinking. Bernerd’s designs bring in the “emotions and comforts” of home, she says, and it comes out in the furniture and finishes as well as the way a room is zoned.

Built-in desks, workstations, and especially big business centres are falling out of fashion. In their stead follow cosy seating and spaces to relax – today’s must-haves, as people can now work anywhere. Details like a book collection, art – such as the collection housed alongside the Le Meridien in Seoul – and objects give the feeling of home. “If we need six sets of sofas, perhaps we used to see the whole lot being the same – maybe all incredibly stylish – but still, we’re moving away from that uniform, showroom look. Now we’ll have different shapes, different finishes. Interesting furniture has found its place,” she says.

Yabu Pushelberg shares Bernerd’s opinion. “People are looking for less formal spaces to sleep, engage and work in interchangeably. However, less formal does not necessarily mean any less welcoming or luxurious,” says Pushelberg.

Perhaps the embodiment of all the current thinking in hospitality design is Hong Kong-based Joyce Wang Studio. The practice is only six years old but has built an enviable portfolio of restaurants and hotels – including the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park and Mandarin Oriental Landmark, plus the revamping of the Hollywood Roosevelt. “Our approach is about creating rooms that have an aspirational quality, with loose pieces of furniture like you would have in a home – except this is much better than your own home,” says Wang.

Luxury increasingly means being unplugged, which creates the need for spaces where people can be in a cocoon, so to speak. Customised light fixtures and bathroom taps – pieces people can see and touch – are all paramount. Where the aesthetic was once masculine and minimal, Wang’s team creates colourful and welcoming cinematic spaces with a palette of warm materials like copper, with interesting patinas. Architectural titanium –used by Frank Gehry on his buildings – is also a favourite because it has an organic texture that isn’t perfectly smooth.

In the end, people want to be comfortable but they also want to escape, says Wang: “There has to be a point of view, a story unravelling – something that’s bold.”

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