A design tale: Being the authors of our design story
A design tale: Being the authors of our design story
01 NOVEMBER 2017 7:12 AM

In designing your hotel, consider all the elements of a good story: characters, setting, plot, conflict and resolution. 

Today’s hotel designs increasingly reflect and embrace the local “story” of their surroundings.

As architects, designers and procurement specialists know, design elements aren’t a series of random choices. Although hotel design may often appear effortless to our guests, it is a result of careful planning and deliberate selections. What we’re seeing in the industry is increasingly customized public spaces and modified guestrooms, less prototypical design and more boutique touches—making design picks often the most important differentiator.

Industry trends shaping the narrative
Unsurprisingly, millennials continue to be the fastest growing segment of today’s travelers and the largest consumer group in the United States at an estimated 70 to 80 million people. While millennials are a prominent force driving hospitality design trends, it’s essential not to underestimate the desires of other demographic groups who are also looking for experiences when traveling for business and pleasure. Give today’s guests a story through design, and they will be drawn to your property and want to share it on all of their social media accounts.

How do hospitality design professionals settle on hotel design concepts? What factors do we consider? What makes us the “authors of our design story”? Let’s examine the design process through the basic components of a great narrative—characters, setting, plot, conflict and resolution. As an example, we’ll use one of Group One’s recent projects—a new Hilton dual-brand hotel in Woburn, Massachusetts. Currently under construction, the hotel combines the Homewood Suites and Hampton Inn brands under one roof.

The characters
Who are the characters when we think about hotel design? For us, the main characters are our guests. For the Hilton dual-brand hotel, our main characters are:

  1. extended-stay business travelers for the Homewood Suites brand; and
  2. family and vacation travelers for the select-service Hampton Inn brand.

Our supporting characters are our investors, brands, municipalities and local residents and businesses.

In the design phase, we ask key questions about why our main characters are interested in visiting the property. Is it for business or pleasure? What amenities are they looking for—meeting spaces, fitness centers, shared social areas for collaboration and remote work, enhanced technology? We ask what type of property our supporting characters are looking to support, and what type of local residents and businesses reside in the area. Which hotel amenities are they craving or looking to drive traffic to the property?

The setting
The setting is all about location, including the environment, surroundings and its place in local history. For the environment, we must consider all factors. For example, a coastal urban hotel will most likely have a different look and feel than a rural mountain retreat. Surroundings are equally as important as the physical location, because it’s imperative to fit into the neighborhood and embrace the local culture. Important markers for the setting are local historical influences that reflect the community, what it’s known for and how it’s evolved over time.

For the Hilton dual-brand hotel, the 27-mile Middlesex Canal cuts right through of the city of Woburn. In the past, the canal was used to bring goods from both the coast and the north. Tree bark used to tan leather was transported along the canal to Woburn, transforming it from a rural farm town to a center for the leather industry. With this in mind, we believed it was critical to embrace this local history and make it a central part of our hotel design plot.

The plot
When we think about the plot for hotel design, we consider the story we’re trying to tell, with attention on one or two important focal points. Too many ideas muddy the story and our design.

For the Hilton dual-brand hotel, both brand designs reflect a fresh and local feel that combine authentic materials and evolving trends, which together creates a metropolitan yet relaxed experience. The Homewood Suites design uses organic shapes and natural materials to create traditional and inviting spaces through varied textures and handcrafted artwork. The Hampton Inn design is purposefully structured, applying a modern and geometric design with carefully selected textiles, furnishings and accessories.

The conflict
Often the conflict during the design process comes from balancing the needs and experiences craved by our guests with meeting the project requirements from investors and local businesses. Some examples include:

  • client budgets;
  • brand standard design elements;
  • municipal regulations; and
  • local resident and business requests for hotel amenities like full service restaurants or bars.

The conflict for the Hilton dual-brand hotel is designing a hotel that incorporates both the Homewood Suites and Hampton Inn brand designs while maximizing financial returns and embodying the needs of two very different guest groups.

The resolution
With consideration of all of these narrative elements, it can bring us to the resolution—or the final design concept of the hotel. We ask what makes up the literal and symbolic translation of our design story. We use artwork, furniture, finishes, carpet, tile, wallcoverings and fabric, among other design elements, to collectively tell the story.

In the Hilton dual-brand hotel, the two brands’ design stories are separated by a tile corridor from the entry to the rear vestibules that illustrate the well-known Middlesex Canal. This provides guests with a clear delineation of amenity spaces while using a common color thread of blues and yellows to bring the spaces together. Public spaces, defined using the zone concept, are approachable and thoughtful of the guests’ needs and provide a warm and welcome experience for all guests regardless of brand.

Characters are the centerpiece of the story
Like any good narrative, the characters shape all elements of a great story. Regardless of the influencing factors, it’s essential to never lose sight of the needs, expectations and desires of our guests. Being the authors of our design story isn’t always easy, though it may look carefree. Yet with careful planning and deliberate choices, we can successfully illustrate a gripping story by creating an immersive stay experience.

Harry Wheeler AIA, NCARB, LEED is a principal at Group One Partners, Inc., an award-winning hospitality design firm based in Boston that specializes in architectural, interior design, and purchasing services for hospitality properties. Wheeler is a registered architect in 10 states and a member of numerous architectural, lodging, and marketing associations. For more information visit www.grouponeinc.com or email Wheeler at harry@grouponeinc.com.

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