Social lobby design more than just buzz, style
Social lobby design more than just buzz, style
24 OCTOBER 2016 7:50 AM

Spurred by the wants of guests and locals, hotel design is increasingly aimed at social lobbies and space. But sources said hoteliers should not neglect fundamentals such as people flow, lighting, acoustics and also revenue opportunities.

MANCHESTER, England—Good design in hotel rooms is important, but in social spaces, it is becoming more and more critical.

Architects and designers are being pressed further to develop design, as small hotel chains such as The Hoxton and Ace Hotel keep raising the bar. Panelists at the recent Annual Hotel Conference discussed how those guest expectations are evolving.

“The trend is for multifunctional space with more facilities—private dining spaces, work spaces, places to play … and as these areas become more multifunctional, you start to wonder if all floors should have them. By (that stage) it goes back to banks and investors, having them understand,” said Jonathan Manser, director of architectural firm The Manser Practice.

To incorporate all of their guest-facing elements, Manser said, hotels likely “will become far less rigidly designed, but that has a little way to go.”

Sara Cosgrove, owner of Sara Cosgrove Design, said the days when Holiday Inn said “the best surprise is no surprise” are long gone.

“Now we’re all editing ourselves,” said Cosgrove, who is busy rolling out 10 urban hotels in the United Kingdom under the newly created Starwood Capital brand Principal Hotels.

Jason Holley, co-director of Universal Design Studio, which has Ace Hotel as one of its clients, agreed design is being tailored to what guests and locals “actually want from spaces.”

“A lot of other sectors are looking at what hotels are doing, especially in terms of interaction. Everyone wants an Ace lobby,” he said, adding that for Ace Hotel it was important to have a “democratic notion of space … and to provide choice.”

Hip design is finding a home not only in residential buildings, but also in student accommodations and extended-stay properties, Manser said.

The real stress test will come as social spaces become too complicated, he said, noting that clarity of purpose should remain a top priority in design.

“Have one door so there is no confusion as to where the front desk is,” he said.

Manser said the brands don’t get it.

“Brands probably will misinterpret new design elements and then have to wait again to see what the next trend is,” he said.

The trendsetters
Susanna Kingston, senior designer at Ennismore, said her hotels acted as the living rooms of their urban settings. That’s been the case with Ennismore brand Hoxton Hotels, she said, and will continue with its new budget brand, NoCo.

“There will be certain elements of culture from Hoxton Hotels blended in,” she said. “A social lobby, but streamlined, more cost-effective.”

Ennismore also owns famed Scottish hotel Gleneagles, which poses a design problem for the London-based company. Kingston said the plan is to overcome that hurdle with simple steps.

“Not having formal check-in desks … with a guest relations manager floating around with an iPad,” she said.

Cosgrove said there are downsides to streamlining front-desk operations.

“From a commercial basis, retaining people is important, as they are more likely to spend,” she said.

Cosgrove added design needs to create emotional connections, but balance is important if conference and business guests and facilities are part of the mix.

Holley said it’s a “longer game play for social lobbies to pay for themselves, but activity does generate revenue. Generosity is seen and repaid.”

Cosgrove said the benefits of social lobbies are more measurable than that.

“They create energy, and energy creates spend,” she said, adding that the most-successful design allows for clever zoning of areas to both attract locals and not alienate staying guests.

“We’ve always faced projects with an understanding of what that space should reflect,” Holley said. “All other decisions flow from that. There can be a clash between making something definitive and making it comfortable. Great acoustics and lighting are key here. Restaurants can be destroyed by bad acoustics.”

Ignoring the need to have Wi-Fi, USB ports and plug sockets everywhere could be detrimental, too, panelists said.

“Have staff understand the changes and adaptations possible in a space, and make those changes easy to put into place,” Manser said. “Architects perhaps do think of guests, maybe not so much staff.”

One topic, notably, did not come up during the panel session.

“We’ve not mentioned bedrooms, which is telling,” Manser said.

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