Up and coming: Hotel design trends and the future from rising design firms

Miles Hurley Miles Hurley Uploaded

“We like to say that trends last up to two years. Construction of a hotel can take up to two years, so we look for design elements that will hold up over time.”

Lesley Hughes-Wyman, co-founder of up and coming firm MatchLine Design Group, said this in regard to the future of hotel design. The statement reveals a fundamental truth about hotels in comparison to other hospitality businesses - they take time to build, and don’t change as quickly.

But even considering that, the past decade has seen an incredible amount of change and diversity in hospitality moving forward. From the rise of the short-term rental industry, to a growth in sustainable focus, to the ever-increasing impact of technology, hotel design is constantly in flux.

In times like those we live in, with the upcoming weeks seeming unstable, talking to the future of the industry lets us know that the light up ahead will be bright, unique and intriguing.

I spoke with a variety of up and coming design firms across the US, to ask their thoughts of what hotel design will focus on in the future. Here’s what they said:




For a designer, ideally the freedom provided by a boutique hotel seems compelling, allowing a space to tell an unrestricted, original story. However, with global brands increasingly entering the boutique space, designers can feel restricted by that brand’s identity.

Wyman notes: “Many larger brands have been seeking the same pathway to create spaces that feel like a boutique hotel. However, the design scheme still needs to fit within the overarching design ethos of that brand.”

This can go double for refurbished hotels. Pre-existing narratives are difficult to work within, and as hotel refurbishment becomes a popular design strategy, those designers will need new frameworks to work within.

Interior Image Group senior VP Leslie Schultz notes, however, that while some existing design elements may be challenging, for others it gives them greater motivation to craft a full story.


Local flavour

For designers, a hotel is more than just its own internal story, but rather, a possible reflection of the space around them. Hotels as such need to reflect the locality around them as much as anything else.

Interior Image Group notes that its own storytelling focuses around how every layer of a hotel’s locale can be used to create memorable environments. In their Appalachian hotels, this may lead to adventure-focused design choices, while including local art and photography as well.

Schultz adds: “I think cultural and lifestyle driven experiences will continue to play a vital role in how guests choose their hotel and travel destinations. Travellers will still want to be immersed in the local neighbourhood through design and amenities.”

For others, however, this is more focused on the creation of spaces which are as popular with locals as with travellers. Creating a space that isn’t just an addendum to a building, but rather feels more like a part of a wider city.

Griz Dwight, principal and founder of GrizForm Design Architects said: “We’re currently working with AC Hotel by Marriott Washington D.C. Downtown on the design of the rooftop bar, where many of our discussions are focused on how to ensure it’s a draw and inspiration to all.”

On the most minimal level, including local products like soaps, paintings and beyond can create a sense of immersion. Wyman said: “We love the idea of specifying localised in-room amenities and products, which allows a customised guest experience, compared to a generic hotel stay.”


As hotel tech gets more advanced and specific, more hotel designers are looking for ways to integrate it into most rooms. In a list of her own 2020 trends, president of Houston-based Paradigm Design Groups noted the way that homes are becoming smarter - thermostat controls, opening and closing blinds, keeping lights on - will transition to hotel design.

Wyman notes, however, that while tech is essential, its integration is even more so. She said: “No one wants to enter into their room after a long day of travel to have to spend half an hour trying to figure out how to turn on the lights, close the shades, or where to plug in their devices.”


Basics done well

No matter what is new, doing the basics right is the most key idea. Every element of a hotel has various works that need to be done right, and without those done well, everything else fails.

According to MatchLine, in rooms these are the bed, the shower, and the rooms functionality. Wyman notes: “Guests are unhappy when these seemingly basic “big three” aren’t met, which can influence not only their stay, but their perception of the hotel brand-at-large.”

However, taking these basics done well and playing with them is a way that some hotels can add uniqueness to a space. MatchLine have added Bluetooth integrated mirrors to certain rooms, which allow guests to listen to music or podcasts while getting ready. They have also been upgrading plumbing fixtures in a variety of their rooms, helping the functionality of the room create an element of luxury.

For restaurants, this goes double - a great restaurant design needs to be able to support its food and service so that all three work in concert. Dwight notes: “We have to make it easy for the restaurant to operate by foreseeing potential challenges like if a guest drops their fork, where will the next one come from.”

With something so simple, attention to detail is extremely in every level. Dwight said of his firm: “We emphasise adding layers in the sense that we go through the thought process of every single aspect. For example, because we do all lighting design, furniture selection and purchasing in-house, we can ensure things like the detail in the light fixture is also represented in the stitching on the chairs.”


Modularity and barrier removal

Above all else, different parts of a hotel are best when they do multiple things. For visitors, this makes different things unique; for hotels, it allows them to save costs; for designers, it lets them get creative with space.

Schultz believes this sort of modularity in design will be a major trend, saying: “We will also see rooms and amenity spaces having multiple uses. For example, a meeting room can also be used for wellness or other social activities and settings.”

For restaurants, design trends dictate a breaking down of barriers between different restaurant elements. A wider, more open plan and less fixed elements defining each part of a space lets immersion grow.

Dwight notes: “The domineering trend is breaking down the barrier between where the restaurant starts and stops. The difference between being in the bar, then in the restaurant, then near the concierge can be very subtle as you move from one place to the other.”

MatchLine have already seen this put in place, pointing out Hilton’s ‘Five feet to fitness’ initiative as an example of a room type that includes fitness elements within it. The goal is to allow guests to pursue fitness and wellbeing on their own terms, within their own boundaries.


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