Best Practices in Hotel Lobby Design
By Michael Bedner Chairman & CEO, Hirsch Bedner Associates | April 15, 2009
Some soar 30 stories high. With banks of elevators around the perimeter. Towering palms or pines or lush flowering tropical plants. And "surround-sound" and showcase lighting. Others are much more reserved and sedate. Elegant, with exotic Persian rugs, expensive tapestries and museum quality artifacts. While others tastefully blend accents of marble and onyx with clean, contemporary furnishings. Whether you favor grandiose atrium style lobbies, smaller, club-style lobbies or scaled-down, simplistic but ultra-sleek foyers, one thing is certain: lobbies have the power to charm, dazzle and entice you . . . luring you in and seducing you to stay. Guests' impressions of what they are about to experience both start and end with the hotel lobby. That's why lobby design - the visual images, the total sensory experience - is so important. There are any number of "touch points" that are going to resonate immediately with a guest upon entering a hotel -- the Carrara marble pillars, the gleaming mahogany paneling, the deep, plush carpeting that they sink into walking to the reception desk. Anything and everything can catch their eye and excite their senses. The luxury hotels designed by Hirsch Bedner use a multitude of materials, fabrics, colors and textures to arouse and stimulate, to pique your interest and tease and tantalize the rest of your being -- setting the mood for business, pleasure or wherever your imagination takes you. Each hotel we design has its own distinct personality, its own persona - no matter where it is located or who owns or operates it. With lobbies, we often design them several stories high to create dramatic impact. It's a tried-and-true formula, but it works. One cannot fail to be impressed by a multi-story hotel lobby that's lit to accentuate all of the property's lines, curves and hidden alcoves. Not all hotels, however, are designed to accommodate huge, towering lobbies. Some have very little height. What does one do in that case? Designers often introduce a water feature to lower one's eyes, an organic element or perhaps trees. Conversely, if the lobby is too high, you look for ways to scale it down. That can also be done using water or other organic elements. We prefer a lobby space that's 3-1 in volume. If you're six foot tall, then the lobby should be approximately 18 or 20 feet in height. The proportion to human scale is extremely important in every aspect of hotel design - from the lobby to the guestroom to the bathroom. Functionality is Key How many times have we either said or heard, "I'll meet you in the lobby." Why? Because it's a central meeting point. People are coming and going all day and night. It's not only the prime check-in point for the guest, but also a rendezvous area and a business hub. Lobbies also lead off to other destinations -- sundry shops, coffee stations and restaurants.
Because they are so multi-functional, lobbies must be built to accommodate all kinds of traffic. If you're a guest, you don't want to have a bad experience either standing about in the lobby or simply passing through. When you walk into a lobby you also want to be able to "navigate" clearly, to have a clear view of your surroundings and where you are going. You don't want to feel intimidated by the space or hemmed in in any way. There needs to be a "flow" to the area so that people going in each direction can pass freely and unencumbered. Friends who are talking in small groups or waiting for others should not feel jostled or harried.
The lobby should also instill a sense of security, comfort and well-being. It should invite you to linger - whether you're waiting to meet someone or planning your day's itinerary. Drab, poorly maintained lobbies have the opposite effect: they make you want to pass through them as quickly as possible. NO LINGERING HERE flashes that neon sign in your head and, with it, all inclinations to return. How Lobbies Have Evolved It wasn't until the 1970s that conventional hotel lobbies began to evolve from relatively small enclosures where guests spent little time to larger, more social areas where people could meet and congregate. Functionality also became more of a watchword, with the lobbies leading off to retailers, bars and restaurants and business centers. Lobbies became more spacious, grander in scale, and much more attractive in terms of colors, lighting and furnishings. There has been a trend in recent years toward more opulence and grandeur, more grandiose scale in lobby design. One of the most stunningly visual lobbies in the U.S. is the Hyatt Regency Hotel in San Francisco, designed by John Portman. It boasts a dramatic 17-story atrium with tiered floors opening to the lobby. Its wedge-shaped design steps back to open the plaza to the bay, creating a spectacular public gathering place and providing eye-popping bay and city views for each guest room. A hotel's character can also be shaped by its patrons and by the primary purpose it serves - catering to pleasure or business travelers. In a destination resort hotel, your lobby is often indoors and opens to the exterior. Convention hotels, on the other hand, tend to be more closed, providing a venue for large groups to congregate.