Authentic Experiences, Locally Produced Using Original Elements
By Jennifer Skaife Design Director, DiLeonardo | November 27, 2016
Exploring authentic ways of infusing the hotel location based upon the Operator/Brand & Owner vision. Applying elements of brand-specific identity and responding with successful design solutions within the constraints of existing properties- i.e. interior architecture, existing zoning etc.
"It's Tuesday so I must be in Sheffield..." When I started working in hospitality design, this was one of many sayings we frequently heard and always joked about. These were the days when the road warriors back in the UK drove their Ford Taurus' from town to town, city to city, staying overnight in the local hotel flag of their or their company's choice. The picture I'm trying to paint here is how one branded hotel looked very much the same as the others in the Operator's portfolio regardless of its location. This was the familiar model we worked with until quite recently. There was little to no apparent difference from property to property regardless of where you were in the country. Prototypical standards were set from select service right up to the top star level – from the approach, the landscaping, the port cochère, the exterior architecture, the reception and so on. Prototypical to the "nth degree." The "Sense of Place" such as it was, may have been reflected as little as in the art of a lobby for the purpose of depicting some sort of local feature. Up until relatively recently, Brand Identity was the primary identity in a property and the location was of little to no importance with respect to Interior Design.
You could always pinpoint whose flag you were under, what brand was operating the property… Going back to my opening line, your destination was not at all part of the experience. This of course had its advantages, as well as being a successful model for loyal customers who had expectations of consistency throughout the interior environment. Public areas to guestrooms presented no surprises and staff and amenities were an important constant and driving factor for customer retention. A certain high bar was set to expect the level of service the Brand was accustomed to providing that precisely met the expectations of the guest. Service was key to any good hospitality experience. This still remains true to this day and should remain so in driving Brand loyalty where the Brand pillars are uncompromised, thus supporting a loyal guest base.
Now, this Brand-dominant identity interestingly enough, works exceptionally well in retail. From Tiffany's to Top Shop – wherever you visit these locations in the world, the Brand Identity remains constant. There's no indication whatsoever as to where you are, from Dubai to Dublin, Tiffany's is Tiffany's with only the merchandise indicating location.
In the past few years, as we are all emerging from the deep recession and with so many properties long overdue for renovation, we are seeing operators coming up with fresh new approaches to their Brand development and consequently the Interior Design direction and solutions. Established Brands are being totally overhauled and re-launched, where prototypical select service portfolios are giving owners and developers a much wider range from which to develop their own unique identity within the Brand standard. Inside of this, we really are seeing the location of a property expressed throughout the design – be it a new build or existing – the location and it's environ are now becoming the driving factor within the design brief. We as interior designers are being given the opportunity to design more specifically, reflecting the actual location – at both macro and micro levels within the interior.
Of course, there's always a responsibility as the designer to avoid cliche and pastiche in our inspiration and reflections of locale. To be playful with references and to infuse humor and wit throughout the design is a part of our task. Those of us who, over the years, have had the opportunity to design overseas, in China for example, know very well that we can't just count on predetermined perceptions of what we think is "Chinese" to create a design solution for a property there. Deep research is integral to exploring the location, history, art and culture, and the future vision of the city, remain critical to a sensitive, studied, witty and educated design solution reflecting that very place where we find ourselves on any given Tuesday! We no longer have to look at our itinerary to know where we are. We look around us, at our immediate surroundings from the lobby to the guestroom and feel secure in knowing where we are, based upon the unique visual cues around us.