The COVID-19 pandemic has had far-reaching economic effects in addition to the tragic loss of life over the past year. The hospitality industry has been hit particularly hard, with airlines cutting flights and flying half-empty planes, restaurants closing or barely staying afloat on take-out business, and hotels adjusting to fewer guests while at the same time investing in making guestrooms and public areas safe for visitors.
We've all seen hotel rooms turned into work-from-home spaces and even private dining rooms. Patios, lawns, poolside decks, and parking lots have become al fresco restaurants. The changes may be viewed as temporary, but will the need occur again? We know that hotels and restaurants are responding in the short term, but how is the situation affecting future plans, renovations, furnishings, and new hotel design?
We turned to Jackie Wright, principal at Pineapple Procurement, for ideas on the topic. Her company, with offices in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Miami, specializes in managing the acquisition of furniture, fixtures, and equipment for boutique, lifestyle, and luxury hotels, restaurants, bars, and mixed-use developments.
Increased Emphasis on Hygiene and Cleanable Materials
How has the pandemic influenced Wright's choice of accessories, decorative items, and furnishings? "Cleanability is important now," she said. "We've seen a reduction in the amount of accessories like bed throws and decorative pillows. This is good from a hygiene perspective as those items were generally not laundered as often as they should have been. From a design perspective, it creates a new challenge — how to create a cozy, residential feel without some of those softer goods, how to add color and texture to a room using other furniture items or materials."
Floor coverings are an important consideration. According to Wright, "We typically see hard flooring being used in most guestrooms these days. Many designers still consider carpet which is more budget-friendly, but it's also seen as unhygienic, so it will continue to be eliminated more and more. Area rugs are a nice balance, and some even have antimicrobial properties."
Wright mentioned a recent Pineapple Procurement assignment. The design firm on the project was Avenue Interior Design, and their work encompassed a full renovation of a DoubleTree hotel in Santa Monica, converting it to the West Coast Hilton flagship. The project included the lobby, reception, ballrooms, meeting spaces, restaurant, bar, outdoor dining terrace, and pool deck as well as 289 guest rooms and suites.
Andrea DeRosa of Avenue Interior Design also focused on the importance of choosing materials. "Cleanliness has always been of paramount importance within the hospitality industry, and the maintenance and durability of materials and finishes is certainly key. We are using more (very beautiful!) vinyl for upholstered seating, glass and stone tops on tables, and considering surface finishes, knowing that disinfecting procedures can wreak havoc on finer finishes and materials."
Flexibility in Space Planning
Both Wright and DeRosa spoke about flexibility. "Flexibility has long been one of the biggest buzzwords for our clients and for good reason. It allows the properties to reposition a space if the originally intended purpose evolves or the needs change. We see this in abundance within restaurant layouts," DeRosa said. "While we all love booths, modular components allow for maximum flexibility to comply with distancing guidelines or reduced group sizes. Mixing in various seating styles allows for an infusion of personality and visual interest. Consideration for how interior and outdoor spaces connect is also key."
Wright discussed examples of using spaces in different ways from their original plans or designs, such as restaurant overflow into lobby areas for dining to allow more space between tables during lunch and dinner, and then returning to lobby space. "Meeting rooms not being used right now have taken on a new life as private fitness studios or "zoom rooms" while many hotels have adapted to the remote working world by offering promotions for guests who need to get away or enjoy a change of scenery."
"Designers are looking at circulation patterns in hotels and either increasing the square footage to allow for more space or arranging furniture and dividing walls in ways that encourage one-way traffic flow," Wright said. "Right now, we see a lot of signs and floor decals, but this will likely go away and become more of a design intention. For example, instead of floor decals, a tile design, wallcovering, or planters could be incorporated to aid traffic flow as well as to address an element of biophilic design and cleanliness."
DeRosa pointed out that patrons and guests have been forgiving as hotels and restaurants have attempted to solve the current problems and adjust their interior and exterior layouts for new compliance guidelines. "That being said," she continued, "Moving forward, we must consciously design for intentional flexibility that will offer the least amount of disruption to the guest experience — and operations — in a time of need."
Focus on Wellness
Wright sees many of the pandemic-related changes becoming permanent, and considers it a plus. "Wellness has been amplified through the pandemic, with a greater focus on bringing the outdoors inside through biophilic design — increasing the connection to nature." "Real plants, green walls, skylights, and open windows have positive effects." Open windows are becoming more of a focus in designs going forward. The ability to let fresh air and sunlight into guest rooms and meeting rooms will be a desirable design feature. There's also a new focus on guests' sense of smell and sound. "Along with the positive effects of sunlight, hearing sounds of nature, real or manufactured, gives the perception of being closer to nature and the outdoors."
Other ideas could include incorporating a meandering walking path outside the hotel with shrubs, fountains, statues, or artwork — an inviting place to get fresh air, culture, and an appreciation of nature all at once. Perhaps planning for pools will change to several smaller pools with more intimate seating rather than one large one surrounded by rows of lounge chairs.
Technology Has an Expanded Role
Prior to the pandemic, technologies such as mobile key cards and iPads in rooms for a variety of communication and control applications were being used in some hotel properties. Now, new technologies are being developed, and Wright gave a few examples. "The ability to open, close, and lock bathroom doors without having to touch them using sensors and magnets is possible. Voice activated elevators, lighting, window treatments, television controls, housekeeping requests are additional enhancements."
In-room technology in some rooms will include screens that allow guests to select a scene such as a beach, waterfall, or forest to act as sort of a digital window to the outdoors. Other in-room technology could include large screens that would allow guests to attend larger-scale conferences from the comfort of their room without fear of being exposed to illness.
Like many other aspects of living with the pandemic, staying at hotels and dining at restaurants has changed, and for the most part, guests have continued to seek hotel stays and restaurant dinners. DeRosa commented, "The new restrictions on our daily lives have reinforced the importance of the hospitality industry and its profound effect on our health and happiness."
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