Hospitality Design Trends: Focus on Creating a Sense of Escape

Architects from Wimberly Allison Tong & Goo talk about the latest trends in hospitality design

December 01, 2007 |
St. Regis Hotel & Residences, Singapore. Located on a 4.13-acre site near Orchard Road, Singapore's premiere shopping and business thoroughfare, two 23-story residential towers will house 173 condominiums, while a third tower will serve as the 20-story, 299-room St. Regis luxury hotel. PHOTO: WATG

People are looking for a hotel experience that plays on the idea of escapism,” says Monica Cuervo, senior associate and project manager/project architect at Wimberly Allison Tong & Goo, headquartered in Irvine, Calif. It’s becoming less common for hotels to be designed exclusively for business travelers or leisure guests, she says. Thus, every hotel needs to address business requirements while still providing a degree of escapism.

WATG has significant experience helping people enjoy great escapes. The firm had $57.49 million in billings in 2006, placing them second among design firms in the hospitality segment, according to BD+C’s 2007 Giants 300 survey (July 2007). Hospitality projects accounted for 94% of the firm’s 2006 billings of $61.07 million.

How can a hotel property help guests escape from today’s hectic pace? The first element in Cuervo’s checklist is the great shower experience. “If you have a large, spacious, spa-like bathroom with a fantastic shower, the guest experiences a true level of escapism,” she says. While hotel bathrooms are getting larger, the guest rooms themselves are not necessarily getting more square footage. Rather, they’re being made to feel larger by being furnished with fewer but higher quality pieces.

Four Seasons Hotel Westlake Village Wellness Center and Spa, Westlake Village, Calif. Designed as a destination for guests interested in health and fitness, this recently completed five-star property includes 268 guest rooms, a 41,500-sf spa, 26,000-sf wellness center, an 11,500-sf clinic, and a full-size swimming pool with private cabanas. The 476,317-sf, six-story facility also houses a 40,000-sf television studio and 30,400-sf conference center. PHOTO: BARBARA KRAFT
Bardessono Inn and Spa, Yountville, Calif. Designed to achieve LEED Gold certification, the 62-room Bardessono Inn and Spa is a luxury boutique lodge and spa sitting on 4.9 acres in the heart of Napa Valley wine country. The property will use solar and geothermal energy, sophisticated energy management systems, sustainable building materials, limited paving, and native landscaping. Guest features include a 75-foot-long rooftop infinity pool, private outdoor showers, a spa with eight treatment rooms, and private meeting space. Scheduled opening: April 2008. RENDERING: WATG

Guest room design in the U.S. market is also becoming less conservative, Cuervo says. She’s starting to introduce elements stateside that she frequently includes in her international projects. Once again, the bathroom is the locus of action. She’ll design a big glass window between the guest room and bath area, or put the bathroom on the outside wall for dramatic views and natural light. “Our international projects are a little more open to innovation and adding sexiness to the room,” she says. “The U.S. market is more concerned with privacy, but we’re trying to push it.”

Outside the guest room itself, Cuervo focuses on the hot trend of decking out the pool space. “Cabanas are huge now,” she says, and are frequently outfitted with high-tech gadgetry, such as wireless connections, sound systems, and flat-screen TVs. She cautions that locating the cabanas can be tricky. She recommends placing them away from or above the pool (on a raised platform or deck, for example) to ensure privacy, since many guests conduct business in these poolside pavilions.

Hotel spas and fitness facilities also offer guests a chance to get away. “The wellness factor is really growing,” says Cuervo. “More and more, you’re finding that every hotel needs a spa. It’s becoming an absolute necessity.” It may seem counterintuitive, but Cuervo says that spa/fitness facilities in urban hotels are getting bigger and more elaborate than those in resort projects. The reason: guests staying in urban settings often have limited access to the outdoors, whereas guests staying at resorts have access to the ocean, mountains, the desert, and so on, depending on location.

The idea of escapism also crosses over to the hotel-condo market, since for most buyers, a hotel-condo is a vacation property—a second, third, or even fourth home. Despite the slump in the U.S. housing market, Cuervo says she hasn’t experienced much of a slowdown in hospitality projects containing residential components. “A lot of the residential component is fractional ownership, so it’s a way for clients to get a second home without having to pay for an entire home,” she says. “Also, these projects are on the high end and marketed to people with disposable incomes who aren’t affected by housing prices.” Another cushion: Many of her mixed-use projects are in international markets, where condos are still hot properties.

Although sustainable design does not strictly conform to the model of escapism in hotel design, “sustainability is the word on everyone’s mind,” says Cuervo. “It’s something that clients, hotel guests, and designers have as their primary focus.” WATG designs all projects with LEED in mind, she says.

Cuervo says she now sees guests beginning to seek out green hotels. “It’s exciting that guests are becoming so knowledgeable and understand that it’s not just about the towels being washed or not being washed everyday,” she says. “They really care about the systems put in place, such as water conservation. To the guest, it’s about the features and building services.”

Cuervo predicts that green practices and sustainable elements represent the future of hospitality design. “We’ll continue exploring and we’ll find many new areas where green can be applied,” she says.

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