September saw a diverse group of industry experts come together at London’s Shangri-La hotel, housed in the highest floors of The Shard, to discuss all things hotel design – hosted by Amtico, and chaired by Hospitality Interiors’ Can Faik. Editor Sophie Harper reports –
The roundtable took place at London’s Shangri-La hotel. Starting on level 34 – a soaring 125m high – the Shangri-La occupies 18 floors of The Shard, an architectural icon, and Western Europe’s tallest building. One of the hotel’s best features – other than its opulent design – is its incredible panoramic skyline views, overlooking the River Thames and London as far as the eye can see. Floor-to-ceiling windows on every side of the building allow light to flood the entire hotel, making the public spaces, meeting and events areas, and guest rooms, one of a kind in the UK’s capital.
Creator of first-class luxury vinyl tiles (LVT), Amtico operates in over 36 countries around the globe with offices in the UK, Germany, France, Sweden and the US.
Thoughtfully designed, expertly innovated, and skilfully manufactured in its facility in Coventry, England, Amtico’s in-house teams of experts work collaboratively to ensure its floors not only look beautiful but will perform for years to come.
More than 50 years of experience are compressed into the layers of Amtico floors, with some of the longest warranties in the industry, starting from a minimum of 25 years.
Amtico uses perhaps the industry’s most technically advanced layering system. With a world-leading Multiple Performance System providing underfoot comfort, durability and high resistance against scuffs and marks, Amtico flooring is a practical and attractive choice for any project.
Impact of Covid
Following group introductions and a few jovialities, the roundtable began with a conversation on the topic of Covid, with the attendees sharing their thoughts on different working practices as a result.
Yi-Zhen Jones remarked: “I think if anything we’re interacting more with clients than pre-Covid. We’ve adapted to working in different ways and so now it’s really easy to hop on a call rather than wait for trips to site. So, I think, if anything, the service level has increased.”
Monika Moser agreed: “We’ve become more efficient in many ways. We’ve found we’re not required to be on site all the time now, and actually we’ve completed a job in complete confinement – so we didn’t visit the site before, during or after – and actually it worked out and so has proved to us that you don’t need someone going to site all the time. We have realised now that it’s often more efficient to work things out on a Zoom call because you’re not spending time travelling.”
Nir Gilad said it had become more of a happy compromise for Nous Design: “We’ve gone hybrid, I suppose. We’re having people back into the studio but we’re still doing Zoom calls and being ‘present’. Sometimes things need to be discussed in person because it’s just not the same via Zoom, or you have to visit the site to understand the space you’re working with.”
Global market development
Hospitality Interiors’ editorial director Can Faik asked the table what they thought of current market development across the globe, which sparked a number of comments.
Constantina Tsoutsikou responded: “It really depends on the market. There has been a lot of activity and we’ve seen a lot of investment coming in. For a while Greece was seen as a bit of a bargain for a lot of brands, so we’ve seen a lot of exciting things happening there. Other markets have been slower. Resorts have done particularly well though, and now we’re seeing room rates almost double in European cities.”
Commenting from an operative perspective, Joey Goei-Jones said: “We’re seeing owners being very keen to do things even quicker now – mainly because they don’t want the budget to explode. We’ve had projects where the budget has increased by +40% because of delays ordering certain materials, which will only get worse when the supply isn’t there. Everything’s taking longer – we’ve had lead times of 52 weeks for some products. At least now owners are realising the importance of having ideas and concepts locked down quickly, and there’s more practicality involved.”
Nodding in agreement, Nir added: “Nobody’s bulletproof in any of the process.” He pointed out that communication was key. “Conversation is very important, as is being mindful of the whole process. We’ve found the concept of slow travel has become very popular as a result of Covid, and people are looking at long stays at resort hotels more so than taking their usual city break, so we’ve tried to look at merging the two.”
Everyone around the table was in agreement that there was a definite shift in the travel market and that merging lifestyle components has been one of the main changes in hotel design recently. Joey gave an example of how IHG is doing this: “More people are spending time taking longer breaks, but they often take work with them, setting aside a few hours here or there for work. With Crowne Plaza we’ve been looking at how we reflect this change in lifestyle so that the two – business and leisure – are integrated more seamlessly. Even more so, people want to feel connected to where they are, so locality still really matters.”
The flooring concept
With a spotlight on the day’s roundtable host, Amtico, the group started discussing flooring options for hotel projects, and Can asked the table how important they thought the flooring concept was for hotel design. “Wow, where do I start?!” Karen Taylor commented as she told us about two of Design LSM’s recent projects – 22 Bishop’s Gate and Heythrop Hotel. “They are two totally different projects – the one in Bishop’s Gate is a whole floor just for the tenants, so food market/restaurant, culture space, bar, meeting spaces, relaxation areas – and flooring is probably the biggest square meterage you’re going to specify. Flooring can make you feel relaxed, it can be used for more fast-paced environments, flooring can help zone a space. Flooring has more of an impact than most people think. Obviously, it has to be durable, it has to have the right slip resistance, but it can also help bring together a space – the colours, the warmth of a space. It’s a great way to instantly transform a space in so many ways. We use Amtico for a lot of our projects – the products are really durable and at a good price point.”
Allan Rennison then told us about Amtico’s bespoke service, made easier by the company’s in-house team of designers and manufacturing: “It’s twofold really. We can offer unique products firstly in the way that the product is cut – particularly for zoning areas – and secondly with the design. We can work with existing products that designers just want to tweak, or we can work directly with clients that want something completely bespoke. We make everything in our Coventry factory.”
The group commented on the fact Amtico’s products are produced in the UK, with a focus on the sustainable benefits of localised manufacture.
Joel Iseli said: “In terms of sustainability and lead times, it’s quite important to us that the manufacturing is in the UK – for UK projects.” He then went on to commend Amtico for its flooring products. “Years ago, if you’d have mentioned the word ‘lino’, people would have recoiled, but it’s a product that has evolved so much now, and is great when you don’t have the right levels for other flooring. Brands are using it more now.”
Constantina agreed, saying: “I would be more inclined to say that a floor is an ‘Amtico’ floor rather than a vinyl or LVT floor, just because the brand is so well known and the product is so good.”
Hotel public areas
Talking to the designers about different projects they had been working on, Can asked the table how important they felt the public spaces in a hotel were.
Monika was first to respond, saying: “Very important! We’ve just delivered a project in Boston where we had to work out how to create more intimate spaces within this huge area – repositioning and making the right spaces fit together whilst bringing the outside in really helped set the tone for the rest of the hotel. You have to try and create spaces through design and operation that really welcome people. They should feel like encouraging, friendly places where people can socialise, and design really has to integrate that.”
Nir agreed that public spaces are a great social space and exciting to design: “The majority of our budget on any one project is usually spent on the guest rooms, but when it comes to public areas there’s actually a really good excuse to spend more on the budget. It’s really important that a public space is diverse. We’re designing a place at the moment among the fjords in Norway that has this whole boathouse concept, and you realise they have these wonderful spaces, but they don’t have anywhere to meet – so you’re quite isolated. We wanted to create a space for guests to socialise with other people.”
Can asked Allan if Amtico was still predominantly being specified in public areas, or if the business is now moving into guestrooms. “Traditionally it was always public areas, but we’ve definitely seen a switch to guest rooms,” said Allan. “Partly because we’ve seen more residences switch to hard flooring, but particularly since Covid, and everyone being more aware of cleanliness. Now, from an operational perspective, I think more people are seeing the benefits of having hard flooring.”
Loyalty to brand
Talking more about the guest experience and connection with the design of the hotel, Can asked whether or not designers think of brand loyalty when they design for specific brands.
Mark Bithrey said: “Our objective is really to make the most amazing space and experience, and to make it easy for the operator to bring their customers back. We always start with the question, ‘How do we create something special that people want to return to?’ It’s the driving force, really.”
Yi-Zhen added to this notion, suggesting that although not necessarily the design brief, the result is ultimately the same: “We create spaces that we would like to stay in. It might not necessarily be in your mind as a loyalty driver, but we all want to create an amazing space that people want to visit and return to.”
With brand loyalty being of particular interest to Joey, she commented: “Brand hallmarks are important, but there’s a much softer approach now attached to the need for connection to a space. Guests aren’t into the whole cookie-cutter concept anymore, they don’t want to see the same rooms in whichever country they’re in in the world. Sometimes the fact that one hotel is different to another of the same brand might actually be the reason a customer returns.”
Still the topic of the moment, talk turned to sustainability and what the term actually means in reality. Can asked how designers manage to overcome the perception that sustainability is a trade-off.
Constantina told the table: “I believe in sustainability, and everywhere in the world you will find channels to support that market – it doesn’t make sense now to ship things halfway across the world, but it’s also important to support local economies and communities. During a recent project, we were able to upcycle a lot of furniture – and it wasn’t pretty, vintage furniture, but we were still able to save a lot of raw material. Maybe those pieces wouldn’t have been my first choice, but the guest would never be able to tell what was new and what was upcycled, and I think it’s good for us as designers to accept that sometimes there is a bit of compromise, but that actually it’s worth the payoff when you’re looking at the bigger picture.”
Karen suggested longevity was a good concept of sustainability: “We encourage everybody in our studio to share research. We have Monday morning inspo clubs, and we focus a lot on materials. A lot of the time it won’t necessarily be the things you can see. Often we’ll look at the M&E – the ventilation systems, for example – we won’t rip out a shower just for the sake of it. We’ll also go to a site to see what’s there already that might still work with new design ideas. Even the lifecycle of a piece of furniture – it might not be the most sustainably made item, but if it’s classic and well made, it’s more likely to survive the next round of refit or facelift.”
Discussion turned to the responsibility of designers to educate clients in order to help them make more sustainable decisions, but Mark said that he had experienced a rise in client awareness when it comes it sustainability: “Often clients are coming to us and they’re pushing for the first carbon net-zero hotel – it’s not always that designers are educating them, it’s often the other way around.”
Emma told us about Amtico working to produce more bio-attributed products with eco credentials, offering customers more choice when it comes to selecting the right products for their projects: “We’re paying more attention to climate, people, and innovation, so customers can now select any of our products that have been produced in a bio-attributed way.”
Talking of client understanding and education, conversation turned to the relationship between designer and supplier, as Can asked whether or not the designers felt it was important to build a relationship with product suppliers.
Yi-Zhen felt strongly that it was: “It’s vital. It’s one of those relationships that once you find someone or a product that works and you can rely on, you take that with you wherever you go. It’s important to us to be able to recommend products and suppliers to our clients.”
Monika added: “I completely agree, and when we’re talking about education, the best information often comes from our trusted suppliers, as they’re the ones who have carried out all that research in the first place, so our relationship with them is really important.”
Karen told us: “We have a pool of suppliers that we’ve built relationships with and that we can now create bespoke items with, which for me is one of the most exciting parts of these relationships. When you get to know different suppliers, you get an understanding of their capabilities – you can go and see their workshops, you meet the teams, and it’s really exciting discovering the opportunities to work and create together.”
Speaking from his own experience as a supplier, Allan commented: “We think that personal level of connection is important. People buy from people. It’s about knowing more than just your product, you need to be able to be upfront with designers and tell them if they’d be better off using a different product – it’s about trust.”
Bringing the debates to an end, thanks were given and less formal conversation continued over lunch, followed by a tour of Shangri-La’s penthouse suite and 53rd floor pool (London’s highest) and bar area.
A few new connections made, there were smiles all round as attendees swapped contact details and arranged future meetings with each other.
Through Amtico’s three core collections – Signature, Spacia, and Form,Â designers have the freedom to choose a floor that suits the needs and styling of any project.
With a wide range of wood, stone and abstract designs to choose from, individual styling “has never been easier” through Amtico’s beautiful laying patterns, stylish borders and intricate motifs, the brand states.
Whether seeking a classic investment or keen to explore the use of colour within a project, Amtco’s team of in-house designers have also carefully curated a range of Designers’ Choice options to aid and inspire with colour and pattern.