A select group of talented designers gathered in June to discuss hospitality design at London’s elegant Corinthia hotel. The roundtable, hosted by Sanderson Design Group and chaired by Hospitality Interiors’ Can Faik, sparked conversation on market development and technology, and a lively debate on the future of hotel design. Editor Sophie Harper reports … 

roundtable took place in Corinthia London’s decadent Northall Private Dining Room. The hotel, a former British Government building, has seen a few iterations in its history, but as a hotel has always been popular with celebrities and British royalty. Originally built in 1883, The Metropole Hotel – as it was then – was the largest hotel in Europe, and the third hotel built by Frederick Gordon. Today, Corinthia London is still one of the city’s finest hotels, with chic interior spaces designed by GA Design International.

Founded in 1860, Sanderson seized an opportunity to acquire the Arts and Crafts movement pioneer Morris & Co in 1940, and so the British interiors group famous for heritage wallpapers and fabric designs began. Now a collective of seven quintessentially British luxury interior brands, Sanderson Design Group is the collective umbrella for Sanderson, Morris & Co, Zoffany, Harlequin, Clarke & Clarke, Scion and Archive. Representing the full spectrum of British interior design, Sanderson Design Group caters for everything from cutting-edge sleek modern styles to the hearty warmth of traditional forms, and the group’s products can be found in many of the world’s best-loved hotels.

Market development

After introductions, the conversation began by addressing the current climate. Can asked the room: “Given the current global situation, how do you think the market is developing?”

Fiona Thompson responded: “There’s clearly more confidence back in the market, and things have been really busy. Although people are still uncertain of what’s going to happen in the future, I think Covid has actually made people more open – perhaps even a little nicer! And because of that we have a better idea of what people want, why they want it and what challenges they’re facing, so that’s been quite a positive outcome.”

Tina Norden agreed, and added that one of the biggest challenges she’s found is the rising cost of materials. “Even supply chains in China have been affected,” she said.

The group discussed the change in budgets and the additional costs they’re currently facing. “Budgets are really challenging – the cost of projects is just insane,” Fiona said, adding, “One of the knock-on effects, though, is that we’re buying more locally, which in itself is more sustainable.”

“One of the first questions we ask ourselves now when we’re looking at refurbishing large projects is ‘what can we keep?’” Nicholas Hickson put to the group. “We need to find a way to reuse materials, re-cover existing furniture without blowing the budget out of the water.” The group all nodded in agreement.

Marie Soliman-Berglund told us about her latest project, just opened in London – The Other House, delivered in collaboration with owner Naomi Heaton. She explained the importance of managing expectations when it comes to timescales, as projects are now having to wait longer for materials to arrive, and explained the added impact that has on cost: “It’s a global issue,” she said.

The rise of the aparthotel

Having touched on Marie’s latest London project, the group discussed the changes they’ve witnessed in the traditional hotel format, shining a light on the rise of the aparthotel. “The Other House is a really smart format,” said Marie. “The apartments are really friendly and make you feel at home. It’s a great overall experience for the hotel guest.”

“Are aparthotels the way forward?” Can put to the table.

“Yes, absolutely,” answered David Harte. “Aparthotels and long-stay brands are receiving a massive push at the moment in Europe, especially with upper-midscale brands.”

Tina agreed, adding that Asia is seeing more call for hybrid models: “It’s a relatively new thing being rolled out, but we’re seeing a younger market forging the way for hotels that offer a mix of guest rooms and apartments.”

David Mason and Jo Littlefair both said the trend for more independent accommodation had soared in popularity during Covid, and the business model has remained solid.

There was a bit of a divide between the room, with a few designers suggesting that a typical hotel model offers more value to the guest experience. Overall, it seemed everyone agreed that aparthotels suit a new generation of traveller, and although they won’t replace the traditional hotel experience, they represent a trend that’s here to stay.

Technology

Conversation turned to technology, and the advances that both hinder and help in a hotel environment. “How do you think the influence of new technology affects the luxury traveller, and will do in the future?” Can asked the group.

“Technology is changing so quickly,” said David Harte. “I was speaking to a client recently who wants everything in the room controlled by an app – from room service to light operation. I asked if they were sure, as it takes away from human interaction – but having thought about it a lot since then, it actually makes any human interaction far more sincere and less transactional.”

The group discussed how clients continue to surprise them, and agreed that you can never second-guess exactly what sort of technology will be requested for a new project. “There are two extremes when it comes to clients – some want everything on an iPad, some want the complete opposite,” said Marie.

David Mason made the point that technology should only be used if it’s beneficial to the guest – otherwise too many switches or options become confusing, so it should always be intuitive. “Like David (Harte) was saying, technology moves so quickly, by the time you’ve installed it into a hotel project, it’s old and the next thing has come along,” he said. “I think it’s about striking the right balance.”

Tina said she wholeheartedly agrees, and explained why it’s difficult to plan for technology too far in advance, but that ultimately every guest is different, and some will welcome technology, and others won’t: “We’re working on a project in Jakarta, and what we had on paper eight years ago is entirely different to what we have now. It’s trying to future-proof as much as possible. I think the key thing is to give people options – if they want to use an iPad, fine, if they don’t, fine.”

Designer-supplier relationship

The group discussed the benefits of being able to visit supplier showrooms and the ease of getting to different locations, with Clerkenwell being a large focus for discussion. Lynn Fisher explained how during lockdown Sanderson made more online tools a feature on its website, and that the business has found more orders are now being generated in this way. Marie agreed, and said she found the Sanderson website very easy to navigate and then order from.

Can asked the group how important they felt the designer-supplier relationship is to the planning of a project.

“We like meeting designers face to face to show them our products and talk more about our bespoke services,” said Carl Nash. “We manufacture our products ourselves in Lancaster, and up until around five years ago it was all largely screen-printing, which has turned digital now, so it’s much more flexible. It means less waste, which is better for the environment, and it means we can really work with a designer on a bespoke project to produce exactly what they need.”

Nick and Tina both agreed that collaborating with suppliers to make bespoke products had been essential to some of their hotel projects, and that it was a beneficial partnership to maintain.

“If we tried to come up with the drawings for every bespoke product and then have to make changes, it would cost the client a lot of money and wouldn’t be as exact – for obvious reasons,” said Tina. “Instead, we work with the manufacturers and discuss changes we’d like. It’s a really good way of working, and suppliers often come up with very good solutions to problems.”

Sarah Stewart told the group about the benefits of the good working relationships the Sanderson Design Group builds with designers, and the unique facilities available for designers at Sanderson headquarters in Denham: “One of our biggest opportunities is that we have the archive, which dates back 160 years, and we welcome and encourage designers to come and take a look – it’s the jewel in our crown. We are custodians of that heritage and that history, so we want people to come and use it, and interpret the designs for themselves.”

Future of hotel design

Rounding off the day’s roundtable discussion, Can asked the group: “Where do you see hotel design going in the future?”

First to answer, Jo Littlefair said: “I think we’ve been inspired by what we’ve all just been through and what we can do to help one another, and so the spa has become really important as this contingent of luxury and wellbeing.” She added that she hopes technology won’t intrude too much in the future of design. “It’s about having a more holistic environment that dovetails with the DNA of the hotel and the brand.”

The group agreed that many hotels were destinations because of their spa offering, and that the current climate has given consumers more reason to want to look after themselves and book spa treatments to aid wellbeing.

Fiona raised the issue of sustainability, another hot topic on the future of hotel design: “We believe sustainability is key to the future of design.”

Sarah told the group about Sanderson’s sustainability strategy. “It is at the forefront of everything we do. We work with the Planet Mark and we have been credited with that certification for four years now. Our aim is to be carbon net zero by 2030.”

The group then discussed how sustainability means something different to everybody. “There isn’t an international benchmark that states exactly what sustainability should be to every project,” said Fiona. “When you look at a fabric and try to work out the sustainable measures taken, you don’t know if it’s the way the material was produced or if it’s down to the bank the company uses – it’s not just about what we’re doing as designers, it’s quite challenging.”

Carl said Sanderson is largely looking at its environmental impact and addressing any areas it can continue to improve: “It’s all evaluated, we look at our products through the entire process and from cradle to cradle.”

David Harte said half the problem is interpreting which parts of the production process are actually sustainable. “We need to know where our products have come from, where all the elements that make that product have come from. Sometimes we’re told that products have been produced locally to a project but then we find out they’re shipped halfway across the world to be quality-checked. These are the things we’re getting our teams to ask suppliers now.”

Take away

After a few lively debates and plenty of laughter, Can brought discussions to a close with thanks and a beautiful lunch service, followed by a tour of Corinthia London.

A successful group discussion, it was clear everyone was on the same page when it came to the need for continued conversation and wanting to make those all-important connections and relationships with suppliers and manufacturers.

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