Hospitality Interiors hosted an exciting roundtable event at London’s Jumeirah Carlton Tower in October, where designers and hoteliers met with flooring experts, Woodworks, to discuss the hottest topics in hospitality design. Editor Sophie Harper reports...

Global development

After a social gathering in the morning for introductions and informal chat about work and life in general, the group sat down to discuss the topics of the day beginning with what everyone thought about the current state of development and the impacts of Covid on the way hotels are now being designed.

Jan Hazelton kicked things off by saying: “From a development side, I was surprised that during Covid things didn’t slow down at all – we were still sourcing leads, finding opportunities. From what we’ve seen, there is an insatiable appetite for super high-end hotels. We found that as soon as our hotels and borders were open again betweenlockdowns people were flocking to us. New trends as a result of Covid have been that people want more privacy, they want bigger spaces – we’ve found that larger guest rooms increase the profitability of hotels – people are looking for that space where they feel safe and can be with their family.”

Owner of new British brand The Other House, Naomi Heaton commented: “Since Covid the desire to enjoy different experiences
has become even more powerful. I think there’s another form of luxury though and that is a luxury that’s more conscious, a luxury that has moved away from the stiffness and formality. People want something more comfortable and casual now, and I think in any location it’s really important to bring the locality in and make people feel a part of thecommunity, making people feel welcome and at home.” Going on to add: “Sustainability is a big part of the luxury makeup now too – people want to play an active role in that sustainable journey. Luxury has many different faces now, although there are clear synergies across different markets.”

Marco Ginex agreed, telling the group that he felt being true to the location of the hotel was key. “From a design perspective we always try to respect that as part of the narrative to make guests feel a part of the story – it’s very inclusive. It’s the same with sustainability, it’s not only about specifying products that are sustainable but the narrative behind each product and including the customer and it’s really about sharing the process with them.”

Talking about locality and community, Nathan Hutchins said: “Depending on the country you’re working in, looking at a local market can actually be much more economical, which ticks two boxes – from a budget and sustainable standpoint. Also, people are travelling differently now – they’re travelling in bigger groups, booking multiple rooms and we’re seeing a lot more cross generational travel being catered for in our projects now, our clients are asking for that.”

Public spaces

Talking to the group about the impact of design on certain areas of a hotel project, editorial director Can Faik asked what everyone thought about public spaces in a hotel.

Hen’a Yadav was the first to answer stating: “Public spaces are the ‘soul’ of a hotel.” Elaborating, she added, “You’ve got to keep the design consistent all the way to the room, so you can’t blow your budget on public areas, but you can’t lose that sense of arrival. Public spaces dictate your first impression, they leave behind an emotion, an imprint and if you get that right the consistency you build to the room can be made easier. When we plan public spaces, we brainstorm with people who aren’t just designers but people who understand psychology, senses – everything’s taken into account – the scents, the fashion, the way people speak – and we bring to the table all aspects of that guest journey and work out what will leave that imprint. Public spaces are the crux to me – the essence – of a project.”

Ailsa Connery from 1508 London said, “An important feature from the public spaces is the ability to draw in the local community, and that includes spaces like meeting rooms and gym facilities that locals are far more likely to use than guests, so it’s finding a balance to offer a more dynamic feel to the public spaces.”

Nodding in agreement, Albin Berglund pointed out what a crucial stream of revenue public spaces offered. “Restaurants and bars that people see from the outside are effective at attracting new customers, hopefully returning customers, so you need that wow factor in the public spaces to create that pull – again, making a nice mix between the local community and guests and adding to the hotel’s revenue.”

The importance of flooring

Discussing finer design details, talk turned to flooring and its overall impact on a hotel project. Tara Bernard & Partners studio director Dimos Giorgou said he felt flooring was an integral part of a hotel’s overall design, “Flooring is very important,” he affirmed, “it’s the only thing you feel as a constant – the main thing you connect with, so we spend a lot of time specifying the flooring.”

Albin added that flooring often plays a major role on the feel of a space too, commenting: “Sound absorption is something the right flooring can help with – flooring doesn’t just soften the look, but the sound as well.”

Ailsa, who worked on the Jumeirah Carlton Tower’s recent extensive head-to-toe refurbishment that we all enjoyed experiencing on the day of the roundtable told us, “The flooring, and particularly timber flooring was really important for this project. We wanted to bring that residential experience and look and feel into this hospitality setting and timber flooring is so quintessentially British and made it feel like more of a home, which was very important – and the client was completely on board with that.”

Sarah Thorpe and Linda Zorlutuna, representing Woodworks, told the group a bit more about the company’s ethos and capabilities when it comes to working with designers to help deliver a unique product that fits each project and budget. Sarah said, “Bespoke flooring is often specified, particularly for public spaces and especially with the remarkable timber we source from around the world. We can create a different feel and mood differentiating areas in the same space simply by using a variety of different wood flooring, but it doesn’t always need to be as expensive as you would think.” With Linda adding: “You don’t have to go bespoke to create a ‘wow’ factor though. We specialise in handcrafted products made to order – so in some instances we can refine existing products to deliver the desired result. Through a change of sheen or gloss level or applying a different finish we can create a very different look. At the top end though we also have antique and reclaimed timber products... we reclaim timber from a variety of sources including historic buildings and refurbishments – we reclaimed pine from the Old War Office, so there’s a lot of heritage in our floors and ways in which you can do all sorts of creative things.” Sarah nodding in agreement told the group, “You can also recreate higher end looks with new wood floors products. As with everything, it only takes a conversation to find out how we can create the look you’re going for with the budget you have. We can alter things to suit whatever you’re trying to achieve.”

Brand loyalty

Next up, the table discussed different brand ideals in relation to the end user and Can asked whether or not designers think about creating loyalty to brand within their design concepts and the guest experience.

Nathan said, “Yes they do, but it’s not about collecting points or anything like that, it’s more about if you create an experience that your customer will love, then they will be loyal. If you give them the chance to have these special moments and build a connection to a place, if you work with the design and the service to bring that together, that’s what creates loyalty – it’s not transactional, it’s an emotional response.”

Naomi told the group how important it was as a newcomer to the market to build an identifiable and relatable brand. “Brand loyalty is about allowing your end user to identify with the brand and building on that – things that help the guest understand what the brand is and giving it a personality that your customer can identify with.” She said. “Designs develop over time and from property to property, but you can work in touchpoints that are familiar across projects. That includes service as well of course, and there should always be that level of consistency. A brand should feel like a loyal and trusted friend that represents your values.”

Technology and social media

Talking about advances in technology and its impact on the hotel guest as well as everyday life for all of us, the designers discuss
the importance of being able to touch and feel products before specifying something for a new project, explaining that online portfolios and libraries are helpful tools but don’t replace being able to visit a showroom or manufacturer in person to understand exactly what the product is and how it looks.

As an extension to the conversation, the group explore just how important technology is in a period in time when we’re all connected but are essentially pairing back on visible tech. “Tech is very important,” said Albin, “but invisible technology, the technology that goes into developing a product or making a guest experience seamless, is the most important.”

Social media becomes a dominant talking point and the resounding feeling becomes apparent that creating specific social media ‘highlights’ within a design concept is now a bit ‘old hat’.

Albin said he thought Instagrammable moments had become ‘very two years ago’. “It’s not about creating a specific space now where someone can take a picture to post on their social media. We’ve moved on from that. Every space has to be designed well enough that people love it, and ultimately pictures will be taken and put on social media, but we don’t specifically design for that ‘Instagram moment’ anymore.”

“I have to agree,” said Hen’a, “every aspect should be Instagrammable, not just one dedicated space. It’s so strange now to focus on one area that has a backdrop. Owners aren’t asking
for it anymore and if they do, you can educate them. The moment anyone pulls out their phone to take a picture – you’ve just created an Instagram moment. Every elevation matters, let the audience decide what they relate to – there’s something really quite beautiful about the end user connecting with something you might not have expected.”

Shifts in client requests

Can asked the group what difference Covid has made to client requests when briefing a new project design.

“Certainly the size of the rooms,” said Marco. “Guests are spending more time in their rooms, working, eating, entertaining from their rooms – more so since Covid, so we’re seeing requests for larger guest rooms where even some projects are being reconfigured to take room count down to make bigger suites in response to this. We’re also seeing an extension of the entire experience to whatever outside space is available – including the pavement, where dining tables spill out onto the street – where it becomes part of the buzz and draws people in.”

Talking about our host hotel, Jumeirah Carlton Tower, Ailsa said: “The outside terrace was key to the restaurant on this project. There are such amazing views across the park that it would have been
a shame not to utilise that. We’ve found in general there’s been a massive shift in terms of making all spaces adaptable now to allow people to carry out different tasks in their daily lives, creating spaces for guests to work from has been one of the biggest changes and with that we need to think about how the mood and look and feel of one space can change throughout the day.”

Take home

Rounding up another successful roundtable session, the group enjoyed getting to know one another better over a relaxed lunch followed by a tour of the beautiful Jumeirah Carlton Tower guest suites and spa.

New friendships were formed with invitations to showrooms, design studios, and hotels – and the prospect of Champagne tankards at The Other House!

All agreed that collaboration within design was key to the success of any project and that manufacturers such as the team at Woodworks should be utilised for their knowledge and expertise.

As creators of extraordinary British-made new, reclaimed and antique wood floors, Woodworks offers modern organic designs for understated elegance, appreciating the perfect imperfections of nature.