Best Western Plus Åby Hotel, Gothenburg
“I mean, who wouldn’t want a carousel horse in the living room?” asks Lina Östlundh, head of design, HKC Hotels. That’s cool to the Boutique Design team, but it’s not a common occurrence in 223-key, 4-star convention center hotels. Best Western Plus Åby Hotel in Mölndal, just outside Gothenburg, Sweden, part of a mixed-use development which includes a horse racing track, the hotel and a convention center is a free-spirited exception. Drawing on the beautiful chaos of pastel shades and curved shapes that define Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens and other similar leisure spots, Östlundh created a candy-hued wonderland that recalls the excitement, joyfulness and sense of expectation of a trip to Tivoli—or a day at the races. It’s a strong statement that highlights a key trend in immersive interiors: speaking the guest’s emotional language can translate to a satisfying stay better than micro-local inspiration. Though popular amusement park Liseberg is just minutes away, the styling here draws on a traditional amusement park, not a modern themed extravaganza, circus or carnival.
Go ahead, catch the feels and take some inspo away for your next project, even if it’s not in a city known for its eclectic claims to arts-and-culture fame (head to Gothenburg for the food, the symphony, the film festivals, the vintage shopping and its nearly-30-years-and-counting reign as a hub for metal music and production. Not all in a day’s play for every urban area). BD caught up with Östlundh as she headed back to Sweden after an inspirational Spanish vacation to get her insights into making risk-taking design work for the guest and the bottom line. Read on for your own edutainment.
Boutique Design: What made you comfortable making such a strong, playful statement in a hotel that serves business travelers?
Lina Östlundh: The number one priority for business travelers is usually the location and comfort but also the feeling of being taken care of. I think that a person that travels a lot for work also needs to see something else. If the hotel provides all the “musts” such as good and easy parking, great wi-fi, great closets, comfy beds and a good workspace (a desk and ample power outlets), why not put a bit of silver lining into that hotel? Who is to say that business travellers don’t like shapes and colors?
BD: How did you modulate the concept so that it didn’t skew too childlike, but still retained its inherent playfulness and whimsy?
Östlundh: It was a hard balancing act not to make it into a children’s playhouse. What helped was really staying focused on the idea that this is Tivoli design, not amusement park design, and drawing specifically on the vintage and Art Deco incarnations of these types of venues. Personally, I think that old Tivolis (the term denotes a type of experience, not only the Copenhagen site) and carousels are incredibly beautiful with all their patterns and colors.
BD: You have several different room types in the hotel, from economy to studios with a kitchenette. How did you adapt the design scheme to cope with that challenge?
Östlundh: In all of the rooms I have used the same base and scale of colors but for example, in the studio rooms, which are much bigger, we added a small kitchen, a small kitchen table and a sofa bed. Some of the rooms higher up in the hotel have a fantastic view and didn’t need much more, so we added some bigger armchairs to be more comfortable when looking out the windows.
BD: Now for the question you knew we’d ask: how did you control costs on a concept so “out-there” that it required a great deal of custom FF&E?
Östlundh: The budget was a big challenge! We had to think smart, but when you have 223 rooms to fill it still make sense to custom-make the furniture if you can find craftsman and carpenters with whom you can together discuss and develop a product that’s still in the price range. Sometimes we had to approach it the opposite way: here’s what we can pay, so what can you do within that to get the effect we want?
As a third-generation hotelier, I know the weak points hotels have, so I know where those extra resources (read: money) will have the most impact. Some of it is standard best practices such as choosing durable, high-quality fabrics. Some of it is taking a long-term view: we’ve chosen materials for floors and tables that we can easily sand down and refresh, not replace.
BD: How did you craft the offbeat elements in the lobby such as the carousel horses and trotting game and integrate them with the design?
Östlundh: When this idea came to me, I knew I had to mix furniture makers with scenic carpentry in order to execute the trotting game. For the carousel, we had a company that was going to build one but it was too costly and would have taken too long to get. That took some creative solutions. I come from a background as a production designer for film and TV (credits include Wallander adaptations), so I reached out to contacts who were able to supply carousel horses. Yes, good partners, contacts and experience really do count.
BD: What’s one “secret” that you used to make things look more exclusive than they are?
Östlundh: We made a tracked edge on all the mirrors and bookshelves in the lobby so the objects would look more “worked on.” I wanted two colors but that would jack up the price so much because you have to hand-paint the very narrow tracked edge. Instead we just bought an already colored material and made the tracked edge and then just painted the flat surface instead.