Blame social media if you want to, but today’s guests, regardless of the demographic box, feel empowered to choose their experiences in exacting detail. Whether it’s a pair of jeans or a summer vacation, the number of A+ options means that a north-facing room instead of a south-facing room feels like a compromise. A guest with a penchant for white never has to sleep in ecru bedding. For designers, the opportunities to create perfectly tailored spaces are endless. The challenge is that one size fits just a few—a single wrong note and guests might overlook the property. Read on for a masterclass in designing for a target market of one and the takeaways from disruptive new concepts and attitudes.
THE SENSORY SOPHISTICATE
The Anadu Hotel, Huzhou, China
Forget about choosing just a destination. STUDIO8’s design for this rural hideaway reads more like a personality quiz. Four room types each reflect a different element from the surrounding landscape: bamboo forest, mountain, tea farm and sky. That informs the materiality of each space; it also informs which sense it plays to.
This kind of self-selecting hotspot might just be the answer for the been-there, done-that frequent traveler. They’ve already seen all the best incarnations of almost any resort concept you can name. Shirley Dong, chief architect, STUDIO8, cautions that more isn’t more, even for an affluent connoisseur.
“We work under the belief that a well-designed space requires almost no additional decoration,” says the Shanghai-based designer. “In order to generate a homey atmosphere, we chose natural, bleached and blond wood tones combined with concrete and stone. The color palette is based on beiges, cool grays, light browns, tans and deeper tobacco shades combined with soft and plain textures to obtain an earthy feeling.” While the tonality gets changed up to fit each room type, Dong and her team created a sense of continuity throughout the architecture and design, using local construction materials and playing up the connection to nature (the site is renowned for its biodiversity).
Linking that common thread into each of the room types was easier done than said. The tea room’s green tones, the bamboo room’s pink colors, the mountain room’s dark gray hues and the sky room’s light blue decorations all mesh well with the more neutral, hard-edged public space aesthetic. Similarly, the materials in each build on the simple textures throughout the hotel: green sand stone in the tea room, dark gray stone in the mountain room, bamboo furnishings in the wood-themed room and extensive use of mirrors and reflection in the sky room. The FF&E palette is just one differentiator. Dong and her team also used sensory references to personalize the experiences: the tea room refers to smell, the mountain room to sight, the bamboo room to hearing and the sky room to touch. Talk about immersive.
The Anadu Hotel
The Anadu Hotel
STUDIO8: Shirley Dong, chief architect; Andrea Maira, chief interior designer
THE AUTHENTIC ADVENTURER
Collective Retreats, Denver
“Major hotel chains have a lot of great ideas, but there’s still a push/pull among the owner, operator and designer,” says Peter Mack, founder and ceo of Collective Retreats. “In the end, there’s a lot of very vanilla product because it has to be acceptable to a large population of consumers,” adds the former Starwood Hotels & Resorts executive. That’s why, after learning the ropes at an arena-scale company, he left to found one that builds nimbleness and responsiveness into both its corporate structure and its design.
Collective’s tented camps are an ideal platform to marry raw spaces and ‘Gram-ready FF&E, since their asset-light(er) footprint and dramatically lower initial investment give the team the freedom to respond to guest preferences almost instantaneously. Mack’s quick to point out that unlike hotels bound by an 8-10 year renovation cycle, each tent at his company’s retreats can be completely redone every season. Collective Hill Country is a case in point. Right now, for the brand’s first winter location in Wimberley, Texas, the look is a mash-up of artisanal soft goods, many sourced from Austin, and glossy wood tones. If 2019 guests crave a minimalist escape, the team can bring in solid white rugs and bedding, whitewash the wood and transform the experience.
Budgeting for that is simpler for Mack without the infrastructure of a typical hospitality project, where he estimates that 60-70% of the investment is in the walls. That’s not to say that, even in the most conventional hotel, designers can’t better allow for rapidly changing tastes. Take risks in soft goods and other lower-cost items. Discuss budget with the client to help them see the upside in more affordable pieces and a shorter reno cycle. Take a leaf out of Collective’s book and propose pop-up spaces to experiment with of-the-moment concepts. Mack’s planning to expand accommodation options to include shipping-container-inspired year-round suites, for example (he sees you, tiny house craze).
One nonvisual way designers need to adapt to guests, according to Mack: Don’t let yourself think you’re the only target client. “Our guests aren’t just one demographic. For example, that can include people with mobility challenges, no two of whom have the same accessibility needs.” ADA compliance means creating a property that works for anyone who wants to be there. Ramps, grab bars and wheelchair-accessible seating only go so far. Bigger structural issues such as layout and corridor width have to be top of mind as well, even under canvas. Inclusivity, both perceived and literal, is a key part of individualization and therefore a design and business must.
Collective Hill Country
Collective Retreats: Peter Mack, founder and ceo; Cassie Novick, head of design