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October 16, 2018 | , ,

If you don’t join them, maybe that’s how you beat them. That flipped aphorism represents how some hospitality insiders—giants such as Hilton and niche powerhouses like The Student Hotels (TSH)—are leveraging the strengths of conventional hotels to jump ahead of WeWork and Airbnb (and a wave of upstarts), whose powerful single-platform offers have not yet diversified into a widespread array of 24/7 hospitality services.

Amsterdam-based The Student Hotel, has been integrating student accommodation, hotel rooms, coworking and F&B since its 2006 founding. The market has now caught up and made what was once avant-garde mainstream. “Our hybrid model or ‘blurred spaces’ hotels are what our customers want,” says Charlie MacGregor, founder and ceo, The Student Hotels. “Parents, friends and family need somewhere to stay when they visit our student guests; they need somewhere to eat and socialize. Our co-living guests need a place to meet and work.” So, the offers at all of the chain’s properties (for hotel guests, students, coworkers and F&B-only patrons) use design to encourage office space, lab and classroom renters to become part of the hotel’s community. Vivid colors and memorable signage craft the overall experience and create a systematic flow among those diverse offerings.


So far, so standard. But, behind the scenes, Jason Steere, TSH’s head of design and his team have a very different premise: TSH Collab is a separate business, so it needs its own FF&E budget for dedicated spaces (though shared facilities, such as bathrooms, are absorbed into the hotel’s overall design costs). That approach lets him utilize efficiencies of scale across the brand’s 11 operating properties for volume buys such as desks and chairs, but still afford the bold graphics and vintage-meets-modern accents that define the brand experience. For new, 390-key flagship outpost The Student Hotel Florence Lavagnini, Steere localized the vibe by pairing the old palazzo architecture and a centuries-old tradition of art and design with TSH’s pop colors, sassy quotes, collaborations with international and local artists. “We call it designing (or playing) with a wink!” he says.

Larry Traxler, senior vice president global design, Hilton, and Allison Cooke, principal and director of hospitality design, CORE Architecture + Design, found another boundary (ok, set of boundaries) to liquefy in order to foster collaboration and interpersonal activities. The Social at Hilton Headquarters serves as employee food hall, shared office space, public food court and testing lab for a revolving door of F&B concepts. Cooke admits that creating that entailed meeting a long checklist of design demands while, Traxler adds, trying to reconcile the needs of internal stakeholders looking for a venue that meets Hilton’s complex programming needs and is still welcoming to casual, non-employee customers.

Clearly, it eased the task that The Social runs on a 6 AM – 6 PM schedule and benefits from having a captive market. To serve its diverse customer base, the team had to take a multifaceted approach to the 10,000-sq.-ft. space. “We are inspired by urban planning principles—grand avenues, scale, and visual cues—that direct flow and human interaction. Using pathways, edges, and moments of discovery, we created an intuitive spatial organization,” says Cooke. That addresses Traxler’s priorities: maximize seating counts for lunchtime demands, offer communal areas for interaction, include social elements such as ping pong/foosball tables and provide maximum food choices in a warm and inviting hospitality-oriented space. Much of the humanizing factor comes from the layout. The main Town Square area is dominated by wood slat construction, which provides a natural-looking grounding for this corporate-sized multi-concept area. Careful acoustic engineering adds an invisible but crucial sensory cocoon.

One place where both Hilton’s and TSH’s spaces walk the same path? The importance of using surfacing to make their design points. The flexibility multifunctional spaces require will continue to be extreme. The Social can accommodate seating types that include counter or bar height picnic tables; tiered seating with café tables and booth and banquette seating; it can also be cleared of furniture completely for amphitheater style event setups. A ping pong table (after putting the ball away, of course) becomes an easy conference table. The private dining area can be a place to gather over a meal or pure meeting space. So, creating a warm, neutral shell that goes heavy on wood and wood-look finishes gives the massive spaces the easy cool of an upscale hotel lobby.

For TSH Collab, the shell of the various spaces is bright and cheery—think a blue accent wall—and gets a boost from punchy neon signage. So, hotel+office+food hall+play space=at least one of today’s new hospitality models. Better watch out, self-proclaimed “disruptors!”





The Student Hotel

The Student Hotel: Jason Steere, head of design


Rizoma Architectture


Hilton Headquarters – The Social


CORE architecture + design: Allison Cooke, principal and director of hospitality interiors; Daniel Chapman, senior interior designer; Michael Borissow; Marina Laurence; Carly Lisnow; Dan Mayo and Kristen Van Hise, project designers

Hilton: Larry Traxler, senior vice president —global design; Pierce DeGross; Mark Younger; Lisa Motley; Shawn McGowan’ Nicholle Marriotti and Erin Miller

Washington Group Solutions

HITT Contracting    


George Spano
Next Step Design

Agency EA


AK Metals

Concrete Collaborative
Creative Materials Corp.
Crossville Inc.
Interface Inc.

Beachley Furniture Co.
California’s Finest
Jamie Stern


Ketra Lighting
One Source Associates

Washington Woodworking

Copeland Signs




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