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By Alicia Hoisington

The global COVID-19 pandemic dramatically shifted the way people travel and live. Design followed suit. As interior designers and architects navigated a new world, it became clear that designing spaces post-2020 would bring new innovations and set fresh eyes on emerging sectors the pandemic gave rise to (or elevated). Here are three segments the industry has its sights on as we move past the pandemic into a new era of work, play, and life.

A Studio Commons kitchen at Element Sedona

Extended Stay’s Heyday

The extended-stay segment, which had steadily been growing pre-pandemic, certainly gained some steam in 2020. Compared to a year ago, the segment saw a 19% increase in rooms under construction, according to a recent report from the Highland Group and STR. Extended Stay America’s stock has more than doubled in the past 12 months, for example, and Blackstone Group and Starwood Capital Group recently announced their intent to acquire the hotel company for $6 billion.

Those in the industry believe extended stay’s heyday is just beginning, and travelers will continue to flock to these hotels even post-pandemic. “We believe the appeal of extended stay will be long term as more people will have flexibility to work from different locations,” says Aliya Khan, vice president of global design strategies for Marriott International.

Even before COVID-19 hit, Marriott released research findings which showed that Americans were craving connection and seeking alternative ways to bring family, friends, and colleagues together for quality time through shared experiences. The research found more than 21 percent were in search of inclusive, intergenerational travel, and 23 percent search both hotel and home rentals when looking for lodging options.

“Having spent a whole year apart from family gatherings and co-workers, and with vaccination numbers going up, people are now looking to get back out there, both professionally and personally,” Khan says. “Having more space with separate areas to live, work, and sleep is a practicality that caters for exactly those needs.”

The Element brand’s Studio Commons concept is leaning in. The rooms are designed for groups and families looking to spend time together in a more private setting while still enjoying all the benefits of a hotel. Anchored by four private guestrooms, travelers can cook, collaborate, and relax together in a shared kitchen and living room area. In essence, it seeks to give travelers the best of both worlds: stay connected in common spaces but also retreat to private areas when needed.

The rooms feature open spaces and clean lines, modern finishes, furniture profiles that read “more home and less hotel,” Khan says. Then, familiar typologies such as the kitchen counter entice guests to gather and cook a meal together. Individually curated artwork and styling feels relatable to the brand, but also the location to tell its own unique story.

Khan says the opportunities for the segment will only grow. “With this global expansion will come the opportunity to take our design ethos and allow it to speak to the location in an even more direct fashion. Local best practices around sustainable building materials will always be a priority,” she says.

The dining area in a Canyons unit

Senior Living’s Social Spotlight

Another sector that melds the hospitality and residential worlds is the senior living space—a segment the pandemic certainly thrust into the design spotlight. “The pandemic has drawn attention not only to the number of people who live in these communities, but also to their mental and physical wellbeing and the need that most people have for love and social interaction,” says Joel Villalon, principal at San Francisco-based BraytonHughes Design Studios, whose firm has designed senior living facilities such as the Casa Dorinda in Santa Barbara, California. “This conversation hopefully helps create those opportunities in planning and design for social interaction in places where they may not currently exist.”

But, social interaction was one thing the pandemic suppressed. When Ben Kaiser, founding partner of Kaiser+Path, decided to take on architecture for senior living facilities, it was because his search for suitable living for his aging father came up short. He discovered that community spaces were often unlit and uninviting. Many units had washers and dryers, giving residents little reason to get out of their rooms. And when he and his locally based team thought about how to design for the 70-unit Canyons project in Portland, Oregon, it was clear the design needed to be people-centric to combat another epidemic—that of loneliness.

“People (in other facilities) were dying of loneliness because no one needed to leave their unit,” Kaiser says. “We wanted to give reasons for people to leave. We created a beautiful common laundry area tied to a café. We wanted to design spaces to break routines.” The unique apartment community—which is located in a decidedly urban, walkable neighborhood—also boasts an open-air marketplace. An alley that’s home to small restaurants, shops, and maker spaces, it offers yet another reason for residents to get out of their apartments and interact.

One of the team’s biggest challenges turned out to be its savior, Kaiser adds. The building features a five-story atrium that is open to the elements on both the north and south ends. Constructed with cross-laminated timber, Kaiser says a structure like this had never been built before in North America. And, because of the way it’s constructed, people are never in a space with a shared HVAC—a saving grace in a COVID world.

Health further plays a huge role in the biophilic nature of the architectural materials. “Wood surfaces support viruses much less than steel, for instance. Since wood was once a living organism, it breathes in and exhales moisture and helps to balance the human body better,” Kaiser says of the atrium and building, which showcases all-wood ceilings. “Combined with an open-air design, it’s an unbeatable combination. It makes you live a healthier life.”

Designers think that the senior living segment will continue to open up new and exciting opportunities. For those who currently work within the hospitality space and want to break into senior living, Villalon offers some advice: “If you aren’t a good listener, then become one. I ask myself, ‘If I was living here, what about the interior experience would bring me joy? What opportunities exist in almost any location in this building that might foster some sort of positive social interaction?’”

The public space hosts Gfell’s reception, a lounge, and breakfast hall

The Mental Wellness Mega-Trend

Not surprisingly, health and wellness—which was already a massive and growing trend in the hospitality industry—became a focal point amid the global pandemic. It was also not shocking, then, that many who still sought out travel last year did so for the purposes of honing in on their mental health and connecting to the outdoors. The Global Wellness Institute calls it the mental wellness mega-trend and prices the industry at $121 billion.

Enter the Gfell, a hotel located under a barn. Its roots are underground, yet it boasts a view that caters to travelers seeking an experience grounded in nature and wellness. Designed by noa* (Network of Architecture), the property is located in Italy’s Fiè allo Sciliar, a town in South Tyrol, and was extended by embedding it in the land, offering guests the feeling of being immersed in the spectacular surroundings.

“While onsite for the first time we noticed the natural morphology of the terrain. It was clear to us that it would be very challenging building something into such a steep slope but at the same time, we saw it as a unique opportunity,” says noa* partner, architect Andreas Profanter. “Not only is the orientation of the slope perfect because it makes for amazing views of the valley below, but it allowed us to integrate the rooms into the landscape in a very efficient way. While the public spaces are placed on the ground level, the rooms on the lower level can enjoy unobstructed views.”

While Profanter says the firm always tries to create connections between the indoors and outdoors, he adds that the pandemic amplified the need. “No one wants to have this feeling of being locked up in a room and not even having a visual connection to nature and the wide-open landscape surrounding a hotel,” he says. “This is why we always try to give nature the space it deserves. This means not only planting some trees but making the landscape an integral part of the hotel. You must be able to feel it, to touch it whenever you feel like it.” When designing the extension and preservation of the old barn on the site, the team opted for green roofs, a crucial element in blending the building with its location in the Dolomites. Careful planning of the green space and planting typical species created a feeling of being embedded in the countryside, no matter where guests are on the property. “When you approach Gfell the new rooms are not immediately visible, and that’s exactly what we wanted to achieve,” Profanter says. “By integrating them into the natural landscape they make room for the barn and that feeling of tradition that was important to us.”

This article originally appeared in Boutique Design’s Spring 2021 print issue.

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