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Comment: FK on designing hotels for the modern age and redefining their place within communities

Angela Biddle, Principal and interior designer at multi-disciplinary international design firm FK, comments on how hotel design is evolving.

Comment: FK on designing hotels for the modern age and redefining their place within communities

Hotel design in Australia has entered a new era of experience-driven narratives, waving goodbye to the days of generic rooms and amenities. Hotel guests of today are seeking experiences that align with their values and enable them to forge authentic local connections, and delivering these meaningful journeys requires unrelenting agility from designers.

Striking the right balance between creative vision and commercial viability is paramount to the success of hotels in Australia and globally, and it is through shared understandings of stakeholder goals and a deep interrogation of evolving consumer behaviours that the creation of truly memorable hospitality concepts by FK is made possible.

Balancing creativity and commercial goals

In my experience, the road to success begins at the drawing table with owner, designer and operator present. As designers, we work very closely with our clients to understand their aspirations for the property and desired brand positioning – aligning on a clear narrative which will serve as the foundation for all design decisions.

For example, the ambition for the refurbishment of the iconic Sofitel Sydney Wentworth was to broaden the guest profile beyond the business traveller or conference guest. This new guest would be an unapologetic hedonist looking for sophisticated and personal experiences. This guest is not defined by demographic, but by what they seek when they are staying. To address the various guest types, the design narrative of the hotel taps into the concept of modern heritage, capturing the jet set glamour of the 1960s when the hotel was first built, filtered through a Sydney-centric lens, with a design response that provides a range of spaces to work and play.

We can ensure great outcomes when all parties are on the same page from the outset. By fostering genuine collaborative relationships and encouraging open dialogues, maintaining this unified vision helps navigate the inevitable tensions or challenges that might arise throughout the project’s lifecycle.

Sofitel Sydney Wentworth.

Flexibility through innovative design and new technology

The rise of artificial intelligence, in lockstep with shifting consumer behaviours, has ushered in a new era of hotel design – one marked by a craving for flexibility and personalised experiences. We now need to be able to respond to the guests’ desires and anticipate what they will want in the future.

As we understand more about the capabilities of AI, successful hotels of the future will evolve to embrace its integration and provide enhanced personalisations with ease. As we can already see, AI-driven data can tailor experiences to an individual’s habits and tastes in real-time – from presenting opportunities for intelligent rooms that can automatically adjust temperature, lighting and amenities based on occupancy and activity patterns to the hotel system knowing your favourite aperitif when you sit down for dinner at the hotel restaurant.

Beyond new technology, designers are also responding more innovatively to the desire for flexibility, veering their focus towards the creation of multi-functional areas that can adapt to diverse needs and preferences in both private and public.

Guest rooms, for example, need to work hard to provide for activities like sleeping, lounging or work, so furnishings and joinery items must be capable of multi-tasking. A daybed will act as a dining and work zone, a place to lie back and watch television, a place to set down luggage, and a place for a child to sleep. Public spaces are becoming equally versatile, with these areas emboldened by an ability to transform from morning to night. A restaurant may need to spill into the lobby to accommodate a busy breakfast period, then contract during a quieter mid-morning period. In the evening, the same space could transform with lighting, music or rearrangement of furniture.

Related: InterContinental Sydney by Woods Bagot

Designing Hotels for the Modern Age
The Darling.

The evolution of the hotel as third space

Once formal reception areas, hotel lobbies have transformed into dynamic third spaces welcoming guests and locals alike. Similarly, hotel restaurants and bars are no longer just amenities. If designed strategically, they become coveted dining destinations within the broader community fabric.

With the 2023 annual revenue for cafes, restaurants and takeaway establishments across Australia reaching almost $64 billion, F&B can be a viable business for a hotel if it becomes a destination for local crowds and guests. Traditionally, hotel revenue comes mainly from the guestroom, amounting to almost 60-80 per cent of revenue. By crafting compelling, hyper-local concepts with an unmistakable and authentic sense of place, vibrant F&B venues can become another layer and touchpoint to reinforce a hotel’s design narrative, enhance the brand of the hotel, and drive additional revenue to take pressure off the guestrooms.

The Darling.

The arrival experience of a hotel is critical as it sets the tone for the brand, level of service and design as you move through the space. It becomes the first page of the narrative, a prologue to the story. As such, it needs to be impactful and emotive, to immediately connect with the guest. If a hotel is looking to activate the lobby, then as designers we need to create an environment where people feel welcome and comfortable to enter, sit and dwell. We must provide a range of seating configurations to address solo travellers seeking a space beyond their guestroom to do some work, alongside configurations to encourage gathering and socialisation.  

As hotels have focused on activating their lobbies, the bar has been prioritised as a focal point in the lobby, over the front desk. Designing the hotel bar to attract a local crowd will validate it as a coveted destination for the hotel guest. By contrast, the front desk can be tucked away, as hotel guests will seek it out.

As hotels strive to solidify themselves as anchors for community and culture rather than transient guest lodges, and achieve commercial success that stands the test of time, it is pertinent that designers approach all facets of the design with flexibility and authenticity in mind.

FK
fkaustralia.com

Designing Hotels for the Modern Age
The Darling.

More on hotels and luxury design with W Hotels Global VP

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