Hotel William Gray

In the last decade, the hotel lobby has transformed to become a centrepiece of the guest experience. “It was space that was underutilized in the past,” notes Dimitri Antonopoulos, VP of Restaurants and Development at Antonopoulos Group, whose portfolio of restaurants and boutique hotels in Old Montreal includes the recently opened Hotel William Gray. “You would put in a lounge, but [guests] didn’t really spend that much time there — it was more like a waiting area.”

Current trends have seen hotels taking greater advantage of this real estate, creating spaces that are more inviting and guest focused. Often living-room inspired, multi-functionality has also become a key focus of these spaces — a shift Antonopoulos attributes to the effects of global influence and the boutique-hotel movement. At Hotel William Gray, the lobby/living room is designed to feel like part of somebody’s home, complete with a home-bar-inspired craft-cocktail bar. The overall design is a combination of mid-century and contemporary influences, complementing the building’s architecture, which combines two historic buildings with a new glass tower.

“We [also] incorporated a café and a retail store into the lobby of the hotel,” notes Antonopoulos, a move he says brings local street life directly into the hotel. The property also delivers a taste of Montreal culture to its guests through a curated library featuring books on the city, as well as a vinyl listening station and a collection of albums from local artists.

“It’s important that the lobby and the bar are places that don’t feel closed off from the rest of the city and don’t feel like they’re just for hotel guests or just to do your check-in and check-out or wait for your cab,” says Antonopoulos. “It’s an extension of the [guestroom] and of the city, so it’s important that lobbies and bars are the kind of place that you want to go out to or spend time in.”

This sentiment is shared by Louise Dupont, partner at Montreal-based LemayMichaud Design and Architecture, who likens the ideal lobby atmosphere to that of a café, such as Starbucks, “where you can spend half a day working while sipping your one coffee and nobody would bother you. I would say that hotel lobbies are [moving] more towards taking advantage of this big space.”

Dupont’s firm is responsible for designing Groupe Germain’s design-forward Alt Hotel concept, including the brand’s most recent addition — Alt Hotel Ottawa. For this hotel, Dupont and her team used wood, warm colours and furniture with a residential feel to create a homey atmosphere. The approximately 50-seat space is also broken up into various zones and features a bar/cafe, as well as Wi-Fi and plenty of outlets, creating “many opportunities to stay in the lobby and enjoy the space.”

Since launching in 2007, the Alt brand has put a focus on creating lobby spaces that function as an extension of the guestroom. “The idea when we designed the original [location] was to create exciting spaces, [while] building smaller rooms and giving more to the common areas,” Dupont explains.

Even at luxury properties, hoteliers are seeing decreased interest in some of the more formal aspects of the upscale-hotel experience. Philipp Posch, GM of the new Trump International Hotel & Tower Vancouver is seeing the impact that today’s traveller is having on hotel-lobby design. “The younger generation, the millennials…are looking for big open public spaces with great Wi-Fi connection — places to network and socialize,” he says.

When designing the Trump Vancouver, a lot of thought was put into the functionality of its lobby. In fact, because of bylaws preventing drop-offs at the hotel’s main entrance on West Georgia St., the hotel essentially has two lobbies — the upper lobby/Champagne Lounge at the West Georgia entrance and the lower lobby and check-in area at the rear entrance. The spaces incorporate collections of intimate seating, allowing guests to have their own space within the larger social space. “It’s a great place to go on a date; it’s a great place to come for a business meeting; and there are areas where you can just come, hang out and socialize or people watch,” explains Posch.

The desire for functional spaces has not overshadowed the glamour of the luxury hotel experience, however. The lobby features several luxurious design elements including Blue Volga (a black and blue granite) floors, eucalyptus-wood accents, tiered ceilings, large artwork (including work by Vancouver-based artist Miriam Aroesta) and a $2-million staircase, which spans the lower lobby to the third floor.

“What we tried to do is have something that’s trendy, classy and sophisticated, with a kind of international flare,” says Posch. “We are the first luxury hotel that’s opened [in Vancouver] in six years, so we really wanted to bring a certain international vibe to the city.”

SCALING BACK
The team at Hager Design International Inc. in Vancouver is seeing the needs of individual travellers, as well as those of the younger cohort, having a significant impact on the design of these spaces. The result: compact tables and flexible seating areas are gaining in popularity. “Five years ago, nobody would have asked me to do a 20-in. table, but now we’re down to tiny tables — and as many of them as we can get in — in long stretches or scattered throughout the space,” explains Doris Hager, principle, Hager Design International Inc. “The living room has been done now for 15 years, but it is getting broken up into smaller pieces — it’s cohesive and kind of grand, but more flexible.” This style of design lies in stark contrast to grand and imposing lobbies of the not-so-distant past, though it is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Hager and her team recently completed the extensive renovation of The Hotel Saskatchewan ahead of the property’s rebranding as an Autograph Collection hotel last year. The hotel’s updated design retains a fairly traditional lobby, however, current trends still impacted the project. The lobby at The Hotel Saskatchewan now boasts a fresh colour palette, marbled flooring and rich, textural carpet featuring modern damask prints. The space also features mirrored elements and classically inspired furniture with modern finishes.

“We wanted to bring it into this century and not only appeal to the current customers, who are in their 50s to 80s; we wanted to start bringing in more of the mid-level executives — the 30 to 40 year olds — if possible,” says Hager. “We needed to modernize it, so we tried to create more of a transitional hotel, but still pay homage to the beautiful, historic features in the hotel, like the gilded mouldings and some of the detailing in the building itself.”

“With the lobby obviously being a place of arrival, we still really wanted to have a glamourous sense of space,” adds Hager Design senior designer Janine Anderson; noting that while the updated lobby remains quite traditional, the attached Circa 27 Lounge offers more of the features that appeal to today’s travellers. “We designed [the lounge] with a lot more tables — loose tables, tables that can be ganged together, more high-tops so singles could be on their laptops — and more outlet locations as well.” Overall, the lobby is a space which must convey the flavour of the hotel and make an impression on visitors. It’s not only the travellers’ first impression when arriving at the hotel, but their first impression when shopping for a hotel. “People are shopping for hotels like they shop for clothing or shoes,” explains Dupont. “They will go online and look at comments on TripAdvisor and photos on social media.”

“For boutique and destination hotels, the lobbies and bars are key factors that people are choosing a hotel for,” agrees Antonopoulos. “They want to spend time in the hotel; they’re not going to the hotel just to [sleep] there — it’s part of their experience in the city.”

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