Upon entering the Easy Rider suite at the Retro Suites hotel in Chatham, Ont., guests are greeted with a 1910 Hudson motorcycle suspended from the ceiling, while inside the bathroom, a giant Harley Davidson logo frames the sink. It’s just one of 34 themed suites on offer inside the restored historic hotel. Ranging from urban chic, coastal charm, earthy cowboy, or even funky rock ‘n roll, it’s all about offering a one-of-a-kind hotel experience.

Across the country at the Opus Hotel Vancouver, an online ‘Lifestyle Concierge’ suggests guestrooms based on five different personality types; 11 distinct designs match each guest’s personal taste. The walls might range from cool blues or gentle earth tones to glitzy red or orange hues; the furnishings and fabrics span sleek minimalist to eclectic modern. The artwork might be colourful anime or soft nature prints.

What these two very different hotels have in common is using decor and ambiance to personalize the guest experience. And while branding and loyalty programs may bring many guests back to familiar lodging favourites, there is a growing number of customers equally interested in design.

“I think people are fed up with copy-and-paste hotel decor,” says Louise Dupont, senior interior design partner with LemayMichaud Architecture Design in Montreal, who is revamping the Le Germain Hotel Toronto, slated to be completed in the spring. She has also designed properties in the Alt portfolio. “Today’s guests are searching online for hotels that understand their needs,” she says.

Beyond a comfortable bed and chic surroundings, co-president Christiane Germain has described her design aspiration as ‘enveloppante,’ meaning a comforting, cocooned environment — one that, as Dupont suggests, responds to the needs of the guest.

Designing for these needs might mean reconfiguring a classic room. For example, some business travellers prefer not to work facing a wall. “Their laptops are portable, so the desk should be too,” she says. They can connect devices to the wall-mounted TV screen to use the TV as their screen, enabling them to work from the bed with a glass of wine. The desk might be a spacious table that could also double as an eating space.

Julie Frank, global director of Design for Le Méridien Hotels, echoes this need for versatility. “We advocate for the high (or standing) desk, as it gives our creative-minded traveller the flexibility of the architect’s drawing table, being able to sit in a tall chair or stand,” she says.

Removing a large piece of furniture from the room creates a sense of openness, even in a smaller footprint. For example, in place of a space-hogging closet and dresser, Alt features a luggage rest in combination with hangers above and a drawer beneath, placed near the bathroom for convenience.

At the Element Vancouver Metrotown, room sizes are slightly smaller. Aside from the king bed and kitchenette, the rooms are minimalist in nature, allowing space for socializing or activities such as yoga or Tai Chi. “The kitchenette helps them eat a little healthier on the road, instead of depending on restaurants all the time,” says general manager, Paul Gallop. “We’re finding guests are looking for space centred around health and wellness.”

Dupont’s latest project is redesigning the guestrooms at the Le Germain Hotel Toronto, first opened in 2003. She found that regulars didn’t want a drastic change, so she added simple, luxurious elements such as a high-end Raindance shower system by German manufacturer Hansgrohe and a lighted make-up mirror. LED strip lights provide general lighting on walls and new decorative LED light fixtures brighten the space. She included a chic, comfortable chair and ottoman positioned next to electrical outlets, a popular addition.

In fact, outlets are gaining a reputation as a must-have amenity. Gulliver, The Economist’s intrepid business travel columnist, has declared 2015 The Year of the Plug. “This may not seem earth-shattering. But given how inseparable we now are from our gadgets, having somewhere to plug in our tablets and the like is an easy and effective way to please customers.”

Some hotels have purchased bedside lamps with built-in plugs, and high-tech touches such as a recharging surface on the bedside table can eliminate the need for extensive rewiring and provide power where it’s most needed.

Technology seems to be driving furniture changes in hotel lobbies at Le Méridien. “We view our Hub, our brand’s modern take on the staid hotel lobby, as a place for people to connect with one another, exchange ideas and enjoy morning coffee or aperitifs in the evening,” says Frank. “As people begin to travel more for work or work remotely, the public space of a hotel becomes the focal point of the guest experience.”

The Hub typically has three areas: a large table where groups gather; sections of furniture where people can hang out together and interact; and more intimate, coffeehouse-style seating. To achieve this, the furniture might be high tables and counter- height chairs, or relaxed lounge and accent chairs offset against (mid-century at times) inspired sofas.
In the lobby of Element are high-top, multi-use tables with outlets. “Often several guests will be working at these, and connecting with others doing the same,” says Gallop. “They’re stuck in front of a laptop for many hours but our guests come down to public areas, bringing their work with them. Here, they can chat with others and enjoy a glass of wine.”

Hotels are expected to be all things to all people, but as guests’ needs change, hotels must respond. “We’ve always gone through design trends like classic, modern, retro — like fashions for clothing — but from now on, technology will drive these,” says Gallop. “We will see designs in the future that allow operators to personalize even more.”

Written By: Liz Campbell

Volume 27, Number 8

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