Brand standards may be the determining factor when it comes to certain aspects of hotel design, but, for many hotels, the guestroom is becoming a rich palette over which designers can spread their creative wings. Taking inspiration from the surrounding environment, designers are collaborating with local artisans — from woodworkers and millworkers to artists and photographers — to create a guest experience that reflects the heart and soul of their communities.
For example, the room designs at Toronto’s Gladstone Hotel have become a benchmark for creative output. Acquired by the Zeidler family eight years ago, the former hostelry was transformed into a veritable playground for creative spirits. Following an open call to artists, the hotel now boasts 37 different bedroom concepts, from neon and faux-fur trimmings to art nouveau and Victorian-inspired fixtures.
“We are always pushing the boundaries of culture, commerce and community,” says Jeremy Vandermeij, director of Marketing and Public Relations for The Gladstone Hotel. “What’s great is guests never get the same experience twice.”
Creativity may be at the heart of the room design, but standards had to be maintained, he notes. “We told every designer [a full-size] bed needed to fit in the room. Everything had to be durable and each design had to include some sort of writing surface or desk as well as a flat-screen TV.” Stain-resistant finishes also needed to pass the “red-wine test.” Vandermeij estimates each design should last between five to 10 years before a refresh is needed.
Beyond those requirements, the rooms became a blank canvas for the team of artists working under the guidance of project manager Suanne McGregor. “Everybody went crazy,” Vandermeij says. “Some rooms are complete Victorian replicas; others are super-minimalist-modernist. There are rooms within rooms and gorgeous materials you don’t normally see,” such as stamped tin ceilings, exposed wooden joists, engineered plywood, original wooden floors and mosaics.
The most popular rooms include the ‘Canadiana’ suite which is replete with high-end cottage kitsch, such as forest wallpaper, cedar siding and illuminated bookcase; and the ‘Offset’ room, where cantilevered furniture hangs from a skeletal structure made of wood beams. In the ‘Teen Queen’ room, loud pink and mauve colours adorn the walls, while the ‘Faux Naturelle’ room offers a rec-room vibe, with giant fur tapestries and Playboy comic reproductions.
At the Fairmont Pacific Rim in Vancouver, the natural backdrop for a spectacular bedroom design showcases a West Coast and Asian aesthetic. The 377-room property, designed by architect James Cheng, opened just in time for the 2010 Olympics.
“You get the sense when you’re in this hotel that you’re not just anywhere, you’re in Vancouver,” says Philip Barnes, GM, who describes the ambiance as “luxury with simplicity.” The guestrooms sport a combination of fabric, wood, marble and artwork that showcase West Coast nature in everything from the backlit forest pictures hanging over the bed to the wooden case goods.
Given the size and scope of the design project, it was paramount that guestroom choices were built to last. That meant classic styling, silver and soft colour palettes and signature wood accents. The rooms feature free-standing case goods instead of built-in items that extend along the lengths of the walls to take up as little floor space as possible.
B+H Chil Design in Vancouver was responsible for the interior design. According to senior associate Claudia Leccacorvi, “Every hotel we work on tries to create a sense of place,” she says. “In this case, it was all about clean lines and colours.”
Given its milieu, the team was focused on highlighting the great outdoors, she explains. “The architect designed it so the windows are enormous. The view is so spectacular, whether it’s a stormy day or a deep blue sky. It was wonderful to work with.”
What makes any luxury hotel shine and stand the test of time is the quality finishes and pristine tailoring, Leccacorvi contends. Textiles have to be resistant to wear-and-tear, and carpets need to be a minimum weight (36 ounces for the Fairmont), to maintain durability and acoustics; millwork and vinyl wall coverings also have to be finished to perfection. “With the right choices you can usually extend the life cycle [from] seven to 10 years,” she adds.
Classic styling may be everlasting, but the most extravagant room designs can be timeless. Montreal’s Hôtel Chez Swann, which opened in 2010, is housed in an old textile factory space, but its 23 guestrooms were inspired by French novelist Marcel Proust’s Du Côté de Chez Swann, (which translates to Swann’s Way).
Given the rooms range from 300 to 500 sq. ft., it was up to Mary Moegenburg, creative director at M2X, a Montreal-based design firm, to create something evocative, eccentric and spectacular that maximizes space.
Starting out with the simplicity of white walls and black flooring, Moegenburg adorned them with jewel-toned colours and fabrics. Green shag “grassy-knoll” throw rugs bring a touch of faux-nature, while LED lighting highlights the stairs coming into the room. Coffee tables are chunks of reclaimed tree-trunks, and exotic six-foot high plush headboards tower over raised beds. She then used theatrical red-velvet curtains to create spaces within spaces, by draping curtains over the glass walls of the floor-to-ceiling shower. “This wasn’t about making it a Proust hotel — it was about the idea of playing with sensory memory,” Moegenburg explains.
Local talent and manufacturing operations are the source of Chez Swann’s vast array of signature items, including 360 lb.-steel desks from Delta Furniture, wooden armoires from St-Ambroise furniture makers and lamps from recycled parts by Lampi Lampa. “Nothing is off the shelf,” Moegenburg boasts.
While the creative director’s mantra is to create a unique experience whatever the project, she acknowledges designers always have to take stock of today’s realities. “In this economy, you also need to know what the budget is and understand the clientele. That pretty much forms the backbone of how we design.”