Does your hotel’s furniture sit well with today’s guests?
Kyle Phillips has seen a lot of hotel furniture. As a sales director with a Toronto-based software company, he’s on the road — and in the air — a lot, averaging approximately 100,000 km a year. In between sales calls and conferences, he stays at mid-range hotels, choosing locations based on photos of the property’s decor and furniture instead of remaining loyal to a particular brand. He doesn’t stop there, either. He’ll assess a hotel’s furniture and design after he’s arrived, letting both factors play into his decision to return. “It’s an indicator of the overall quality or comfort level,” says the sales director.
For Phillips, it’s less about looking for the specific trends or brand names he likes at home and more about noticing furniture and décor that looks worn and dated. He won’t even tell the front desk he’s unhappy — he just won’t go back.
Decor plays a big part in the guest’s first impression. Furniture is one of the largest components of any hotel’s interior design, so making the right selection drives loyalty among people like Phillips.
“Guests always walk into a hotel with an expectation,” says Bonnie Strome, executive assistant manager of Rooms at the Park Hyatt Toronto. “When they see there’s a crisp, updated look, it doesn’t matter if it’s their design style or not. As long as they see there’s a design to it, and it’s crisp and fresh, it speaks to them.”
The Park Hyatt Toronto replaces its furniture every five to six years — especially the pieces with upholstery that show wear and tear. And, recently, the hotel’s public areas were outfitted with new furnishings, as part of a $1-million remodel. Currently, the guestrooms are being redesigned as well; a typical guestroom renovation at the hotel, Strome says, costs $35,000 to $40,000 per room with furniture replacement being one component of that price.
It’s an investment that’s paying off. Having furniture that’s new and design-savvy is vital. “People are well-travelled. They may stay at another hotel in another city that’s brand new [and compare],” Strome says. “And everyone’s very familiar with home design, because it’s available through TV, online, magazines — everyone knows what a luxury home looks like, what a luxury hotel looks like, and they have that expectation.”
Does that mean hotel guests expect the same design trends they enjoy at home or see in the media? The short answer is yes, according to Dennis McCarty, vice-president of Design and Construction with InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG). Furniture design is important at IHG and following trends is part of that. “Hospitality is driven by the residential market and the fashion industry,” McCarty says. “In our industry, one has to stay educated about the global trends driving the way we think and live.” Right now, the biggest trend continues to be contemporary-sleek design, with a continued concern for sustainability.
Hotel designers are also moving away from matching furniture sets, says interior designer Glenn Pushelberg, whose firm — Yabu Pushelberg — created the interiors at The Hazelton Hotel in Toronto. “You mix furniture rather than having sets,” he says, adding the trend lends itself to a more personal space that’s less generic.
Trends aren’t only apparent inside, either. According to Strome, bringing the inside out to create a continuous design is also popular. At the Park Hyatt Toronto, an outdoor terrace on the 18th floor is open to the elements; the space is equipped with heaters 12 months of the year. “So the furniture has to be weather-resistant,” adds Strome. Pillows and blankets that can be taken indoors when not in use keep the space comfortable and cosy.
What isn’t as important in hotel spaces, McCarty says, are brand names. Guests aren’t looking for the designer labels they have at home. Even the textiles are chosen with different priorities in mind: durability is just as important as design. “The hospitality industry has a defined market, and the products are commercial quality, not residential grade,” he says.
There’s another trick to following trends, Strome says. The furniture has to last until the next redesign, so it should be more classic than fad-inspired. For instance, grey has been popular for the last year and a half; Strome feels safe following the grey colour trend because it’s neutral. If she were to choose the Pantone 2012 colour of the year — a bright orange called TangerineTango — her design might not have the same staying power.
Irwin Prince, president and COO of Canadian-based Realstar Hospitality, which owns the master franchise rights to Days Inn and the Motel 6 brand across Canada, agrees. He’s currently rolling out a new guestroom design, including a new furniture package, in Motel 6 hotels across the country. While Prince wants the new furniture to be design-savvy; he also needs it to stay fresh and contemporary for seven to 10 years before the next redesign. “We’re looking at a colour palette that isn’t going to date itself. So we’re not taking an extreme colour palette of primary colours, but at the same time we’re not going to floral patterns — things that become more of a fad than a trend,” Prince says. “We can alter the tone of the room with a paint colour, so the colour of the furniture, the colour of the case goods will last. If we modify the paint colour, it will freshen up the look.”
And, there’s one final furniture consideration: sourcing. Price is important at Motel 6 and furniture costs for the new redesign are estimated at $4,000 (with freight and taxes) per standard guestroom. Prince and his team look to vendors that can provide furniture at the best overall cost, considering quality, the service and warranty coverage. Typically for Motel 6, that means most of the material comes from the U.S. or Canada. “We’ve got some great manufacturers that do a terrific job of providing everything we need in a timely manner,” says the COO.
Prince himself doesn’t source overseas often, but some hotel operators find it a more economical option. “I don’t recommend buying everything in China, but there are specific commodities that can be purchased [there],” says Yanick Tremblay, president of YK Purchasing Group, a Quebec-based procurement company. He buys lamps in China, for example, but prefers to work with local companies for soft seating and mattresses.
It may not be something that a guest such as veteran traveller Phillips notices, but for Prince it’s part of making a lasting first impression. “We’re in a very competitive market,” he says. “When a guest walks into a room, they have an expectation.”