Watch any movie from the ’80s and it’s easy to see how guestroom decor has evolved  oversized decorative headboards glimmering in gold or silver finishes, abstract pastel paintings, salmon-coloured bedding and the ever-popular wallpaper trim paint a picture of past trends that have fallen by the wayside. A guestroom may be 100 per cent functional with not a chip in the bedside table or a stain on the carpet, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t evolve with the times. In today’s competitive marketplace, contemporary design is key to customer satisfaction.

Toronto’s Chelsea Hotel recently completed a $30-million renovation with the consultation of WGD Architects to coincide with the property’s 40th anniversary. This included 750 guestrooms long overdue for a facelift. “The colour was really outdated, despite still being in good shape,” explains Ron Pellerine, GM. “The palette of furniture, carpets and walls was darker and more monotone. Since then we have redesigned the rooms entirely with much lighter, brighter colours.” The new look and feel is minimalist and modern as opposed to ornate and heavy-handed, with light grey curtains and pops of bold colour.

The key to the Chelsea’s makeover was its commitment to sustainable design. The team installed low-flow showerheads and toilets as well as energy-efficient lightbulbs. These small changes not only add up to big savings, but allow the hotel to market itself as certified through EarthCheck, an environmental-management program for the tourism industry.

Technological upgrades were also imperative. “When a guest comes with their own toys, we want them to be able to easily connect with all the equipment in the room,” says Pellerine. To integrate technology seamlessly into the room design, Toronto-based WGD Architects fashioned night stands and desk lamps with easy-to-access USB ports and regular electrical outlets. The Wi-Fi signal was also improved to accommodate several guests streaming or downloading simultaneously.

Meanwhile, the Travelodge Edmonton West is halfway through a substantive renovation to its two towers, scheduled to be completed in 2016. Saskatoon-based Airline Hotels acquired the property in 2013 and noted that the entire building required a complete overhaul. “Everything needed redoing, from the electrical, water and heating infrastructure to the lighting, artwork and furniture,” says Jaret Waddell, COO. “We also had a diary of the renovation history from the previous owners and it was very outdated. There was excessive wear to the carpet and on the walls, separation of laminate on case goods, sun damage to the drapery — even the beds had lost their structure.” The design desperately needed an update, too. “Of course, there were a lot of colours from the ’90s that you see,” laughs Waddell. “A lot of creams and lighter salmon pastels woven into light blue hues.”

The most significant funds were spent on plumbing, electrical and heating, before being allocated to room decor, which added earthier tones and a dark blue accent wall with hints of grey to bedrooms. “It doesn’t matter what you do to the room cosmetically if it doesn’t function well,” he sums up.

When it comes to identifying design trends, Waddell remains cautious. “You have to keep your future customer in mind at all times,” he explains. “For example, a lot of hotels are converting their bathrooms to simply accommodate a walk-in, glass shower. But that doesn’t work for every demographic.” That’s why Airline chose to keep the bathtubs to cater to families with young children.

Outdated, bulky TVs were replaced with flat-screens (typically in the 32- to 40-inch range), all with high-definition capacity. Headboards were also outfitted with USB and power outlets to accommodate mobile devices, and Internet bandwidth was maximized so that guests can operate devices efficiently and simultaneously.

Since most of the units are fairly small — 200 to 220 square feet — instead of expanding the room’s square footage, the designers opted to remove the closet and let guests hang their clothes from a wall-hanging unit instead. “It’s amazing when you walk in because you just get this whole new feeling of spaciousness,” he explains.

Brian McGuinness, global brand leader of Specialty Select Brands (including Aloft, Element and Four Points by Sheraton) for Starwood Hotels & Resorts, employs various strategies to stay one step ahead of the customer when it comes to guestroom innovations. “We want our rooms to include unique features and amenities, even before guests expect it,” he says. Noting that today’s guests are both “hyper-connected and hyper-communal,” McGuinness wants Starwood’s hotels to be “future-proof.”

For inspiration, the Starwood team watched The Jetsons or Spike Jonze’s Her, which have translated to futuristic amenities in the guestrooms. For example, guests at Aloft will soon be able to control their coffee makers and the AC from their beds using their smartphones. At the Element, guests can program lighting features that mimic sunrise and sunset from their smartphones to help reset their circadian rhythms. They are also piloting the idea of having two TVs in the room side by side so guests can keep track of two sports games simultaneously.

Looking towards the future, McGuinness notes that the company has also begun testing Smart Mirrors that act as both a traditional mirror and a touch tablet at Four Points by Sheraton; as well as Smart Carpets, which can sense when a guest falls inside their guestroom and sends an alert to the front desk at select Element hotels.

The smart, responsive hotel room is driven by society’s ongoing obsession with customization and digitization and is simply a natural evolution of the hotel industry. McGuinness explains that this trend has everything to do with developments in the world of artificial intelligence. “The same way we ‘talk’ to Mac’s Siri, we will soon be able to ‘talk’ to our hotel rooms. But while technology will change and the way we control our stays will shift, some things will never change: the human touch.”

Written By: Jennifer Febbraro

Volume 27, Number 6


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