Once the greenlight was given, all businesses looked to re-open as quickly as possible after the lockdown. This has resulted in countless slapdash efforts for achieving the minimum of viral-safety compliance, with most structural upgrades meant only as temporary installations — and most of them garish at that. As is becoming increasingly apparent, though, COVID-19 is here to stay and so too are the new measures that have been put in place.

The problem is most, if not all, of the provisional objects and signage implemented in the wake of the pandemic look unattractive in well-designed indoor hotel spaces. While all is well and good during patio season, as most customers will remain outside, in the age of COVID-19 our current lobbies and public interiors don’t create environments people actually want to spend time in. Come autumn and winter, this can mean decreased F&B revenues and lower overall guest satisfaction as all visitors won’t feel warm and cozy amidst so much gaudy viral-safety mania.

You don’t want your lobby or restaurants to look abandoned as a result of people not lingering about; you want to facilitate lively atmospheres customers are attracted to. This requires some creativity from seasoned interior-designers who can find opportunities within the adversity arising from COVID-19.

Danny SC Tseng, the Development director at Toronto-based bespoke architecture and interior design firm Syllable, has been working overtime since March to help clients address viral-safety obligations while also making spaces palatable to the passerby. A trained architect himself, Tseng offers the following four trends to consider when upgrading a hotel’s interior with permanent structures that are engaging, as well as COVID-19 compliant.

By re-framing hygiene as an experience, there’s an opportunity to elevate the mere act of sanitization. Consider the automatic hand-sanitizing dispensers placed near the entrance for visitors to disinfect their hands, whereby the perfunctory act of administering rubbing alcohol can be re-branded as a ritualistic experience, which also informs visitors they’re entering a safe and rejuvenating space.

Designed to resemble spa counters, ‘Cleansing Bars’ can be placed near high-traffic areas to promote cleanliness. Within the suites themselves, UV-sterilizer cabinets for disinfecting keys and wallets can be intentionally built within closets as a design feature to offer guests greater peace of mind. Furthermore, essential oils, such as tea-tree oil, are effective as anti-bacterial and anti-viral agents. Since scent is more closely tied to memory than any of the five senses, hotels can produce their own essential-oil blends to take advantage of this olfactory connection to link the scent to the guest’s memory of staying at the hotel.

Viruses can transfer through contact with exposed surfaces, making high-contact objects and areas dangerous. Hotels can incorporate materials that inherently eliminate germs in high-traffic areas prone to exposure. COVID-19 has been noted to survive for up to three days on plastic and stainless-steel surfaces, while dying within four hours on copper and its alloys, such as brass or bronze. Cork is another anti-bacterial material used as a material finish. Additionally, scientists are exploring biomimicry to create altered textures that can be etched on surfaces and help keep contaminates at bay, similar to the epithelial qualities of cicada wings and lotus leaves.

Screens have been used for centuries as a design feature to define spaces and create privacy. Generic clear Plexiglas as a viral barrier can make visitors feel as if they’re visiting an inmate in prison. Hotels should therefore consider layering decorative screens with Plexiglas as a graphic-design component to visually elevate larger open spaces and create pockets of privacy between patrons. Decorative architectural panels can also help dictate movement to help manage guest-traffic flow. Additionally, inlays within each screen can house wayfinding signage or even sponsored advertisements, acting as both a protective shield and billboard.

There’s still an untapped opportunity for hotels to create a branded, and thus emotionally impactful, experience using signage and wayfinding elements. In addition to helping people navigate, wayfinding visuals can incorporate uplifting messages that align with the brand’s values.

Signage can be crafted to express the brand’s personality through colours and designs that complement a space, while engaging with visitors – perhaps using such playful messaging as, ‘No Mask, No Service’ or ‘Mask on for the Masquerade.’ Friendly and fun, these taglines help guide the visitor’s journey and communicate we’re all still human. As another example, instead of writing, ‘Keep six feet apart,’ use the cheeky phrase, ‘Please admire fellow patrons from afar.’ ◆


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