By Denise Deveau
After months of isolation, lobbies have become more than just a place to check in and wait for rides. Whether travellers are there for business or pleasure — or both — lobbies are becoming a central hub for working, socializing, and wining and dining.
“People have had to spend almost two years alone in their basements, now they want to enjoy each other’s company,” says Marie Pier Germain, president Sales and Marketing for Germain Hotels. “Lobbies have become spaces where guests can feel welcome, grab a coffee, sit and have a chat, or do work.”
Lobbies are also being tailored to showcase the heart and soul of the locale. “Reflecting the neighbourhood within the lobby space makes the experience unique and more interesting,” says Germain. “It gives guests a flavour of what is happening around them.”
At the newest Alt Hotel Calgary University District, for example, the lobby has a touch of a university/library feel, and features Calgary memorabilia, such as a model rocket that pays homage to the ex-chancellor of the university who was an astronaut, a mural by local award-winning artist Cassie Suche, and artwork of children who have been patients at the nearby children’s hospital.
Seating and furnishings are eclectic to suit different activities. “Guests have developed a flexibility with their months of remote work, making impromptu workspaces in the lobby more of a trend,” says Germain.
The heartbeat of a city
The Sheraton Centre Toronto Hotel’s re-designed lobby has transformed into an extension of the customers and the neighbourhood it serves. “The lobby is the heart of the hotel,” says Allen Chan, founding partner, DesignAgency, who worked on the project. “Hotels are more than just making a great space to sleep. They are becoming a great place to socialize and work, and to generate revenues.”
“Prior to the renovation, we had a large, iconic lobby with the restaurant on one side, and a coffee bar on the other,” says Tim Reardon, general manager. “Last year we had an opportunity to activate the entire lobby space, while at the same time implement Sheraton’s new brand design as part of the company’s global transformation journey.”
The new and improved environment embodies a town-square atmosphere and serves as a community hub for both locals and guests. “We want everybody to enjoy the space by creating an intuitive, holistic experience,” says Reardon. “All the spaces connect so that visitors can be productive and feel part of a community at the same time. The whole area feels like one great town square you would find anywhere around the world.”
An important feature is the local art that starts at the motor court and carries through the lobby to tell the story of Toronto. These are in the form of custom-made art and installation pieces, including the show-stopping trillium mobile that cascades down the front of the escalators.
“Each piece is inspired by Toronto and created by Toronto artists,” says Reardon. A key piece is the dimensional ceramic wall installation in the reception area by local artist Julie Moon that emulates the flowing body of water Taddle Creek, which was once an Indigenous gathering place.
Two F&B outlets — Dual Citizen and 43 Down — serve as anchors for the space, offering endless flexibility, from grab-and-go style service to sit-down dinners and cocktails to meeting space for private events. “They are the heartbeat of the hotel,” says Reardon.
Seating runs the gamut from bistro tables to curved banquettes to communal tables. The old business centre has been replaced by multiple studios and soundproof booths on an elevated platform. A natural influence is provided by the rear garden and waterfall framed by a two-story window.
Beyond the aesthetics, there’s also the practical aspects in the new “work from anywhere” lifestyle. “Since it is a hotel focused on business travel and leisure, we wanted to make sure we checked all the boxes for that demographic. That means creating a space that is always plugged in and dialled in and always available for work and for play,” explains Chan.
Another key part of the Toronto scene is the interconnectivity, adds Chan. “The hotel is part of the PATH system that connects to the business core. People can come from anywhere in PATH work and use the lobby.”
On a completely different design note, the lobby space at MTN House By Basecamp in Canmore, Alta. is centred around a mountain retreat theme. The 99-room hotel features the design inspiration of Ed Tsang, now head senior interior designer for Basecamp Resorts.
He describes the concept as a retreat destination for outdoor enthusiasts, where the space offers an energizing, restorative, and memorable experience, while embracing a relaxed, rustic, and refined narrative.
“Our goal was to achieve the sense of a mountain escape and re-imagine the mountain chic experience that was both a luxury hotel, as well as playful and non-pretentious,” says Tsang. “The Canmore area is all about the outdoor experience, so we wanted to find ways to reflect that.”
Signature features include rough-sawn custom natural woodwork on the walls and ceilings, dark wainscotting, copper metals, natural stone, a 20-foot custom chandelier, and chic antler damask wall covering. Whimsical artworks by Canadian artists including Brandon Brown are inspired by the local mountain animals and landscapes.
The laptop-friendly furniture, lighting elements, and accessory elements reinforce the brand’s sustainable approach: they are all reclaimed items from thrift shops.
A large two-sided wood-burning fireplace is surrounded by comfy seating, complemented by vintage vases, accessories, and board games, where guests can relax with an espresso or cocktail from Rhythm & Howl, the hotel’s restaurant, bar, and café.
There are also some hidden surprises, such as an ice-fishing hut photo booth and a library space with hidden nooks for guests to work or chat with friends.
Having spent several years on hotel design projects, Tsang says, lobbies have undergone a transformation in recent years. “They are now about creating spaces where folks can be left alone or in groups uninterrupted and do their own thing.”
“Big empty lobbies with high ceilings won’t work anymore,” stresses Germain. “Lobbies now have a sense of purpose. That’s the experience people are looking for.”
Shelter for many
At the Ace Hotel in Toronto, the lobby is the heart of the building. It is a space that is meant to be treated as a living room by anyone passing through the hotel doors. Interactive elements, such as a communal worktable made by Shaun Moore of Made Design, and a DJ booth decorated in colourful concrete discs from Montreal studio Concrete Cat, are intended for the use and pleasure of all.
Tucked way on a quiet side road, it features oversized glass windows, filling the interiors with abundant natural light and offering onlookers welcoming views of the interior. A noteworthy feature is the three-story site-specific art installation called Horizon Line designed by A. Howard Sutcliffe and assembled by local firm Two Degrees North. This puzzle of weathered, stained and untreated plywood pieces abstractly portrays the waters of Lake Ontario.
In an area lacking shared spaces, Ace Toronto is a civic building, and its lobby is a shelter for many.