Lobbies were once designed as functional enclaves where little happened beyond check-ins, checkouts and the occasional ad hoc gathering en route to another destination.

“For many years, lobbies were nice sitting places where people could hang out, but not much else,” says Louise Dupont, partner with Montreal-based LEMAYMICHAUD Architecture Design, whose recent work includes the renovation of Le Germain Hotel Montreal. “They were beautiful spaces, but hermetic and closed to the public.”

Today, designers are creating vibrant, open spaces teeming with activity — incorporating everything from food-and-beverage to office services and even libraries — as more hotels look to create welcoming, lively atmospheres for guests and locals alike

There’s also a business case to be made for this new approach, says Amy Hulbert, vice-president of Boutique and Upscale Brands for Best Western Hotels & Resorts in Phoenix, who leads the design of its GL brand. “The developers we work with today are looking to make the most of the real estate and not waste [money] on spaces that are sitting empty for periods of time.”

Here’s a look at how some of the latest innovations are turning lobbies into engaging — and profitable — meccas of activity.

When Le Germain Hotel Montreal opened in 1995, the lobby design was more introverted and extremely cocoon-like, with a fireplace and luxurious furnishings, Dupont says.

When it came time to renovate, the architects and designers drew inspiration from when the building was constructed for Expo 67 — a watershed year for the province that drove unprecedented innovation in art, design, architecture and music. “We didn’t want to do something tacky or repeat the past,” Dupont explains. “We wanted to celebrate what was great in that era without mimicking it.”

The new lobby boasts a lighter, fresher look and feel. Floor-to-ceiling windows offer a view of the city, while drawing passersby to the lobby bar and restaurant on the upper level. The façade was also expanded and now spills out into a street-facing covered terrace.

The original central staircase was moved to create more space and a more communal flow. “You can see the bar on one side and the front desk on the other. It all connects,” says Dupont.

The ground floor features a variety of materials that help amplify the existing space, says Zébulon Perron, founder of Montreal-based interior-design firm Atelier Zébulon Perron. “One challenge we had is the ceilings were very low. We put a lot of emphasis on them by playing with textures, including rich, dark wood, glimpses of the original concrete and shiny, light-covered velvet.”

“We were careful to not just make a pastiche or caricature of Expo 67,” he says. “It was about the spirit of the time — with winks and references. You can see our own contemporary version of 1967 in the use of chrome-tubing furniture, glass and marble.” Custom lighting from Lambert & Fils and electroplated copper trim also add glimmer and bling.

An important part of the design process was maintaining the elegance of the Le Germain brand. “It was all about getting the alchemy right when playing things off each other.”

Instead of cityscapes and bling, the Inn at Laurel Point’s newly refurbished lobby strikes a more classic note, says general manager Ian Powell. “We wanted to make it more functional for what guests need today by balancing function and form.”

The old lobby from the 1970s was small, with dark wood and brown oblong-tile floors and had a ramp that no longer served a useful purpose. “Before we had a check-in place and a seating area where you might see two people at most. It had no purpose other than to get guests in and out.”

The newly expanded space features wall-sized windows with a panoramic view of the peninsula. “We’ve made it a viewing platform and place to be. We thought, why not take advantage of [the surrounding]?” Powell explains.

The lobby was also raised 15 inches to eliminate the need for steps and create a better flow.

The new design features a lot of wood to reflect its natural surroundings, Powell adds. “It’s not trendy or surprising — that’s not the purpose. We didn’t want our lobby to compete with the outside. We let the outside world be our palette.”

A grab-and-go section serviced from the main-floor kitchen was added, which allows restocking to be done behind the scenes. Also new is the Live-Inn room, where guests can grab a coffee and enjoy the scenery.

Another key feature is the new fireplace. “We’re in Victoria, so it can be overcast for several months,” says Powell. “Having a fire going gives some lovely ambiance.

GLO Kanata Ottawa West
At this newest Best Western boutique concept, fun and uplifting are defining themes. Hulbert describes the decor as “hip enough to be fun and interesting [without excluding] any age group.”

The lobby area features stylish tables and chairs, backlit surfaces and a sundries area selling an expanded lineup that includes beer and wine. “Everything is signature, including a communal table and business bar that lights up,” she says.

Its blue and yellow signature colours are pervasive, from the backlighting to the light fixtures and furniture. A striking feature is the brand’s “Lite-Brite” wall behind the desk, which features cheerful circles of yellow and blue lights. The check-in desk has an acrylic finish in a pattern of small bubbles and gives the impression of being backlit. Completing the ambiance is a large cluster of brightly coloured light fixtures overhead.

“We want to showcase the whole glowing concept, hence the name,” Hulbert explains. Another lighthearted element is regionalized cartoon artwork within the space.

A few traditional elements have been kept — albeit with a twist, she adds. One example is the custom-designed blue and dark-brown Borne banquette sofas. “These gracious hospitality pieces were developed for a reason. We love leveraging what happened in the past and making it future ready.”

Written by Denise Deveau


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