This is the third in a four-part series of articles exploring the similarities and differences between the design, experience and operations of small, boutique hotels and large-scale resorts. Read the first part here and the second part here.
When I was first asked to write this article on trends in boutique hotel design for 2013, I had an almost instant reaction that to do so would be to endorse an oxymoron. On top of that, “Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future,” as Danish Physicist Niels Bohr once said. Boutique hotels are by nature distinctively different, independent and unique in design. That is why we think of them as boutique. They do not necessarily defy a particular trend but challenge the idea of trend in hotel design in general.
My experience leading a recent boutique renovation reinforced that concept. When forming the design, our team reviewed and visited a number of successful boutique hotels. Many of them, particularly those in buildings that have undergone adaptive reuse, draw their uniqueness, brand character and guest experience from the place and underlying building fabric in which they are located. The neighborhoods, civic realities and historical context are all highly influential in the design themes of many boutique hotels thereby making them one-of-a-kind, memorable experiences that are targeted at a specific kind of audience.
By nature, this drive to uniqueness is quite different from a traditional luxury hotel where the design is aspirational for a wide audience. The boutique is there to target guests looking for an enhanced experience of meaning to add to their lives, such as a focus on art, food or any number of cultural interests.
That thought led me to the realization that there are, in fact, some commonalities in both the motivations and the actualizations of boutique hotels. In 2013, these will become more prominent even as owners and operators look to push away from the mainstream and differentiate themselves even further.
Individualism and rebellion are common themes in fashion, media and entertainment and have begun to surface in boutique hotel design because of its natural inclination toward those attributes. Elements of quirkiness will be found in odd pairings that use traditional materials in new ways. One-of-a-kind light fixtures, tables, chairs and desks can be part and parcel of the design, creating an aesthetic that is at once in conflict and harmony.
My colleague Donna Lisle, a senior associate at BLT Architects, said surprises that provide local flair provide a particularly engaging experience. “Locally made artwork, furniture and other assets can also add to the quirkiness of a space with design experiments that can be memorable for guests if they succeed or easily removed and replaced if they are not.”
Active social spaces
Many boutiques are designing or renovating to incorporate alternative social spaces, including media lounges, bars, restaurants, decks and sitting rooms. The intention in many cases is to generate additional non-guest revenue, increase guest revenue, contribute to the community landscape and create memorable social experiences to complement a distinctive hotel experience. While many hotels have brought design elements from the outside in, now they are focused on bringing people from the outside in.
The challenge of this trend is that while public spaces and meeting rooms used to be focused primarily on the guest or event planner with competition primarily from other hotels, broader-use spaces are now focused on guests and residents alike with competition from restaurants, bars, coffee shops and entertainment venues. This requires that owners and operators push the boundaries of design to differentiate in a very crowded landscape without betraying the overall theme of the building. At the same time, the spaces must be flexible enough to work throughout the day and night hosting events as diverse as a book signing, small music performance, billiards tournament, doggy happy hour or a drag show.
Boutique hotels used to draw their design themes primarily from history, the arts or some other external inspiration. In 2013, personal design aesthetics will play a bigger role. This is due to the global trends of increased design accessibility, empowerment of individuals to express themselves through design and the proliferation of do-it-yourself design education in the mainstream media.
Two personas will dominate: the dreamer owners and the influencer guests. Many new boutique hotel owners have gotten into the business in recent years to fulfill a lifelong dream. They have a very clear idea of what they want from their property and how their vision should be brought to life. Personal taste plays a big role, but owners should be aware that budgets and market realities cannot be avoided, and they need to allow some flexibility in their dream to accommodate the expertise of the architect.
Influencer guests are equally disruptive in hotel design. Some hotel owners have turned to them for design themes, asking who the targeted audience is; what do they want or expect from their experience; what will make them loyal; and what will compel them to become an advocate for the hotel in their social circles or on social media. In this case, it is critical that owners and operators work with their architects to find balance between designing for a niche audience and making the space accessible for a broader base of guests that aspire to be similar to the niche.
2013 and beyond
Boutique hotels should never rely on or draw from mainstream design trends. They should not choose natural colors that are earth tones just because that is what the chains are doing. It would be a disservice to bring in a living wall to compete with the hotel down the street that has one. However, in being different, boutiques should identify the driving forces and social changes that will make them more successful in their natural urge to be unique.
Michael Prifti is an architect of significant diversity with architectural experience in new construction and adaptive re-use projects for institutional and development clients, with single-purpose and mixed-use programs. Michael and BLTa recently completed the Revel Resort and Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Mr. Prifti received a number of honors and awards, including the Thomas Ustick Walter Award in 2010, the College of Fellows of the American Institute of Architects in 2005, Architect of the Year from the Coalition of Commercial Real Estate Association in 2004 and 1999, and the Richard Upjohn Fellowship from the American Institute of Architects in 2002. Find more information at www.blta.com
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