Hotel design puts spotlight on public spaces, lobbies
Hotel design puts spotlight on public spaces, lobbies
04 NOVEMBER 2016 7:26 AM

Incorporating art and sculpture into hotel design can bring guests together and connect with the local culture and scene.

As trends, technology and the needs and expectations of guests change, the hotel industry also must adapt.

How has hotel design evolved in the past few years? One of the main things we are seeing is the elevated importance of the lobby and public spaces as focal points of hotel architecture and design.

For today’s instant-gratification generations who want to be wired in 24/7, we have adapted our lobbies—which before were stopping points on the way to guestrooms—to be highly interactive social areas for the complete eat/work/play experience. This is now the space for collaboration, social networking and work away from the office.

One example of a hotel adapting to the changing needs of lobby design is the Envoy Hotel in Boston’s Innovation neighborhood.

Making connections, creating attachment
The Envoy’s lobby design centers on a front desk and communal table that are free flowing, sculptural forms acting as both functional and artistic expression pieces. Also in the lobby is a live light wall that includes 1,000 LED lights, with colors and patterns that can be changed to suit the mood of the season or set to mirror the movements of guests milling about the lobby.

This communal table is central to the lobby design of the Envoy Hotel in Boston’s Innovation neighborhood. (Photo: Envoy Hotel)

At the Envoy, the traditional billiard table has been repurposed to connect guests through technology. The table itself is an interactive touch screen, on which guests can play games and go online.

Guests also have a strong desire to connect with and have an emotional attachment to the properties where they stay. That means they are more focused on staying at a hotel that provides them with a personal experience.

To accommodate these needs, we are customizing properties to give guests a unique experience that reflects both the brand and the hotel’s geographic location. Art, sculpture and sometimes historic/reused artifacts play vital roles as key architecture and design elements to enliven the lobby and public areas.

The curated artwork at the Envoy evokes the hotel’s mission to be “exactly like nothing else.” Each piece was carefully selected to bring a sense of discovery for guests.

Cultural immersion
The Residence Inn by Marriott Boston Downtown/Seaport is another prime example of a hotel using art and reused historic pieces to enhance its interior design and architecture, and most importantly, to immerse travelers in its cultural surroundings.

This six-story hotel is located on Congress Street in Boston’s thriving Fort Point Channel Landmark district, and was originally developed in 1901 by the Boston Wharf Company as the Stillings Building.

One of many adaptive reuse projects in the neighborhood, the property was transformed from a turn-of-the-century warehouse building into a hotel with 120 extended-stay guestrooms. The goal of this historical renovation was to emphasize the industrial character of the building while accommodating the comforts and needs of the modern traveler.

We used a mixture of the structure’s original historic artifacts, along with commissioned artwork in the public areas. An integral part of the design were the original, six-foot round boiler doors—dating back to 1901—which were repurposed as the focal point in the lobby dining area. In the meeting room, a wall-covering mural featuring Stillings Building vintage photography is showcased alongside commissioned art inspired by the Congress Street Grounds baseball field.

Curated artwork and photography by local artists featuring Boston landmarks are displayed throughout the hotel lobby and public areas, allowing guests to revel in the history of Boston as it is now and transporting them back to the Boston of more than a century ago. As part of the architectural touches, exposed brick and post-and-beam construction illuminate the building’s rustic and industrial character.

Evolution of design
The Residence Inn Fenway-Boston—an eight-story, extended-stay hotel located near Fenway Park and Kenmore Square—is another property using art and the architectural creation of viewing spaces to showcase the city and create a rich cultural experience for guests.

This Marriott hotel features an expansive rooftop terrace space with partial views of Fenway Park and the city’s iconic CITGO sign, a landmark of the Boston skyline since 1940.

In the fitness center, a large wall-covering mural showcases hundreds of runners participating in the historic Boston Marathon (the last leg of the 26.2-mile route takes place less than half a mile from the hotel).

Overall, we are on the threshold of another evolution in hospitality design. Art, sculpture and the reuse of historical artifacts play a huge role in offering guests a personal experience and connection with hotel brands. By creating viewing areas and architectural elements to frame this art, we are immersing travelers in their cultural surroundings by giving them a hotel with a personality. And that celebrates its place in the world.

Art is no longer just a pretty piece on the wall.

Harry Wheeler AIA, NCARB, LEED is a principal at Group One Partners, Inc., an award-winning hospitality design firm based in Boston that specializes in architectural, interior design, and purchasing services for hospitality properties. Wheeler is a registered architect in 10 states and a member of numerous architectural, lodging, and marketing associations. For more information visit or email Wheeler

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