Experts get creative with social-distanced hotel design
Experts get creative with social-distanced hotel design
01 OCTOBER 2020 7:29 AM

The addition of high-back chairs and the removal of guestroom extras, such as decorative pillows, have allowed hotel designers to design with social distancing in mind while preserving a feeling of comfort.

REPORT FROM THE U.S.—The pandemic has led to the need for social-distanced spaces in hotels, and designers and brand executives have found creative ways to do so while still maintaining a welcoming feel, sources said.

Suzie Hall, president of design firm The Cornerstone Collective, said she’s been working mostly on hotel renovations throughout the pandemic and has worked through requests from owners for social-distanced furniture, fixtures and equipment layouts in public spaces.

“We've designed those so that the six-foot circle and the circulation paths and the orientation of the furniture to each other are all CDC compliant, that they're really clearly delineated for the owner so they can see it in their mind as to how it actually will be (in the hotel),” she said.

Janis Cannon, SVP of upscale brands at Choice Hotels International, said via email that guests are looking for social cues when walking into a hotel to ensure it is clean, sanitized and up to CDC standards.

“Guests are also looking for an opportunity and an environment to relax and recharge in areas across the hotel, both indoor and outdoor, where they can socially distance,” she said. “As part of Choice’s Commitment to Clean initiative, we’ve reconfigured our indoor and outdoor public areas to allow ample space to encourage social distancing between guests and provide a cocooning effect through design materials and furniture placement.”

Designing with social distancing in mind is more about furniture orientation than it is about creating barriers in terms of the direction in which furniture is facing and where the circulation paths are, Hall said.

“What we’ve been doing more of, for instance, is higher-backed chairs with wing arms or partial wing arms and then we orient them six feet apart and possibly back to back so that people are facing outwards rather than all crowded around,” she said.

Dwayne MacEwen, principal and founder of DMAC Architecture, said via email that “moving forward, spaces will be designed to still be immersive and social, bringing people together, while keeping people far enough apart to feel safe.”

“For example, I think we’ll see public spaces within hotels be designed with greater flexibility to partition space for small, private groups. As designers, we’re also having to create and design visual cues that encourage social-distancing standards in common areas,” he said. “While we respond to these challenges, we also recognize to maintain a seamless welcoming feel, design has to be intentional to avoid a hazmat-like environment. What the pandemic has taught us is that people will always have the desire and need to travel. The successful hotels will offer an immersive, localized and safe experience from check-in to check-out, as every touch point matters.”

Shay Lam, managing executive and studio creative director at TPG Architecture, said via email that his firm is designing for hospitality clients in a way that doesn’t take away from the overall guest experience.

“The changes made leverage technology to provide guests with a frictionless journey from the front door to the guestroom door, while maintaining a welcoming atmosphere,” he said. “We’re implementing subtle cues, such as signage on the floors or on walls that gently remind guests to maintain social distances and keep masks on while walking around. We’re also incorporating cell phone technology to provide guests with immediate help in real-time, greatly improving the guest experience while keeping everyone at ease.”

Design flexibility
Hall said Cornerstone has been designing with flexibility in mind, which is really important as hotels need to be designed to social-distancing standards right now, but eventually, those standards will likely ease up and owners will need to be able to reconfigure public space layouts.

While the design firm has come up with flexible social-distanced design plans for owners, those plans are not always approved by the brands, she said.

The brands have said they don’t need them right now; instead, they want submissions per the brand’s standards, Hall said.

“So how that’s played out is the owner is equipped with a great, social-distanced plan or two for the public spaces, but the brand approval is still at the brand standard level,” she said.

Guestroom design
In the guestroom, MacEwen said he’s seeing more antimicrobial finishes and other durable materials that can withstand more frequent cleanings used in design.

Hall said a lot has changed in guestroom design because of the pandemic.

Branded hotels have done a good job of determining cleaning protocols and putting seals on guestroom doors to ensure they are safe and sanitized, and that has led to stripping guestrooms of things like decorative pillows, bed scarves and extra blankets, she said.

Cannon said Choice’s Cambria brand is “committed to creating a serene and tranquil hotel atmosphere for our guests, while also promoting health and safety” through the Commitment to Clean initiative.

“Many of our guests are time-starved and feel like they are always on, especially now when working in remote environments,” she said. “Throughout the day, guests need a mental break, a change of scenery and interesting spaces that encourage movement to refresh and restore in a clean, well-lit environment. Our bright fitness centers, outdoor spaces, including rooftop terraces at many of our Cambria hotels, guestrooms with multi-purpose spaces, spa-inspired bathrooms and locally inspired design and local art all provide restoration and inspiration.”

She added that visual communications have been added throughout hotels to ensure it is a clean space.

“For example, the placement of hand sanitizers, plexiglass screens at check-in and rethinking a number of extraneous in-room items, including removing throw pillows and extra blankets from guestrooms, are all purposefully done to promote guests’ safety and peace of mind,” she said.

The brands have had to change design tactics to “accommodate health concerns surround COVID,” which has led to more hotels adopting health care industry standards such as “bleach-cleanable materials,” Lam said.

“We’re introducing welcome kits that contain packaged amenities in lieu of being pre-placed in the room,” he said. “Vacuum-packed blankets and extra pillows, linens and towels–anything that signifies ‘this is clean’ will put the guests at ease,” he said.

New-build design
Cannon said Choice is also designing new-build hotels with social distancing in mind and in accordance with CDC regulations.

“We are also looking to feature elevated neutral color palettes that are comforting and a bit nostalgic,” she said. “We will continue to source fabrics, materials, and new technology to provide a safe and seamless stay experience for our guests. For example, when it comes to new technology, we’re looking into voice-activated elevators, hands-free light switches and automatic doors. We’re also working to reduce the delineation between indoor and outdoor spaces through innovative design and access points.”

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