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Hotel industry places new emphasis on interior design

Commercial real estate: Hotel industry places new emphasis on interior design

Adele Rankin, senior associate of CHIL Interior Design, which won three awards recently for different hotel projects at the Waterfront Hotel in Vancouver.


VANCOUVER -- There’s a shift away from cookie-cutter interior designs taking place in the hotel industry, spurred by online tools like TripAdvisor and Instagram, says a Vancouver-based interior design firm that recently earned accolades for several design projects in Western Canada.

Last month, Vancouver-based CHIL Interior Design took home several awards at the annual Interior Designers Institute of British Columbia (IDIBC) Excellence Awards, including the Robert Ledingham Award Project of the Year for its design work at Hotel Arts in Calgary.

They also won the Award of Excellence for their work at the Fairmont Palliser in Calgary, and the Award of Merit for the new Element Vancouver Metrotown in Burnaby.

Up until recently, the biggest failure in the hotel design world has been that everything looked and felt the same, said Adele Rankin, senior associate at CHIL Interior Design.

“Brands were taking, or developers were taking, the one-size-fits-all kind of approach to the look of the interiors,” she said in an interview last week. “That could mean that whether you’re in Iowa or Vancouver, your hotel room would look the same.”

Only in the last couple of years have designers been given the mandate to break that mould as larger hotel brands have learned more about their demographics.

“Everything else you touch every day is more personalized,” she said. “The hotel industry was sort of lagging behind.”

She said Marriott has been one of the evolvers. “They used to be the one-size-fits-all. Now they have developed several brands,” she said, adding that they now have a brand tailored for younger travellers, and another designed specifically for business executives.

“Hotel [projects] are not quick to turn around,” she said. “We’re working on hotels now that don’t open until 2019. So I have to figure out ‘is this going to be relevant in 2019?’”

Rankin said Vancouver doesn’t yet have the quantity of hotels to rival larger destination cities like Toronto or New York. “We don’t have the varied brands here. But they’re coming.”

Since the Olympics, there have been few new builds in Vancouver, and about 75 per cent of their jobs are retrofits of existing hotels, she said. One of their most recent projects was updating the rooms, restaurant and lounge at Vancouver’s Fairmont Waterfront. Their international portfolio includes projects with Shangri-La, Hilton, Starwood and Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts.

“The market is very savvy now,” Rankin said. “Guests are not tied to brands like they used to be. They don’t mind going to Airbnb and getting this really unique, personalized experience, and they also don’t mind going to the no-name boutique hotel.”

Online customer review tools like TripAdvisor and social media sharing platforms like Twitter and Instagram have disrupted the hotel design market, Rankin said.

Now everyone gets to be a critic and each detail of a hotel room can be captured and shared with the world. Rankin said they now regularly monitor TripAdvisor for feedback on their work.

“It’s usually a fairly well-rounded look, because they’re talking about the service, they’re talking about the food, they’re talking about the interior, and we mine it for information.”

It’s not always good news. “When we’ve read things that haven’t been so flattering, it usually has to do with comfort and that’s huge,” she said, noting that she can’t stay in every room they design. “We need to hear about where things are failing. It helps us to retool.”

Jason Kasper, who served as one of the judges at the IDIBC Awards, is an interior designer and the principal at IDEATE Design Consulting in Winnipeg. He was one of three judges who assessed the projects across 11 categories including retail, residential and health care. The projects were assessed anonymously via photographs and briefings on their requirements, intents and constraints.

As for the hospitality industry, Kasper said the average guest has much higher expectations for where they stay.

“I look for spaces that delight, spaces that you’ll remember long after you’ve seen them for the first time at the judging station,” he said. “Which projects have resonance?”

A well designed hotel room provides escapism, he said. “If you travel at all for business or pleasure, you’ll wake up and you don’t know where you are, because there’s this homogeneous quality about a lot of hospitality interiors. You could be in Oregon; you could be in Mumbai.”

A good designer carefully considers elements such materials, accessories, lighting and scale of pattern, he said. “There were some photos [of the projects] that looked like works of art,” Kasper said. “You’re trying to create those layers of complexity that are equally engaging the first night as on the seventh night.”

Online technology has indeed changed the business, he said. “We see every day countless images of how to live; what things should make us feel content. Whether that’s right or wrong, what it does is elevate in people’s minds the opportunities and the options that they have,” he said.

“I think a lot of people used to book accommodation on a wing and prayer and then hope for the best,” he said. “Now they can see … what’s there and then be delighted by some of the things that are difficult to articulate in text and even in photo.”


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