The Long Reach of Residential Design
By Sam Barry
It has long been a given that high-end residential interior design influences hospitality design. While this continues to be true today, certain demographic and psychographic phenomena are changing that relationship. In some ways, the influence of high-end residential design has gotten a boost, while on the other hand, counter-veiling trends have begun to emerge. While it’s too early to make any bold proclamations, it seems time to take a more nuanced look at the changes that are surfacing.
What is changes are emerging? Well, on the one hand, Airbnb has made millions of travelers comfortable with staying in a literal residential environment. The influence of Airbnb and travelers’ comfort with staying in apartments across the globe means that some hotel brands are incorporating kitchenettes into their spaces again. Personal gyms are also making their way into the room, to allow guests to cater workouts to their needs. In-room technology is also following a residential trajectory: hotels are using it to facilitate a highly personalized experience. No longer are travelers beholden to rent overpriced movies nine to 12 months removed from the box office. Today, we can simply connect our iPads to the room’s monitor and stream our own content. Business travel no longer means we have to put our binge watching on hold, or relegate it to a phone screen.
But other equally significant shifts can be attributed to Airbnb: The days of room “standards” also seem to be numbered, as hotels like Denver’s The Curtis—a Doubletree by Hilton—are creating uniquely designed rooms, so when travelers see into the room across the hall, it looks nothing like theirs. At The Curtis, guests can stay in rooms with video games themes, or rooms inspired by Barbie or Marge Simpson. A higher-end take on this same idea is the Au Vieux Panier in Marseille, France. Each year, artists and graphic designers complete an application process; each selected individual or team is given total creative freedom over their rooms. The installation lasts a year, at which time the hotel closes for a month and all rooms undergo a complete transformation.Hotels like Au Vieux Panier and The Curtis suggest we may be witnessing the dawn of an era of customization. And the totem of this era are unique, eclectic, personalized spaces—much like the ones we actually live in. In other words, as we stay in residential environs, the influence of high-end residential design increases.
Here’s where things get interesting. Enter the counter-trend: social media. Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat and our collective infatuation with posting our every move means that the cookie-cutter room is passe. We want to show interesting, fabulous, unique backgrounds in our hotel selfies, not a room that looks like thousands of others and could just as well be in Any City, USA.
This means bright pops of color, spaces with walls artfully tagged with stylized graffiti, and large-format graphics and typography on the walls make for attention-grabbing social media content. The more clever among us will tie our social media stories into the stories or objects in the space, so hotels need to provide moments that add pizazz to our social media posts. These moments are decidedly NOT residential. The aesthetic is more monumental. Epic. Changeable. It’s more like set design. It exists at a scale that transcends the residential and takes risks most of us would be wary of taking in our homes. What may be fun for a night would become tiresome or overwhelming night after night after night. So as we open our apps to show our friends the state of our lives, we insert a little more distance between hospitality design and residential design.
The bottom line is, we seem to want to be comfortable and cozy, but also special. So after decades of a causal relationship between residential design and hospitality design, today it’s more complicated. Feel free to tweet that.
Sam Barry is a former principal with Gensler, where he led a Brand Design studio in Washington, DC and a Lifestyle (retail and hospitality) studio in Atlanta, and former Director of Marketing for Shaw Contract and Shaw Hospitality. Today, Sam and his wife Kelly own Innovatude, a brand and marketing strategy and design boutique focused on innovation in the built environment. Sam’s focus is on helping product manufacturers, developers and building owners navigate turbulent times to find points of leverage to forge competitive advantage and significant growth. Sam lives in Atlanta with his wife and two daughters.