By Belinda O’Kelly. Editing by Jonathan Valdez & Jose Morales
"In the hyper-competitive lodging market, a memorable identity is critical" - Belinda O'Kelly
Chicago, USA – O’Kelly Kasprak is a full-service architecture, interior design, and project management firm known for bringing a hospitality perspective to all types of commercial spaces. This includes a variety of hotels, restaurants, bars, clubs, entertainment venues, sport and recreation facilities, theaters, corporate spaces, retail stores, and specialty projects.
Founded in 2010, founders Belinda O’Kelly and David Kasprak lead their team of professionals through a proprietary design process structured to produce functional, elegant, enduring, and unique spaces. They pride themselves with their design abilities, vast technical knowledge, enthusiasm for creativity, and providing exceptional service to clients.
With the hospitality industry on the rise, so is the race with competing prices and the higher expectations by the consumer. In order to survive, long-term planning through smart design is crucial. Belinda, who is passionate about the design of rejuvenating hospitality spaces that transport people out of their every day lives, brings us the following five tips when creating a hotel space that will captivate its guests.
1 - Personality, please!
Have you ever heard of select service syndrome? This is when you cannot remember what city you are in because the hotel looks exactly the same as any other hotel you have stayed in. There is a happy medium between providing the same amenities and services while giving the hotel some character. Even if it’s not a prominent cultural location or historic building – art, food, and good humor can go a long way. Personality is why the boutique movement was so popular! Something that allows your guest to think, “remember that hotel that had the cool buffalo sculpture and the best Cuban coffee served in the big blue cups?” In the hyper-competitive lodging market, a memorable identity is critical.
For example, for the Holiday Inn in Fairborn, Ohio, we were asked to give the hotel a different character that would make it stand out from the rest. The 1915-Age-of-Flight inspired the new design as the hotel is next to one of the Wright Brothers airfields. Though I can’t say it was exclusively the design, the hotel was able to land the NCAA tournament teams after the renovation.
For the Hotel Monaco in Chicago, we worked with Getty’s Group and Kimpton to create a unique, inspired design. The design for this hotel was inspired by the bright vibrancy of Chicago and the Great Lake that lies beyond the city.
2 - Oh, my drawers!
What has led big hotel brands to require such absurd square footages of drawer space? I laugh every time I walk into a hotel room (especially a tight one) and find a 4′ high and 7′ wide battleship dresser housing eight full-size drawers. Meanwhile, the vanity is 24″ wide, and you can’t even fit a vacuum on the outside of the bed! It is time to rethink how we use space. If you run into anyone that unpacks all items of clothing using all eight drawers, I would love to meet them for coffee and gain further insight! For now, let’s return to good proportional design and common sense.
For example, when we worked with The Homewood Suites/Hilton Garden in Chicago, one of our big challenges was that when we designed the Homewood Suites, they were intended for sprawling suburban sites. Fitting the amenities into a small urban place required us to work extensively with Hilton to modify the brand’s standards. Some of the adjustments made were:
- Overall reduction of room sizes
- Reduction of the amount of furniture in the standard rooms
- The decrease in drawer space for the guestrooms, with modifications in the amount and size of desk/dresser/TV stands to fit smaller rooms
- Elimination of completely separate business centers
- Modification of finishes to suit the more urban context
3 - Eco-Friendly, for real.
I do love the spirit of the little card that tells you to kindly put the dirty towels on the floor, and hang the ones you wish to reuse because the hotel is being eco-friendly. However, why do I have 18 towels in the first place? Also, why is there only a single plastic pod brewer, four plastic water bottles, and no recycling canister? We can do better. People are smart. Let’s use technology and start really making a difference. The hotel industry is in a unique position to do it. How about reusable aluminum water bottles as an alternative to $7 in-room water? HVAC systems that set the desired temperature as someone is checking in, and shut off when they leave? Simple design efficiencies can make a difference on a significant scale.
For example, I recently stayed at the Row NYC hotel in New York City, and they issued a refillable water bottle at check-in and pointed out the filling stations in the lobby. I thought it was brilliant! Think about the reduction in the use of plastic for a relatively low-cost to the hotel.
4 - Front desk as the focal point.
It is ingrained in traditional hotel design 101 to create a focal front desk. Do we still need it? Indeed, you want to be welcomed, but do we need four printers, four monitors, or four stations? This is a great place where technology can drive some real programming change. If you can check in on your phone, and all you need to do is show ID and get a room key when you get to the hotel, you can do that at the valet stand. The focus would no longer be the front desk, but maybe the concierge, or bar. This can provide a better welcome interaction than processing a credit card. Think of the possibilities! It allows you to create a new, hospitality-driven experience.
For example, the SOHO House, and the just-opened Hoxton in Chicago take the emphasis off the front desk and focus on the F&B programs as greeting elements. You walk into the bar and have to be directed to hotel check-in. It is a complete reversal of past thinking.
5 - The details are the devil.
Amenities have to be easy, accessible, and intuitive. I do often say in guestroom jest, “don’t worry, if we screw this up – it will only happen 380 times”. Seriously though, that is a consideration in why it is challenging to take design risks. If it’s a flop, it can be a flop times 380. Test programs are tremendous but seldom allowed for during a project schedule. In the absence of our own carefully conducted experiments, we always aim to have a backup plan for any significant risks. Sometimes there is a reason they don’t do that.
One of the recent trends when taking risks regarding guestroom design includes adding a pendant at the nightstand or an extension arm off the wall with a TV. Anything that swings or is cantilevered off the wall can be prone to damage, and in these cases, the damage can be expensive. Still, current boutique brands are taking the risk to be different. The Chicago Athletic Association and Hotel Zachary, here, in Chicago, are good examples. They took risks in using original art, expensive statement accessories, and nightstand pendants. These are moves you wouldn’t see in standard, branded hotels. – GM
Images courtesy of O’Kelly Kasprak.