An Expert Outlook on Hotel Design: Q&A with Dr Vanessa Brady OBE

Dr Vanessa Brady OBE is the Founder & CEO of the Society of British and International Interior Design (SBID) and partner of HIX,

What are the key considerations for you when approaching the design of hospitality environments?

It’s always going to be wellbeing – a hotel is not a home, and the majority of customers would naturally be more comfortable in their own surroundings, so it is the designer’s duty to provide safety, longevity and beauty for the owners, but comfort for the end-user. Consideration must be given to the age of the users, from child safety and enjoyment, to those with special needs. The hotel may be a holiday resort or a business destination – whatever its consumer use, consideration to the wider environment and the effects of the natural elements outside are also important when selecting surfaces, colours and lighting. I often sit in a hotel (as I am sure every hotel designer does) to observe the way people use the space and products – I can see if each person who uses a chair style is comfortable in it or not, and these ‘patterns of use’ help me with specifications.

What role does interior design play in cultivating memorable guest experiences in the hotel industry?

I think previously, people who stayed in a hotel wanted to leave it immediately after they check-in as the perception had been that the best restaurants and facilities were not at the hotel, but located in the neighbourhood around it. I don’t think that is true any longer.

With more advanced amenities, fantastic chefs to produce unique dining experiences, carefully considered hotel décor, alongside additional public facilities which are now included within the design, means hotels become experiential destinations in their own right. From bowling alleys and theatres as is installed in the fabulous Ham Yard Hotel in central London, to clubs and illustrious bars such as thosein New York’s Soho House.

Designers must attract a demographic that meets the hotel’s objectives, and this is achieved through the power of design, as well as the facilities provided. When these are done successfully,  they take on a personality of their own that adds an overall value for the owner and increases the return on their investment. That is good, effective design. The resulting emotions that are evoked by the aesthetic of an interior design installation is what ultimately creates a truly memorable experience for the guests. 

What’s been the biggest shift in expectations for hotels in the aftermath of the pandemic?

I think it’s the knowledge that every building must be flexible enough to adapt and fulfil multiple uses – a hotel is not just a destination to stay, it must earn its income from an array of other revenue streams; from gyms, wellness facilities, pools and bars, to hosting corporate conferences or entertainment events. Designs could include additional functionalities such as bespoke lighting fixtures, staging space, large-scale presentation galleries for screens like those at the Nobu Hotel Portman Square.

A modern luxury hotel could utilise its outside space with a swanky roof top terrace bar, or smaller boutique accommodation could incorporate locally home-grown produce – it is the personal touches that speak to the clientele, alongside the adaptability of space that drives income from alternative activities.

With enhanced hygiene and touchless technology being incorporated into design schemes, it’s important to balance the coldness of more clinical environments by using design to enhance the guest experiences in other ways, so I do think colour and function are also going to play an important role in the future of hotel design in a way not previously explored.

How important is the product specification when it comes to designing commercial interiors?

It is the key to success. A designer has the ultimate vision, while the budgets and design elements can be adapted when the scheme has been developed. I don’t let budget ever stymie my vision, but once the design concept is created, I go round again and see where I can exchange items for others to reduce costs and mark ‘non-negotiable’ items which are integral to the scheme.

I then process the lifespan of the product warrantee vs any programmed refurbs to ensure there is a natural fit – coupling the practicality of the design solution and its primary function with local fashions, trends and brand aesthetic, ensures product procurement is fit for purpose for the brand, location and the user. Cultural connotations of certain colours, prints and materials are as important influences as the size, purpose and use of items – for example the length of a bed, fade-resistant fabrics for outdoors or non-slip surfaces around pools etc.

These may sound like common sense, but you would be surprised how many items and specifications require change after installation as local tastes and practicalities had not been considered.

How do you see the design of hotels evolving over the next 5 years?

I think we will continue to innovate hotel design through continued investment in technology – like the development of items relating to hygiene improvement and energy consumption. I think the biggest trend will arise from air purity and control. Many hotels and homes are already installed with air cooling, air conditioning and heating, but in that process I think we will see an enhanced interest in air quality as society has become more aware of personal hygiene, and exposure to invisible risks like the spread of germs in public spaces.