Experiential Luxury

SPACE Editor Sophie Harper looks at the definition of luxury and discusses the ways that translates into hotel design.  

The way we define luxury has changed. Once upon a time, luxury indicated a kind of lavishness that was extreme in one way or other – whether that meant in cost or unnecessity, but almost always it would conjure ideas of gold lustred, diamond encrusted indulgences in the form of material objects and exclusive spaces.

Today these things, although still aspirational to many, don’t hold the same value as the experience of doing something for the first time or the feeling of discovery or awe when we visit an off-the-beaten-track paradise. When we talk about luxury in the 21st century, we’re very often referring to something that’s not easily accessible to our own everyday lives, and so it means something different to every single person, but it all boils down to one thing – the experience – and that’s what everyone’s looking for in a luxury hotel offering.

So how do we cater to the idea of experiential luxury when designing hotel spaces? It very much depends on the location of the hotel and the overall design brief, but there are a few key factors that, when combined with practicality and necessity, are sure to result in a recipe for success.


Connection to the outside world: whether that means centring design around an incredible view or making reference to the hotel’s locale through artwork or locally sourced materials, the most important thing to bear in mind is that travellers, first and foremost, are staying in the hotel because of where it is, and to a much lesser degree because of what it is.

There’s nothing luxurious about staying in a hotel in New York that looks and feels the same as the last hotel you stayed in in Paris or Beijing. “I’ve been to resorts where you’re standing in a guest room that looks exactly like an inner-city guest room and therefore completely negates the fact you have access to the sea or the mountains.” Says Federico Toresi, Global Vice President Design – Luxury & Premium Brands, Accor.

City hotels can be difficult to differentiate, there are only so many references to pool in one area without making a space feel too themed, but that’s where research comes into its own.

Belmond Cap Juluca


The way a guest feels when they visit a hotel is perhaps the single most important factor in retaining custom. A sense of relaxation and calm helps make guests feel rejuvenated, welcoming public spaces make people feel happy, and practicality and ease of use makes people feel confident – all great positive reactions that should be a key area of focus in the design of any hospitality space.

More recently we’ve seen the positive effects of biophilic design – bringing outdoor influences indoors in the form of lighting, plant life, and décor inspired by the natural world.

“Biophilia and sensory design is something we think of at all levels, it should be for all of us, not just for a certain segment of the market.” says Una Barac, Executive Director, Atellior. “That’s an agenda I’m driving now – to try and bring elements of sensory design to all our projects if we can.”

The Londoner


With plastic and man-made materials having fallen in popularity in recent years and being held to account for their impact on mother nature, nothing says, ‘at one with the world’ and ‘luxury experience’ more than the gorgeous materials produced by nature itself.

“We look at things like healthy materials and wellbeing, which has been at the forefront of our company for the last 25 years.” says Neil Andrew, Associate Principal Hospitality, Perkins & Will. “We look at using natural materials where we can.”

Use cookie cutter, over-manufactured products sparingly, instead opting for pieces that feel more bespoke and resonate well with the locale. If budget allows, choose hand-crafted elements that use natural stone, marble, slate, and wood.

Swissotel Kursaal Bern