By Himank Goswami, Manager – Global Design & Construction at Oberoi Hotels

My wife and I went out for dinner to a luxury hotel recently to celebrate our anniversary. We were offered a table next to the window overlooking a beautiful garden. The ambience was intimate with a candle lit table and soft background music. But soon the evening started turning unpleasant when we realized that our table was right behind an extremely busy service station. We could hear the waiters mumble, sound of the cutlery and worst of all the irritating noise of the cheque printer every now & then. The restaurant failed to deliver (at least to us) what it was created for; experience, despite being a high specification space. We often come across plentiful of such instances where practicality and usability is compromised.

A design first needs to work and then look good!

“So what is a good design?”

A good design is essentially a combination of how it looks, what it does, what value it adds to a space, is it ergonomic, user friendly and so on. In addition to the aesthetic appeal, it needs to fulfill the purpose it was designed for, every single time, flawlessly. A good design is the culmination of innovation, functionality, durability, detail and elegance. A well-crafted space or product has a positive effect on its user and his well-being. Below are some characteristics of a good design in the context of Hospitality design:

Functional and Ergonomic- The foremost expectation from a good design is that it must perform & perform well. It must work before it looks good. Make a low back but great looking bar stool and the guests will curse you.

A backlit mirror over a vanity is an example of aesthetics infused with functionality. The backlighting enhances the visual appeal of the mirror but at the same time lights up the face for a better reflection in the mirror. Whilst a sunken marble bathtub only looks good but disappoints upon use.

Height and Light- The two most important factors in any space are height and light. High but proportionate ceiling infused with plentiful of natural light can transform any space. This is true for a lobby, restaurant, guestroom and even staff cafeteria, lockers & offices. Natural light has immense health benefits in addition to increasing the occupant’s productivity and comfort. It also saves the energy costs, thereby improving the hotel’s profitability.

Form follows function and vice versa- Architects have been debating this for long. Function follows form may be true for certain building types like a museum but for hotels form follows function holds good. The design must follow an ‘inside to outside’ approach. A hotel has a very important goal to accomplish; to provide comfort & experience to its guests and ensure their well-being. This can only be achieved by meticulously linking different functions in the most efficient fashion.

Innovation- Incorporating a Bar counter in a hotel lobby is innovative design. It not only transforms an otherwise mundane Lobby into a vibrant and buzzing space but also generates additional revenue. Innovative design is a key differentiator between an average and an extraordinary product.

Last year I stayed at a luxury safari lodge in Western India. The lodge operates for just 7 months in a calendar year. To keep the infrastructure and maintenance cost under check the entire lodge is literally packed and transported 200 kms away every year, leaving only the concrete plinths behind for those five months when the lodge is not operational. The guestrooms are made out of tents and the entire BOH is planned in shipping containers. Despite this seemingly temporary infrastructure, spending a night at the lodge makes one poorer by USD 900 and provides once in a lifetime experience. That’s innovative and unorthodox thinking…

Durability- A maintenance unfriendly and short life span design hurts the investor’s finances and affects the bottom line of a hotel. A good design has yet another important objective to achieve; sustainability. A timber wainscot without corner guards in a corridor is asking for trouble. The aim should be to incorporate designs and materials which look spanking new even after years of (rough) use.

A good design ages well!

Less is more- The best designs in the world are also the simplest. For example, the home pages of Google and Yahoo where the former is simple & user friendly and the latter is cluttered and confusing. A loud and ‘in the face’ design is nothing but visual pollution.

Detail oriented- A carefully crafted space or product down to the last detail stands out than the rest and takes itself a notch above the competition. For instance, that very special and attention grabbing piece of furniture in a guestroom has the potential to make the entire room feel premium.

Profitable- A good design stands out than the competition, increases brand value and sells well. A well-crafted bar cabinet displaying liquor in a Suite instead of hiding it behind a shuttered minibar has the potential to lure more guests thus increasing the hotel’s bottom line.

Contextualism- The architecture of a hotel should respond well to its surroundings, respect what already exists and not be pretentious. A design which is appreciated in New York may not make sense in Nairobi and vice versa.

The secret ingredient in a good hospitality design is to think from the perspective of a guest and an investor. A design which is not appreciated by a guest and doesn’t help in value creation for an investor cannot be termed as a good design no matter how great it looks. A good design serves the purpose well for which it was created, looks beautiful and ensures the well-being of its user.

Good Design is Good Business.