6 rules toward strong hospitality design

(The Gerber Group's Mr. Purple)

At the BDNY conference in New York, three hotel and design leaders shared lessons learned about the businesses of hospitality and design.

Here are some takeaways to remember: 

1. Design has to be intuitive

Ingo Schweder, CEO and founder of GOCO Hospitality: Go to resorts in Phuket, Bali, the Bahamas—they have the same look and feel, the same layouts. That’s not what guests want. [In January, GOCO Hospitality acquired the 85-acre Glen Ivy Hot Springs Resort in Corona, Calif., which has been in operation for 155 years.] We’re only building on 20 percent of the resort’s space. The rest will be green with fruit trees and walkways where people can sit and contemplate.

2. Understand the clientele you want...but you will not satisfy everyone, so get who you can

Scott Gerber, CEO and principal of Gerber Group: [Gerber Group’s Mr. Purple bar on New York City’s Lower East Side] attracts a much younger demographic. My demographic is older, so I listen to the people I work with who are that age group. Where do they go, what are they looking for in terms of sound levels and light levels? Heineken in my bar tastes the same as in any other bar. What I can change is the experience of having that drink.

Josh Wyatt, president, Equinox Hotels: Everyone is a critic. That’s a good thing and a bad thing. If people don’t feel comfortable, they won’t come back. There’s so much choice today. 

3. Be willing to collaborate with your client and with your team

Wyatt: Work with the client/customer to challenge what you want to accomplish and what they want to accomplish. Guests are more and more educated. That said, you still have to have a strong point-of-view. The product that has a strong point-of-view  will survive. Balance that style and substance. 

Schweder: People from 15 nations work in our office. Every morning, we spend 30 minutes on daily learning. Everyone sits in on the same meeting. We discuss the numbers and the trends of operating properties, and then we talk about different subjects. Interior designers, financiers and marketeers all learn about the same subjects together. Daily learning time distributes knowledge within the team. 

4. Test the product and make sure it works

Wyatt: People design things that don’t work, and then you have to do a refurb that stalls the momentum. Get out and experience your product as a team. Not just the designer—the whole team. There are always barriers when people don’t talk with each other.

5. Be ready to adapt

Gerber: The way people want to dine these days is communal. They’re happy to go to a bar with small plates to share. Our business has changed like that. It’s more casual. We have a restaurant at a Westin with high tops, soft seating and a dining room. Then we learned that there was breakfast demand from the guests, so we turned the soft seating into dining tables. You have to be flexible enough to do that. There was no ‘baby out with bathwater’ and changing the concept, but you have to be flexible when you see something isn’t working how you expected. 

6. Don’t have a preconceived idea of what the space should be, and listen to your team

Gerber: A collaborative effort leads to the best results, and it’s important for designers to challenge us. At the end of the day, it must be collaborative.