Designers emphasize community in new lobby designs

You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. As a guest’s first impression of a hotel’s interior, a lobby must immediately convey the property’s overall message—but the space must also be functional for checking in and out and comfortable for socializing.  

Guest demands are changing, and as technology makes reception and concierge desks increasingly obsolete, the entire thought process behind lobby design is changing as well. Instead of functionality, designers are now promoting community in their lobbies—in every sense of the word.

Sense of Space

Marriott’s Renaissance brand has been in a major renovation effort in recent years, and the team has used the opportunity to reimagine how all of the spaces are used. “The big focus of a lobby needs to be on the food & beverage experiences,” George Fleck, VP of global brand management and marketing for Westin, Renaissance and Le Meridien, said. “The first thing you should see when you walk in, ideally, is a really beautiful bar scene. The seating has been arranged to ensure there are communal seating opportunities and that there are intimate seating zones for more personal conversations.” 

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The lobbies should also evoke the hotel’s location so that guests always have a sense of space. “You have great lighting, you have great scent, you have things happening that activate the space—from art installations to lighting and digital projections that change,” Fleck said of an ideal lobby space. Everything in the lobby, he added, should feel like it was selected more for comfort than beauty. 

“We take a very targeted approach to how we zone our lobbies to ensure that there's an orchestrated approach how guests can navigate—never really clean straight lines, but trying to create a bit of a meandering path so you can see and experience and feel all the different essential elements of each place,” Fleck said. “Of course, we offer the same functional elements that you find every hotel, but we ensure that, again, they are non-primary; they are supportive in functionality.”

Vicki Poulos, senior global brand director for Moxy Hotels, said that she has found a common demand from designers, guests and locals alike when it comes to lobbies. “They want their spaces to be flexible,” she said. “They’re not just about thinking about evening activation. They’re thinking about, how are people consuming it?” The line between work and play in public spaces is blurring, she added, so the space has to be comfortable for both. “How do you transition so you can play and have drink and a connection? When the laptops go away, how does the space come to life?” 

Like the Renaissance lobbies, Poulos said that the Moxy lobbies should also incorporate “thoughtful touches of the way that locals are living” into their design, conveying a sense of space. “That [is what] we want to be able to extend to our guests in different parts of world.”  

Personalization

“There’s a lot of personalization that our clients are striving for,” Ben Marcus, an architectural designer at Los Angeles-based ‎Gensler, said. For example, a traditional long check-in desk is a thing of the past, he said. “You still have the desks, but we break them up. You have grand lobbies with podiums for serving the community. The concierge serves the community rather than being separated [from everybody] by a grand marble thing.” That, he added, is the biggest change he has seen in recent years— “the shift away from formality and more into seeing the staff of the hotel really becoming part of the mix.” This affects the design of full-service and select-service alike, he said, citing Aloft’s model of having a casual bar prominently featured in the lobby, and encouraging the bartender to offer tips to guests as a concierge would. “You get recommendations from people who live and breathe in the city. You’re not looking for a formal suited concierge for recommendation on what locals like to do.”  

For example, a former Renaissance Hotel in Los Angeles had its check-in desk front-and-center with the lobby bar in the corner. When Gensler turned the property into the Loews Hollywood Hotel in 2015, they made the lobby bar much more prominent. “The check-in experience has become secondary to the whole process,“ Marcus said. “It’s all about putting energy and human interaction front-center as a guest’s first experience.” 

Fleck agreed. “We've started to have more of a 'pod' approach rather than your typical long reception desk,“ he said of new Renaissance designs. “We always challenge our 'navigators' [Renaissance's version of the concierge] to come out from behind the desk and actually socialize with guests who are sitting in our lobbies.”

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