NEW YORK — Hotel development may be ongoing, but budgets are remaining tight. On the second day of the NYU Hospitality Industry Investment Conference at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square, several design and procurement specialists talked about ways to create a comfortable guest experience across a range of asset classes while also working within an owner’s budget.

1. Find What Works in a Concept

Celia Barrett, principal designer and CEO of Barrett Design Studio, said a hotel’s concept is everything—or at least the place to start. “Even if it's a midlevel hotel, you're going to put a concept together that [makes the client say] ‘Oh, my god, we can't afford this!’” A designer can then “pull out what works” from the concept and fits within the client’s budget. 

2. Work Within the Segment

Jennifer R. Mehra, director of prototype design and development at Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, said the concept of a hotel needs to match its segment, with “embellishments” toned down in economy and midscale hotels. For example, the company's as-yet unnamed new economy extended-stay brand has “such a tight budget” that the shapes of the guestroom mirrors became a serious topic of discussion. 

3. Tell a Story

Stacy Garcia, CEO and chief inspiration officer at her eponymous design firm, said that she can tell when a hotel design aesthetic was inspired by social media trends and when there is a consistent theme or narrative to every facet of the design. “The deeper the story, the more intricate you can go with that,” she said. “It becomes part of the mission and ultimately does add to revenue generation.”

Warren G. Feldman, CEO of Nehmer/HVS Design, cautioned that if a hotel’s story is too complex for the design to convey without words, the overall aesthetic will fail. “We, as designers, across the board have to make sure that when we make those story decisions, they come across in some way other than read.”

4. Build a Detailed Budget…

Feldman said designers should use as much detail as possible when creating their budget for a project so that they know exactly how much each piece costs and can ensure everything will fit in the price range. 

5. …But Not Too Detailed

At the bottom of the budget, add some discretionary funds as a “contingency,” Feldman suggested—some money that can go toward anything that has not already been specified but that truly fits the vision. “As a designer, you're like, ‘That's going to be an accent piece and I want a little more splash, or a little more whatever. So I need to take that extra money and put it up to this line because that's where I want to make a difference.’”

If a project’s scope and budget are not aligned, Feldman said, the designer has to solve the problem as quickly as possible.

6. Build Relationships with Vendors

Good vendors can help a designer or buyer find the right item for every project, Barrett said, and maintaining solid relationships can open up new options and possibilities that can save lots of money across multiple rooms—or even multiple hotels over time: “Knowing your vendors and allowing them to help you is just crucial.” 

“The vendors are the backbone of our industry,” Mehra agreed, and noted that finding new vendors with innovative ideas can also help lower costs. “The vendors who were tried and true might not be performing as well and those new kids on the block are hungry.”

Craig Amos, EVP of design and construction at RLJ Lodging Trust, said vendors should be brought on to a project as early in the process as possible. “It's not a designer saying, ‘This is something beautiful.’ It's hand-in-hand with the vendor saying, ‘If that coffee table were 2 inches shorter, I can get double the yield out of my sheet goods and I could reduce the cost by 25 percent.” 

7. Communicate Early, Communicate Often 

Designers need to know the full scope of a project’s work as early as possible in order to get what they need in the amount that they need and negotiate ways to keep the project under budget. “If you know there's going to be X number of stack chairs and it's a massive ballroom, we can work with our factories and prenegotiate those things,” Garcia said.

8. Consider Dual-Brands

The growth of dual-brand developments presents good opportunities for designers to create high-end touches. Mehra said that artwork can make a big difference in between two different concepts under one roof, even if lighting and fixtures are largely consistent. 

9. Don’t Over-Engineer

Some materials need to last for three renovation cycles, Garcia said, but they also need to be neutral enough to remain stylish across all of those cycles. At the same time, some products can be replaced more easily and, as such, can reflect trends. “Some [luxury vinyl tile flooring] comes with a 20-year warranty, and it's like, well, we don't anticipate this being in the room for 20 years. So now you're overpaying and you've kind of expanded [the] budget that you really didn't need to.” 

10. Know When to Splurge

Some things are worth spending extra on, Barrett said—like sturdy seating that can support a wide range of weights. “How many times do bar stools break?” she asked the room. The selected wooden stools at one Hampton property continually broke and had to be reinforced with metal, she recalled. “I thought they were made fairly well in the beginning, but they just kept breaking.”