Public spaces promote wellness for guests, environment

As developers and hotel guests become increasingly concerned with the wellness of both individuals and the planet, hoteliers are finding ways to include eco-friendly and natural elements in their lobbies. This new focus is driving the usage rate for the space—both active and passive—11 percent, according to 2017’s "Human Spaces Global Report."

During the past two to three years, said Lisa Simeone, owner of Chicago-based Simeone Deary Design Group, hotels have started “designing to the human condition” when creating spaces, incorporating greenery to improve indoor air quality. “Wellness, again, is such a huge trend,” she said. When staying in a hotel for several days—for example, during a conference—it can be nice for a guest to to see something “actually real and green and living,” she said.

Living Lobbies

Up until fairly recently, said Simeone, plants were something to avoid when designing hotel public spaces. “They almost felt dated—those hanging ferns were such a big part of restaurants and hotels for so, so long,” she recalled. “For years, every time someone brought up bringing in plants, we would say no.” Today, she said, people understand the connection between nature and guest satisfaction.

"When there's snow and it's gray outside, [adding plants] makes you think of spring," said Emily Kantz, interior designer at Sherwin-Williams. “We're seeing that across across all markets.” In addition, adding plants and landscaping is the fastest and most economical way to update a lobby, she added.

Renee Hytry Derrington, global design lead at Formica Corporation, agreed, noting that the growing trend of indoor-outdoor public spaces is changing the way lobbies are designed. “Visitors expect responsible spaces that include ‘green’ visuals such as plants and recycled materials with an emphasis on durable recycled finishes,” she said, noting that lobbies also are “expanding beyond four walls to the outdoors.” Just as designers are bringing the outdoors in with waterfalls, rugged outdoor-style furniture, plants and a focus on views, they are also taking the indoors out by creating all-season terraces with grills and fire pits. 

Green Lobby Logistics

While eco-friendly and biophilic lobbies may be increasingly trendy, they can also be a challenge to execute effectively, which makes it doubly important for all teams to work together. “Every trade has their specific knowledge,” Simeone said. “We know what we—visually—want it to look like. Obviously, we'll have  to look at the weight of what we want to do and how it's going to drain.” But those logistics, she added, can sometimes be too much for a hotel, especially when funds are limited. “The added cost of bringing in someone to maintain a plant program seems to be an extraneous cost that they do not want to incur,” she said.

Adding a waterfall feature to a lobby is another great way to keep guests lingering in the space, said J. Wickham Zimmerman, CEO of environmentally conscious construction/design company OTL, but it comes with its own logistical challenges. “Anytime you have water that you're recirculating, there's a potential for water droplets to get in the air, so you want to make sure it’s properly sanitized,” he said of the water.

With any interior water feature, said Chris Roy, director of creative design at OTL, hoteliers, designers and engineers need to work together to determine what kind of splash they can expect based on the jets of the display. “They'll be [calculating], based on their proposed target for interior temperature, what the evaporation rate on the fountain is going to be, and then they’ll have to alter the design of their mechanical system and their [heating, ventilation and air conditioning] system to remove that additional humidity from the space,” he said.

Beyond aesthetics and increased revenue from ancillary sales, said Roy, adding a fountain can help support a hotel’s HVAC system and lower air conditioning bills by cooling the air with chilled water. “The coldness of the water will chill the space around, offer some moderating effects and mean that they can use less air conditioning, which uses a lot more energy,” he said. And much as water droplets suspended in air as humidity condense on a glass with an icy drink, he added, humidity will condense into the colder water of the fountain, keeping the overall space more comfortable.