Top 4 disruptors in hotel design

Moxy hotels are leading the small-guestroom revolution. (Moxy Times Square Sign)

LOS ANGELES — Whether you call them disruptors or game-changers, the hotel industry is subject to constant shifts in how rooms are designed. At this week’s BD West conference, Michael Suomi, principal and VP of design for Stonehill & Taylor, and Misty Delbridge, EVP of Montague, co-moderated a panel of design experts who shared insights on the disruptors in hospitality design. Here are the big four you need to know for the future.  

1. Small Rooms

As we’ve noted before, small guestrooms have become increasingly popular as millennials seek out communal spaces for socializing. One of the main brands pushing small guestrooms into the future is Marriott’s Moxy brand, which even Vicki Poulos, Moxy’s senior brand director, acknowledges is “polarizing” among guests. “It’s defined by attitude,” she said. “Some people love the concept and they get it. Others don’t. The brand isn’t for everyone.” Moxy guestrooms only cover 183 square feet on average, and use a “pegboard” to hang furniture until needed, freeing up space.

Hilton’s Tru brand is also leading the small-room revolution, and Brittney Weiss, design manager, global design services, Hilton, said that owners and developers are responding to the changes. “We have 200 deals signed, which is incredible,” she said, “It’s the one brand that’s grown faster for us than any other.”  Weiss suggested that at least part of the brand’s appeal lies in its ROI. “It’s cheaper to produce per key,” she said. Suomi agreed, noting that fitting rooms onto a floor adds to the bottom line and can increase both occupancy and cash flow. “Construction costs have continued to rise,” he said. “The consumer price index has risen modestly, but construction prices have gone beyond.” 

Still, Matt Mars, partner at Flick Mars, said, a guestroom can be too small, which can affect its perceived value. A top complaint on review sites like TripAdvisor, he said, is often the size of the room. As such, small guestrooms should probably be limited to the select-service properties. “At the luxury level, small is a detraction,” he said. “It can hurt as you compete in the luxury segment.”  

2. Eliminating and Combining

Several years ago, Delbridge was approached to create a unique guestroom with the closet, minibar and dresser all combined into one unit. “When they told me this could happen for [less] than the cost to build a traditional closet, I was shocked.” she said. Creating an all-in-one unit not only creates a striking piece of furniture for the guestroom, it can also boost the bottom line by reducing overall costs. “The disruptive thing is installing it,” she said, acknowledging that adding contemporary all-in-one units to older hotels can be difficult. 

Weiss, meanwhile, has seen disruption in desks, particularly in movable tables that serve numerous functions. “If you want to work, you can, or people can put their suitcases on there,” she said. Similarly, when Global Allies was helping design a Hilton in Cleveland, they created a task chair that could double as an armchair for lounging, so guests could use the one piece of furniture for working or relaxing.


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Moxy, meanwhile, eliminated irons and ironing boards from guestrooms, and created an “ironing room” on each floor. “People get together in morning and iron together,” Poulos said, calling the room a “brand centerpiece” and citing positive reviews on TripAdvisor as evidence of its popularity.  

Mars sees “deconstructing” guestrooms as the next step, with bathroom walls coming down for an “open plan” look. Suomi, for his part, had a hotel client suggest eliminating guestroom phones and TVs, since so many guests only want to use their own devices for calls and entertainment. 

3. Modular Construction

Prefabricated rooms are nothing new, but they are certainly gaining ground in the U.S. The new Citizen M hotel in New York City’s Lower East Side is getting rooms shipped in from Poland, Suomi said, complete with sinks and electrical appliances all installed. “The next step is to have furniture built in,” he said. 

For the most part, Poulos said, the benefit of modular hotels is not in money, but in the time saved. “It takes three months to build a Moxy from the ground up in Europe,” she said. 

Weiss said that 10 to 15 percent of Hilton’s Hampton Inns in the UK are now prefabricated, and that these hotels minimize construction issues. 

“Stop thinking about construction and start thinking about manufacturing,” Mars said, and predicted that, not very long from now, factory tours will be more important than site inspections. “It’s disrupting the normal process,” he said. “We’re rethinking how we’re doing projects.” 

4. Home-Sharing

The rise of Airbnb is forcing hoteliers to get creative in a lot of different ways. Mars is working on a 40-guestroom hotel in Austin that can only be bought out in its entirety. A large company coming to a conference or SXSW could rent all 40 rooms, he said, and be branded anew with each booking. “If Dell comes in, it’s the Dell hotel as long as they’re there,” he said. Instead of a restaurant, the management will hire a food truck to drive up to a window at the hotel and provide meals that can be eaten in the lobby. “Everything is transient,” Mars said of the project. “You get quality, safety and some branding, but with an Airbnb feel.” 

In Japan, Suomi said, Airbnb has already financed a new boutique hotel, and he predicted that the company may begin experimenting with launching its own product in markets (like Japan) where it faces increased scrutiny from regulating forces.

Stonehill & Taylor, he added, has been approached by two developers to help create mixed-use facilities that would not just combine hotels with branded apartments, but dedicated apartment floors that would be used for Airbnb rentals. “They would have a private entrance and security,” he said. “Those Airbnb floors would live alongside a branded hotel and real private residences.”  With condo and co-op boards preventing tenants and owners from listing their apartments on Airbnb due to (justifiable) security concerns. This, he said, would provide a happy medium. “In our industry, on our side of the fence, there’s a lot of concern about what Airbnb is doing,” he said.