BY BRIAN LIBBY | Photo © Hotel Lucia
IF HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS, sometimes a great hotel can be not just a place to stay but a chance to live in a kind of dream world. Not only is the bed made when you return, but every detail of form, function and style has been carefully and artfully considered.
“The most innovative interior design is always in hotels,” says James Staicoff of award-winning Portland interior design firm Staicoff Design Company. Staicoff says high-end and boutique hotels especially have to be “pre-trend or on-trend” in order to stay ahead of the competition and continually seem fresh. At the same time, “there’s usually not a huge budget,” the designer adds. “For the most part, the designers are working to create a mood or theme on very little money.”
With three basic principles in mind, Staicoff believes many aspects of successfully designing for hospitality clients can double as advice for redesigning a home or second home.
Think Like a Guest
The design process starts with thinking about how you and your guests might use the space.
“You want to have a variety of experiences,” says Staicoff, whose firm has designed for Portland’s Hotel Lucia and Hotel Modera as well as Tacoma’s Hotel Murano. “Some people are private and want to be in a corner. Some people like to have a lot of interaction. You have to put yourself in their shoes and think about how they would be comfortable in the space.”
Part of creating that soothing sensation of a hotel is also about a feeling of effortlessness over the little details. In a hotel, “you shouldn’t be looking for a plug-in or how to turn the light on,” says Christopher Alvarado, who leads design for Commune Hotels + Resorts, whose properties include Seattle’s new Thompson Hotel. Some of that is about a person’s newness to the space, but at home, too, the idea should be to minimize the little interruptions. “Sometimes in my own apartment I’ll think to myself, ‘next to the bed I really should have two plugs,’” Alvarado says.
Stay Fresh, Colorful and Inspired
In terms of style, some of the most popular design choices of recent years are ones Staicoff believes are now passé, at least for his hotel clients; he believes by the time a design or material has made it to Pinterest, for example, it’s already in decline. “The whole idea of reclaimed wood is such a cliché now,” he says. “It’s in every coffee shop in the Northwest: concrete, reclaimed wood, a little blackened steel and maybe some mason jars.” Equally out are louder countertop materials like granite and even marble, he says. “Composite quartz is so much nicer and it’s so much more forgiving with stains.”
Most well designed hotels have vibrant, colorful art. But even more important than what you choose, Staicoff says, is its being continually changed. “It’s critical that art be switched out once a year, or relocated,” he explains. “Once you leave it there any longer you stop seeing it. But even just putting it on a different wall, you’ll fall back in love with the art.”
Interior designers working on hotels also must maintain a sense of place without going overboard. “People are thinking of that place when they come inside,” says Alvarado, who has overseen hotel designs in many cities, “It’s not that we have to hit them over the head with a local feel, but there should be notes of it.” For the Thompson, for example, Alvarado’s design team took inspiration from the grittiness of Seattle’s grunge music tradition in using some raw, unpolished materials and juxtaposing them with sleeker surfaces inspired by the city’s aviation history.
Remove the Noise
More than any singular design move, Alvarado believes the end result should be “the effortlessness of existing in the space,” he says. “If you enjoyed the hotel, it could be the little conveniences that you took for granted that made you better appreciate the interiors. It may be the functionality of the space that allows you to take in anything.
Everybody has a different design aesthetic and taste. The best thing you can do is to remove the noise. We spend months trying to remove that noise.” It’s not just about the colors one chooses, or whether one loves an overstuffed sofa versus an angular one, but about considering the act of moving through and using a space, able to take it all in in one meaningful glance.