As a hotel photographer I have seen and photographed a wide variety of hotels since 2003, Ranging from small independent boutique hotels to Full service luxury brand hotels. As my hotel photography career has evolved I find myself photographing more up-scale properties and brands. I have seen trends in hotel design come and go, but when can you say that things have changed forever? Never to go back? It’s a bit like when you see an old movie from the 60’s or 80’s. The hair styles, the clothes and the cars on the street. They look completely different than they do today and really set the era. The cars on the street are not swapped out overnight, they come and go as designs evolve until eventually they nearly all look different to cars 20 years previous.
Moving away from Tuscan tiles and colors
Up until about three or four years ago I would say that hotel design was stuck in a refurbishment cycle. With a new refurb roughly every 5 years. But the material and choices of fixtures were stuck in a rut. Tuscan colors and bulky mass produced lamps were rampant in hotels and seem to have been since the 1990’s. The economic slowdown of 2008 also had a big affect. In a recession hotels were forced to do soft refurbishments. That’s when we saw the influx of bed throws in various colors as opposed to new furniture and fixtures. As technology changes, hotel design style changes too. More recently the global on-demand availability of new products and materials has become more prevalent, the introduction of more modern and sophisticated fixtures started to appear in up-scale hotels. Over the past 3 years I’ve seen the same features usually reserved for high-end hotels become the norm in well designed budget friendly hotels. Don’t get me wrong, there is still a noticeable difference in the hotels level of luxury, but the general concepts and modernization has happened across the board.
So what’s new in hotel design?
Public Areas: Podium front desks are in, breaking down the barriers. Gone are the days where a front desk clerk is closed away behind an end to end counter like a bank clerk. Now its all podiums where the front desk clerk can step in front and deal with the customer with no barriers. Open spaces featuring great rooms are in more and more hotels. Multi-functional seating areas, sofas and soft seating with coffee tables for informal meetings, high top tables with built in USB ports and electrical outlets for devices. These also double up to be used as high tops as part of the bar area in the evenings or even an overflow for a breakfast area. All this to aid business travelers to work on-the-go and for leisure travelers to have somewhere to charge their devices and surf the web to look for local experiences. There is usually some sort of restaurant seating area too with tables for sit-down meals, which also can be switched as daytime work areas. I love that you can see this in a full-service Marriott and a Holiday Inn Express. Yes it feels different, one is more luxurious in feel, but the lower priced hotels also feel good. Modern and clean.
The bars are also feeling a little more sophisticated and attractive. Somewhere you actually want to get a drink rather than somewhere to end up. More often than not featuring locally brewed beer or signature cocktails. The same goes for the restaurants. Many have a local connection either in the theme or heavily featuring and promoting local produce.
What about the hotel rooms?
Personally I love the newer hard floors as opposed to carpets. I hear the Scandinavians are particularly relieved when they see this too. More electrical outlets that you can actually reach and USB ports throughout the room. Huge T.V’s. with features that allow logins to your own personal Netflix accounts so guests can continue to binge watch their favorite Netflix series. Bathrooms seem cleaner and brighter and more modern with attention to detail with included amenities. Many rooms now feature Keurig coffee makers so guests can enjoy a cappuccino rather than a basic “coffee flavored drink”. All this can be enveloped in a modern feeling space with local artwork on the wall, usually representing some interesting historical facts about the local area. One Marriott in Atlanta featured artwork related to trains and the modern lobby had a subtle representation of a mainline railway station clock. The hotel was apparently on the site or nearby what used to be an important railway. In larger cities the hotels may feature artwork relating to the specific district, I.e. the garment district. Another hotel in Greensboro featured artwork representing nature and the nearby Smokey Mountains. Or in the case of the hotel that I’m in now the artwork features really cool depictions of American cars and engines. Yes I’m in Detroit. All of this adds up to a more fulfilling experience for the guest. What we are being told is that compared to previous generations Millennials value experiences over things . So this shift into a new era is how the look of our world will be remembered in future generations. There are no hard and fast lines where the look of the world changes, but there are waves of design influence which signify a fundamental change.
A change in the approach to photography
For me as a hotel photographer this represents a shift in photography style too. Whereby the photos enhance the abundance of design elements that have been put into the hotels. Looking for angles that compliment the modern lines. Using subtle lighting so the viewer can appreciate the subtle color palettes which ties the hotel rooms to the public spaces and which strengthens the brand integrity for whichever brand I am shooting. It’s also nice to have the local artwork showing through in a subtle manner. That aspect also makes the photos specific to that hotel and destination.
So next time you check-into a hotel take note of the features and appreciate the times in which we are living.
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Steven Graffham, photographer of hotels throughout Europe, Middle East, USA and the Caribbean.