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The role of an interior designer in hospitality

In the business world, the bottom line is defined in terms of revenue. In interior design, the bottom line is the customer. In the majority of instances the customer is the owner – be it a house or an office building.


In the case of a hotel or the hospitality field, which belongs to a special market – whether designing or re-designing of a property, the bottom line is not only the owner, but also the guests who would eventually patronize it.  


An interior designer not only creates design concepts for the property, but also remains fully committed to seeing the overall rollout of the property design from procurement to installation to project completion. However, knowledge alone does not make every professional interior designer a hotel designer. It is here that the importance of an experience hotel designer comes into play. Apart from the technical knowledge that every interior designer should posses, it is the hotel designer who can render the architectural and explicitly specified, ‘fit-for-purpose’, design of the furniture, fixtures and equipment requirements within every space in the hotel, in a visually appealing yet functional manner. 


I recall the Chairman of a highly successful family-owned business that also operated large meetings and conference centre with accommodation facilities, commissioning his daughter who was a US qualified interior designer, to re-design the interior of the main building. The 3- storied main building housed an atrium-styled lobby, reception and several small meeting rooms. After completion of the re-designed interior, we discovered the front desk fragmented into two counters – a reception counter and a cashier counter - facing one another across the lobby.


Earlier designs in hotels had both reception and cashier counters side-by-side, manned by separate receptionists and cashiers. Over time, hotels began to amalgamate the two counters into one, where staff was multi-tasked to handle both reception and cashiering duties.


Operationally, the re-design in this case meant that the management had to now hire more staff and the guests had to cross from one counter to the other in the event of a disputed bill. Obviously, the interior designer in this instance had no understanding of the front-of-the-house operations of the centre.


The role of the interior designer provides advice optimal space to live, relax, and work within that space, thus inspiring an artistic vision to that space. And in a hotel for example, that can be challenging. A hotel operates a diversity of spaces, such as public areas, lobbies to guest rooms, restaurants and bars to function halls, office sections, pool and surrounding areas, spa and fitness centers. In addition, it must comply with building, health, product and safety –related regulations. Design ambitions therefore must integrate all of the above, without compromising the operational well-being of the property.


Most often owners who build hotels work with architects who have limited or no knowledge of hospitality operations. Bringing in a hotel designer onto the project as early as possible will save their bottom line.


Mehroon Wahab


The writer is a former media representative for ‘Spa Asia’ and it was during her tenure that the Singapore based magazine published a 11- page feature on Sri Lankan Spas in 2005.


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