What the Hotel Industry Gets Right (and what housing can learn from it)

By Deryl Patterson

Raise your hand if you feel you’re an experienced hotel guest. Okay, put your hand down before people start staring. If you’ve stayed in more than a dozen different hotels in the last year, I would qualify you as an expert.

You don’t have to be in the hospitality industry to take lessons from hotel design. And why not? Don’t hotels have elements in common with residential design? The home industry has the advantage of working together to get their bedrooms right from construction, design and furnishings. Hotels are unique in that they get one shot at getting the room right.

The Sleeping Area

For the most part, your average hotel room has a bed (or two), dresser and TV – perhaps a chair and desk. But it is the little things that transform just another room to a memorable experience. I’m sure we’ve all had memorable experiences and not all of them good, but we’ll focus on the positives.

Bedside Outlets

I use my cell phone as my alarm clock when at home and especially when I travel. I simply don’t trust an unknown alarm clock or wake-up call for my critical wake-up time. By day’s end, both I and my cell phone are running on Empty. So, I need an outlet convenient to the bedside for plugging in my cell phone. What I don’t want to do is get on my hands and knees and search for an outlet that is already occupied with the clock and lamp. Savvy hotels have quickly adapted and now have a variety of plug options – some in the wall just above the nightstand and some discretely hidden on either side of the nightstand.

Where are the outlets in your bedrooms? As builders, you don’t have the advantage of supplying the power-ready nightstands. And since most teenagers now have cell phones, it’s a good idea to provide bedside outlets for every bedroom.

TV Placement

Remember when TVs were hidden inside a giant armoire across from the bed? In many hotels today, not only is the TV not hidden, it has been turned on prior to you arriving and plays music or scrolls through the hotel amenities. In a recent hotel stay, the TV had controls for the window shades, lights and air conditioning. It was also the room’s only clock – which I didn’t find helpful at 2:00 in the morning. It was wall hung and became a part of the room’s décor. Do you provide power and connections for wall hung TV’s in the master bedroom? Nothing ruins the look of a wall hung TV like clumsy cables hanging down. Do you ask your customers if they want this same application in their kids’ or guest rooms?

The Sennett Residence. Photo by Ryan Theede Photography.

Coffee Makers & Refrigerators

We were booking an upcoming stay in New York City and the subject of in-room coffee makers came up. Don’t laugh, it’s an important subject! One hotel was dropped from consideration because it didn’t include a coffee maker. Trust me, no one wants to interact with me before coffee – just ask my husband. A simple personal brewing system, like K-Cup and Nespresso, can save a lot of literal headaches. The mini refrigerator is a nice touch, but only if the sound from it can be muffled so it doesn’t wake me up at night. We recently took this same convenience and inserted it in a vacation house for the overnight guests so that they don’t have to tip-toe into the kitchen for their morning beverage.

Air Conditioning

I’m sure we are all painfully familiar with the loud air conditioner that wakes us up each time it turns on and off. You are probably thinking this isn’t an issue in residential design. But ask yourself, where are the outside condenser units? Unfortunately, as lots have gotten narrower, they can no longer live in the side yard, which means they could end up just outside the master suite. Oops.

The Bathroom

Showers Only

I really feel sorry for older hotels who are stuck with outdated bathrooms. Let’s face it, no one enjoys a shower when the shower curtain sticks to you. Yuck! It’s true, the curved shower rod makes a difference, but it can’t compete with an awesome shower. The hospitality industry has been relentless in refining their showers.

In many cases, even standard rooms showcase beautiful tile and frameless enclosures. And because most are in multi-story buildings, they utilize shower pans (and still look great!), some with a linear drain and others recessed. Recesses for shampoos and seats for shaving legs or washing your ankles are also elegantly incorporated. Then there are the shower heads: from the Holiday Inn to Westin’s heavenly shower, this is where the hotel industry splurges for maximum impact.

The next time you are walking through your houses, ask yourself, “Is the shower as good as [insert any hotel here]?”

Back-Lit Mirrors

A back-lit mirror is a requirement in high-end hotels, affording guests a far more flattering presentation of light. Hotels have figured out that when their guests look good, they feel good about their stay. Who doesn’t want to look their best? There are multitudes of lit mirrors available, or you could simply add sconces to either side of the mirror for the same flattering effect for less money. What we need to move away from is placing lights above the mirror that cast unflattering shadows.

The Lobby

Hotel lobbies are transforming, especially in smaller boutique hotels who can’t afford full-service restaurants. The inviting lobby experience complete with coffee and wine bars and ample places to charge devices are now expected. If you’re a multifamily or apartment builder, this same inviting lobby experience can easily be incorporated into your clubhouses. If your community has a clubhouse, is it as inviting as the hotel down the street?

Recently, we stayed one of Charleston’s newest hotels. One feature of that room included glass door enclosed bookcases flanking the window. My initial reaction was that we had to buy a lot of books. Then, I realized what the hotel was actually doing was trying find a way to make the room feel more like home. 

The irony of me writing about making a home more like a hotel isn’t lost on me. So, who should be copying who? What other features would you like to see adopted from hotels? What additional features should the hotel industry take from housing?

Post courtesy of Housing Design Matters, a full service architecture firm with offices in Jacksonville, Tampa, and Chicago offering residential design services to builders.

Follow the Housing Design Matters blog for more design ideas and inspiration for your next project.

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