Trends in Hospitality: Design narratives drive material specification - Nov 2023

By Jessica Chevalier

Post-pandemic, Americans were eager to escape their homes and explore the world again, and as they took to the roads, the hospitality sector got to work supplying new and updated properties for them to enjoy. The architects and designers employed to bring these properties to life report that the current market is active-from one coast to the other, across the span of service levels and property types-and that the expanded portfolio of flooring options available for hospitality specification today allows them to create dynamic spaces with unique design narratives.

Patricia Lopez, a Richmond, Virginia-based principal with Baskervill, believes that hospitality design has reached a point where trends are no longer driving specifications. “Looking at samples and design boards, I realized that there are no trends,” the designer explains. “The trend is to select materials that support the design narrative. If the concept is ‘lake house,’ you find a rug that aligns with that vision. If the concept is ’80s, you go all the way with it. Today, we design to the story.”

In this, Lopez believes it’s highly important that designers and manufacturers partner to translate the design concept into finishes. “At the end of the day, the materials specified should support the concept,” she says. “That is what will make it a good selection that will stand out. Creating custom carpets with a product designer who really understands the vision is the best we can ask for. I love it when we send our vendors the concept board and they respond with links to options that support that concept. It’s really about the relationship. Every vendor has products; I’m looking for how a vendor can work with us to design to the story.”

Within an industry lifecycle, there are times when innovation wins-building a better widget; times when technology wins-improving what that widget can do or how pretty the widget is; and times when a widget is, well, a widget, and the decision isn’t a matter of choosing one widget over another but choosing among widget teams-selecting the team that will make the job most simple.

In some sense, that’s where we are today in flooring. How does a designer choose from the thousands of wood-look LVTs on the market? They don’t. Instead, they cast their fortunes with the manufacturer or vendor that is willing to work for their business and ease their workload.

“Last year, 2022, was still very much a rebound year from the pandemic,” says Jan Freitag, national director for hospitality market analytics at CoStar. “And what that means is that room demand was 11% higher than in 2021. And 2021 was 28% higher than 2020. So, growth rates slowed last year, but we were still in the rebound. Room rates were up 20% last year, and RevPAR (revenue per available room) was up 31%. Keep in mind that these rates are not sustainable, and they are also off a small base.” He adds that, in 2022, because people were staying closer to home, “domestic resort destinations did really well.” These facilities are now seeing their occupancies normalize.

2023 has been a year of normalization with more standard growth rates. Through August, room demand was up 1.8% year over year, and room rates were up just under 5%. RevPAR growth is expected to close the year at 4.5%.

However, Q1 2023 had outsized influence on the year, as it was measured against Omicron-hobbled Q1 2022. And excluding the first three months of 2023, the data tells a different story: room demand for April through August was flat year over year, and room rates were up only 2.5%, which is likely below the rate of inflation, meaning that hoteliers could see decreased profits for the year as expenses grew at a faster clip than income.

While hotels connected to convention spaces, often in city settings, did poorly amid the pandemic when people weren’t yet comfortable meeting in large groups, these are doing well now, albeit off a low base, as corporate transient demand and group demand are returning.

CoStar is calling for a mild recession in Q4 2023 and Q1 2024 but anticipates momentum and RevPAR growth of 4.1% coming out of that.

For next year, room demand has three drivers: corporate group travel is expected to continue at a healthy clip; leisure travelers are expected to remain closer to home, and more Asian and European travelers are expected to visit the U.S.; and corporate transient travel is expected to remain strong. Freitag adds, “The Transportation Security Administration data is clear; air travel is at peak or close to peak compared to 2019.”

As for what types of construction and renovation activity the hospitality market is seeing, Jim Looney, founder and CEO of Looney & Associates, states, “I would say we are at the tipping point. We have been doing primarily new construction work. We opened five new hotels this year-all full service. And we are currently working on seven new builds. But we are seeing renovations become prevalent.”

The Dallas, Texas-based designer continues, “Our current projects range from a 50-room boutique property in Charleston to a 600-room Gaylord in San Francisco. Some projects are new hotels but in repurposed buildings. I am seeing a lot of activity in the center of the country. In prior decades, the coasts were where large projects happened, but we’re seeing large projects in places we haven’t been before-Cincinnati, Detroit, Memphis-markets that see a hotel project as a part of downtown renewal or as mixed-use development.”

On the other hand, San Francisco-based Meghann Day, principal interior designer with HBR, notes that all her recent work has been renovation, which she attributes, in part, to the high cost of borrowing money today. Nevertheless, she notes that “there has been a push for renovation as hotels that held off renovation amid Covid must now move forward for PIPS (property improvement plans). Maybe in a year’s time new builds will start again.” Day reports that work has been highly varied-from resorts to city-center properties-and spread across the U.S.

Lopez concurs, adding, “We are very lucky in having a variety of project types and a lot of them- from new builds to renovation to prototype work. We have been very busy with a variety of projects in the U.S. and the Caribbean, as well.” She adds that project work also spans the hotel levels-from select service to luxury-and across many brands.

Did Covid permanently change the hospitality market?

Freitag believes that the hybrid work schedule generated by the pandemic will have a lasting impact. While there has been a lot of talk about increasing demand for a return to the office, he does not believe the market is likely to see 40-hour, in-office work weeks anytime soon, and the ability to work remotely, often on Fridays, provides extended opportunity for weekend travel.

Design-wise, this may have a lasting impact on interiors. “Those working from a lobby or hotel room need nooks and crannies where they can focus on a conversation on their computer,” he says. “The other piece of that is that we are firmly in the era of the gig worker: people with multiple jobs not tied to an office. Hotel lobbies are a place these workers may go when they want to get out of the house, so it’s important to use design to make those places welcoming.” He notes that while some hotel owners may say, “We don’t want our lobbies turned into a WeWork space,” others see it as a revenue opportunity, as these workers buy coffee, snacks and lunch to sustain themselves throughout the day.

Lopez notes that, post-Covid, hospitality continues to desire flexible spaces-for instance, a business center space that opens to a lobby.

Looney agrees that flexibility is key today, noting that it may be desirable today to “collapse” a restaurant space to help create a “happening” or bustling vibe. This need for flexibility may also be driven by challenges with staffing; a property may close off a part of a restaurant if they don’t have the wait staff to serve it and have service at the bar instead, where the bartender can pull double duty serving drinks and waiting tables.

Looney reports that he is seeing the hotel buffets returning, albeit in an abbreviated form. “How three meals operate in a hotel may be different than prior to Covid,” he notes. “Breakfast can mean coffee and a muffin or yogurt-it doesn’t have to be sit-down event.”

Lopez adds that creating connection to the outdoors, which was highly prioritized amid Covid, also continues to be a priority post-pandemic. “This isn’t new but is more well received now,” the designer explains.

Overall, says Looney, “Covid made us tap the brakes and examine things. We had to act fast, but we are now seeing a gradual return to what was desirable prior to the pandemic. The communal gathering space-a place to meet for coffee or a meal-was blown up with Covid, but we are returning to it now.”

What Looney doesn’t see dissipating is the heightened awareness around cleanliness. “That’s where LVT comes in,” he says. “People are wary of carpeted guest rooms. LVT or hardwood removes that concern and, for that reason, has subliminal appeal.”

Along with its perceived cleanliness compared to carpet, LVT’s longer lifecycle is appealing for property owners, as is its residential look. Day and Lopez report that many property owners now request LVT for their properties, and in some cases, the use of LVT is not an option for the operator but a brand requirement.

“We used to have to sell the material-with more mock-ups and samples,” says Lopez. “Today, vendors offer really good options with more designs and different ways to lay it out, and these options make it more interesting. Texture is important; our first LVT samples were flat and plastic, but it has come a long way with its look and feel.”

Day reports that, thus far, she hasn’t had a problem with LVT uglying out before the end of its useful life. “It is still looking good when they are ready to pull it up,” she notes. “We are careful about what we choose. We like something simple without a lot of lines that blends easily so that it is still relevant through the next course of renovation.”

Lopez notes, “There are now enough products that solve for the challenges we had originally,” and, today, finding a product that ties into the narrative, location and type of hotel drives product specification.

Looney concurs that today’s product offering is broad. “Product choices have broadened in the last decade,” he says. “Designers who used natural stone previously now have the option to look at porcelain. Hardwood has become popular, and LVT always comes into play in properties at a certain level, generally for guestrooms. We see where people might not have considered LVT in guestroom bathrooms previously, and now see it as a possibility, though ceramic is still preferred.” Both Day and Lopez note that LVT is rarely if ever used in luxury properties.

Lopez reports that wood looks are her most used LVT, noting that the crux is often finding the right wood look.

Adds Day, “Moving ahead, my biggest request is for more options available for vinyl-different variations of color and installation opportunities and more that can be used in bathrooms.”

“We still use a lot of carpet,” reports Looney. “Axminster in public areas. For guestrooms, carpet with a high ounce weight. Carpet manufacturers have done a great job giving options with texture, cut and loop, color combinations-things we wouldn’t have seen in the past. For some spaces, like ballrooms, carpet is the hero, a way for designers to provide color and pattern. Ballrooms can be fairly neutral in the vertical surface but can get some ‘wow’ with the carpet. The carpet can tell a story.” Looney and his team never use carpet tiles, though some of the other designers with whom we spoke do use it to create inset area rugs under beds or in seating areas.

Lopez utilizes broadloom in guest corridors, meeting spaces and some guestrooms, noting that a carpet mill’s construction capabilities can differentiate it from the competition. Lopez looks for products with a great deal of texture but still within cost parameters. “Shaw Contract does that very well,” she adds. “We come up with a challenge, and they have a great solution in budget. Sometimes it’s not an easy task. For one project, we had them design broadloom carpet for guestrooms that looked like an area rug. The repeat of pattern was very large scale. It was a challenge because of seaming and waste, but the end result looked amazing.”

For resorts, Looney & Associates also frequently utilizes outdoor area rugs and notes the increasing performance this category offers around durability and cleanability. In addition, he has been impressed by how soft and natural-looking outdoor rugs are today.

Noise is the number one complaint at hotels, reports Looney. And it is standard practice that if designers hope to use hard surface flooring in guestrooms for an existing property, they have an acoustic report of the building conducted beforehand.

Looney believes that educating clients around acoustics is the key to a successful installation. When considering LVT for guestrooms in an existing structure, Looney insists on specifying the product with the best acoustic rating available. He explains, “In new builds, we don’t worry as much because we know the structure. You can construct a hotel with acoustic considerations built in. But for an existing building, you have to do testing. [In moving to hard surface in guestrooms,] we have become more aware of using area rugs in places where they are needed, of utilizing upholstered furniture. We specify fewer office chairs on casters.”

In addition, Looney notes that designers keep in mind the evolving way in which guests use hotel rooms today. No longer is a family gathered around a blaring TV; often, they are using devices and headphones to watch individual programs. They are, however, doing Zoom calls in their rooms, so the spaces must account for this chatter and provide a suitably quiet workspace.

JW Marriott Dallas Arts District
Looney & Associates’ design for the new JW Marriott Dallas Arts District leans into the city’s cultural side, “affording a point of view beyond cowboy hats,” says Looney.

Located in downtown Dallas’ arts quarter, just across the street from the Dallas Museum of Art, which anchors the district, the hotel is built atop an existing parking garage with the main lobby 11 floors above street level.

The 270-room facility includes elegant ballrooms, meeting rooms, an outdoor pool and a deck with a commanding view of downtown Dallas. The design team sought to create a design that took advantage of the views. “Dallas is a very new town with big gleaming buildings,” says Looney. “There was a lot of excitement around this particular property, which is the newest addition to the Dallas skyline.” Clientele for the property includes both business travelers and weekend leisure travelers.

“One JW Marriott brand attribute is using natural materials,” says Looney. “Honesty of materials is important for the luxury level that this property achieves.” The main lobby level flooring is 2cm dimensional stone, while the restaurant and the JW Market feature 7” white oak wood flooring. Functional spaces feature custom-designed Brintons Axminister wool carpet. One meeting space is an exception to this rule; designed to look like a gallery, the unique room employs hardwood paired with exposed ceilings.

Looney has a good deal of experience utilizing hardwood in commercial environments and notes that, first and foremost, he educates clients about the material before specifying it. He notes, “With any wood, clients need to go in with their eyes open. It does require maintenance. We always consider the wearlayer thickness, so that the product can be maintained over time.” In addition, Looney is careful about the material’s finish, and, if fitting for the project, he has the hardwood wirebrushed, which creates texture that is more forgiving under wear and tear. Looney favors medium tones as opposed to too light or too dark, which show scratching. He generally opts for a durable wood, such as white oak or walnut, and notes that he relies on his trusted vendors and partners to guide his team on what will work best for specific applications.

“I look at hardwood flooring like a 100% cotton shirt,” the designer reports. “You know there will be care involved. You wash it, and it’s wrinkled, so you press it. You may want to use starch. But if you go in with your eyes open, it’s a wonderful material.”

He hasn’t yet utilized any of the hardened wood products but is eyeing them for a future project.

Moxy Virginia Beach Oceanfront
For the Moxy Virginia Beach Oceanfront design, the Baskervill team took inspiration from the vintage boardwalk. The 134-room hotel is a new property that opened its doors in June 2023. Lopez notes that the Moxy brand is “fun,” and allows designers the space to add whimsy in the design. In the name of capitalizing on that fun, the property includes a slide from the second floor to the first.

Playing off the boardwalk design narrative, the lobby doors open onto hardwood, which is also used around the bar. The hardwood is The Heartpine Company’s Antique Oak. The remaining lobby flooring is concrete. Some lobby area rugs imitate sand, while others are eclectically piled atop one another.

Guestrooms features Shaw Contract’s Natural Oak LVT with area rugs. The king room has rugs on each side of the bed, while the double-bed rooms, in which the beds are positioned foot-to-foot, feature a single rug. The LVT continues into guest bathrooms.

Guestroom corridor carpet is also by Shaw Contract.

Marriott Miami Biscayne Bay
For the Marriott Miami Biscayne Bay design, HBR sought to play off of Miami’s colorful and playful nature. The floor acted as a base palette with additional finishes bringing in the Miami-eque nature with a broad range of vibrant colors, including blues, greens and sunset colors.

HBR opted for wood-look vinyl planks in the guestrooms with inset carpet tile featuring an ocean wave pattern-both by Interface. Day believes that the trend toward using LVT in guestrooms adds cost but “makes the rooms feel more luxurious with a residential appeal.”

The bathroom is travertine-look porcelain by Ceramic Technics.

The corridor carpet is by Couristan, as are the area rugs in public spaces. Porcelain was selected for the public spaces to stand up to the wear and tear of guests entering from the beach. Daltile’s porcelain is featured in the restaurant area, while Stonepeak’s was specified for the M Lounge.

• Day: The flooring industry is doing well with vinyl-with advancements in colorations and product availability. A few years ago, there were only five or six options, but we can choose from larger ranges today. Also, there are customization options.

• Looney: Designers always want more choices, and manufacturers have answered that call. New techniques-such as printing porcelain, the ability to create more random patterns-have opened that up. Finishes are better for hard surfaces than they ever were before. LVT is not the shiny plastic of years past. Any finish with a matte or natural appearance will be the winner.

Overall, manufacturers are doing a good job of listening and watching trends as well as partnering more with designers from the beginning of projects. Today, flooring manufacturers view themselves as materials suppliers, and that is better than having to go to different sources for every material.

• Lopez: There are so many good product options today; sometimes too many options-and that’s where relationships are important. I say, ‘This is what I want,’ and the good vendors find a way to make it happen.

Copyright 2023 Floor Focus 

Related Topics:Couristan, Daltile, Stonepeak Ceramics, Mohawk Industries, Interface, Shaw Industries Group, Inc.