Creating Hospitality Spaces Guests Feel Safe to Return to

Maria Tibblin

Maria Tibblin is the Founder and Creative Director of London-based interior design company, Maria Tibblin Ltd. Maria designed the “Tradition of the Future” guestroom Sleep Set at Sleep & Eat 2019, has studied Interior Design in London and has an M.Sc. in Public Health.

Before I became an interior designer, I worked in public health, so I have a great interest in wellbeing and health promotion. This enables me to take a holistic human-centred approach in my work, designing spaces that focus on beauty, functionality and, importantly, wellbeing. The World Health Organization (WHO) is very concerned about the state of disease and sickness in our world. Their definition of health is; “A state of complete physical, mental, and social wellbeing, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” With this in mind, buildings and spaces can positively or negatively affect our health and wellbeing.

There has been a wellspring of creativity among people during this challenging time, and it has given us time to reflect on our lives and businesses. We have come to realise what is important to us, and we have been sensibilised that our health is the number one priority. For many people, this crisis has been an eye-opener. 

When the hospitality and travel industries are able to resume, local travel, such as staycations, will be the first segment to flourish. People will want to get away from the homes in which they’ve been spending so much time and enjoy a getaway that will be hugely beneficial for mental health and wellbeing. Moreover, the hospitality spaces they return to (be it hotels, restaurants or bars) will need to go the extra mile in making wary and uncertain guests feel happy, safe and reassured to be in public areas once more.

Long weekend breaks and staycations are likely to become more popular, and people will want to travel somewhere close-by, but still get the feeling of travelling afar; enjoying local culture, cuisine, nature, art, music, craftsmanship, and luxury. I would call it Bijoux Hotels – local natural luxury stays, fresh air, clean food, solitude, and experiences within reach. It’s important that the hospitality sector makes the health and safety of guests the number one priority, and I see a huge opportunity to meet the new demand on what the future guest needs and wants.

So in this ‘new world’ on the horizon, how can we go about creating hospitality spaces that our apprehensive guests feel safe to return to, and relaxed to be in?

1. Respecting all our five senses (hearing, seeing, touching, smelling, tasting)

The five human senses are the sense of sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste. These five senses play a unique role by receiving signal information from the environment through the sense organs, which affects our mood and feelings. 

It can be both calming or energising and evoke positive or negative emotions. Senses can bring back memories, and we can use it in interior design to enhance the feelings of guests. As science reveals more information about health, many of us are becoming more mindful of our overall wellness, and our environment is an important aspect of this. A good night sleep is crucial for our immune system, as our bodies release important hormones during sleep. 

When we go away for a holiday or a long weekend, we hope to reboot our energy levels and return refreshed. I believe it’s important for hotel environments to provide sensory experiences for guests that gives them a quality night’s sleep and the ability to rest and unplug. A good sleep makes a happy guest. 

2. Biophilia

Incorporating natural elements into design is known to increase how we feel in a positive way. We know the benefits nature can have on our wellbeing and health are significant. Therefore, the use of wood, stone, water features and, of course, greenery, can help to produce a calming effect in a space. It’s also beautiful to look at and it connects people in a natural way. 

3. Sustainable, environmentally friendly materials

Off-gassing of toxic chemicals from furniture, carpeting and other materials, can be a health hazard. So, using sustainable, natural materials where we know the supply chain is crucial for our industry in order to help improve the environments and spaces that we design and do our part for sustainability. It’s extremely important for us to choose locally made, high-quality materials to support local communities and inspire global change. 

4. Flooring

As for our health, we can discuss options from various perspectives. Hardwood, if harvested in a sustainable way from FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified suppliers, is a beautiful, natural, and long-lasting type of flooring. The FSC certification ensures wood is harvested from forests that are responsibly managed, socially beneficial, environmentally conscious, and economically viable. Hardwood gives a space character and it is easy to keep clean, which is an advantage for preventing allergies. 

If we look at carpets, which many people love for the warmth and comforting atmosphere carpets create, we could opt for natural wool. It is durable and naturally resists moisture and stains. Although it’s important to note that the soft fibres in a carpet can harbour allergens.

5. Colours

Colour is a very important aspect of interior design, and it has a great impact on how we feel. Research has shown that we are indeed influenced by colour in our interior environments. Tonally homogenous, monotonous colour schemes give a calming effect, but also can trigger restlessness. But on the contrary, extremely bright coloured spaces can lead to physiological responses, such as increases in muscle tension and heart rate. I believe as designers we need to set a combination of colours, saturation, contrast, light, and texture to provide balance and stress relief to enhance the inhabitant’s sense of wellbeing.

6. Simplicity

I think the term simplicity is often used when designing environments for human flourishing, where we can incorporate the beauty and functionality of nature and its components. For me as an interior designer, to design with simplicity in mind gives me the sense of clarity to have a purpose for every piece brought into a space. It helps me to work with consciousness in regards to flow and respect to architecture and environment. 

This style has influenced designers and creatives for decades, and in present times we are thinking about our core values more than ever. We are becoming more aware and present in the spaces and environment that we inhabit, and simplicity can give us the opportunity to see the world around us more clearly.

7. Flow in a room (Fengshui, Vastu shastra)

Natural resources from the earth enabled ancient design concepts, from, for example China (Feng Shui) and India (Vastu Shastra), have been recognised for their worth, and integrated into our modern designs with the respect to the flow in a space or the balance and harmony in a room.  I am not an expert within this field, but I do consider the flow and harmony to be crucial in the design for the well feel and vibe in a room. 

If we design aesthetic, healthy spaces for people to stay in that accommodate all five senses and make them feel good, we can enhance people’s wellbeing.

8. The Sense of Beauty 

To preserve the beauty around us, and to create more beauty in the world, is a strong desire for humankind. Beauty makes us feel good. In our daily lives, we’re constantly searching for beauty around us. This beauty can be found in our connection with other people, but it’s also largely found through our five senses; when seeing, feeling, hearing, tasting or smelling something that gives us pleasure. 

Health and wellbeing refer to positive rather than neutral states, framing health as a positive aspiration. Just like beauty. We can allow ourselves to value, engage with, and desire beauty – simply because it is beautiful. We also value and desire good health. When we experience pleasure, it makes us feel good. If we are in an environment that gives us pleasure by respecting all our senses, our wellbeing will improve, and we will feel happier as a result.

If we create environments with a focus on the impact they have on the wellbeing and health of the people who use them, we can create truly beautiful, healthy spaces where people can thrive.  This can be achieved through creating aesthetic spaces that are beautiful in appearance, but also in functionality and how they make us feel. 

9. Functionality 

I still design with the motto by William Morris: “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”

Behaviour change will always be hard. From my experience working in the public health and medical sector, I have seen first-hand the difficulties of changing people’s behaviour. I believe the awareness and realisation that a change is needed is the first step towards being able to make a change. I would like to believe that through the challenges we are experiencing in the world right now, both personally and in businesses, we have already acknowledged the need of change.

If we can prepare ourselves now and act towards making much-needed positive changes, it can become a new normal. For the hospitality industry this is particularly important to be aware of, to meet the needs of the guest of the future.

Words by Maria Tibblin.

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Maria Tibblin

Maria has just launched her new hospitality brand, MARIA TIBBLIN Ltd. Using only ethical, sustainable, and locally produced products and materials, working with talented creatives, artisans and partners who share their values, and combining Maria's background in medicine with design, MARIA TIBBLIN Ltd. create healthy environments that respect all five senses. Watch the introductory video to find out more.