This article was written for Sleep & Eat by Margaret McMahon, Senior Vice President and Global Director of Wimberly Interiors. Under her leadership, Wimberly Interiors has launched studios in New York, Dubai, Shanghai and Los Angeles. Prior to joining WATG, McMahon was Managing Director of Wilson Associates’ New York office and former President of the Network of Executive Women in Hospitality’s (NEWH) New York chapter. She has over 30 years of experience in the industry, specialising in hospitality interiors.
Wellness and resilience have long been the top trends on everybody’s lips, and not just in the hospitality industry. At WATG, the parent studio of Wimberly Interiors, these principles have been at the core of our design philosophy since our founding in Honolulu seventy-five years ago. In the midst of a pandemic that has left almost no corner of the globe unaffected, the significance of these principles has become more apparent than ever. We’ve been forced to slow down, refocus and, especially for those of us in urban settings, revaluate our relationship with the environment. Nature has come alive, finally having its time to grow and thrive. Fewer cars are on the road and planes in the sky, and the planet has had a moment to breathe. And brands and corporations have had to catch up.
As parts of the world cautiously begin to re-open, and the tourism industry takes its first steps on the long and slow road to bouncing back, the guest of the future will be more focused on wellness and resilience than ever before – and, naturally, safety will be an even larger proponent of this mix. But, none of this is particularly new. Even before the pandemic, consumers were looking for more meaningful sustainability practices and purpose, including health and wellness offerings, access to nature, and spaces that offer greater flexibility. For me, this is where the future of design lies: a space where wellness, resilience and safety are no longer considered trends, but, rather, ways of life. Below, I share my thoughts on how this could translate in a hospitality interior design context in the (perhaps, not so distant…) future.
The finishing touches
We already know the profound impact that spaces have on us mentally, physically and emotionally. Everything down to a guestroom’s tea, coffee, bathroom products and water bottle selections resonate with people. I recall that years ago, the idea of having refillable pumps for shampoos and conditioners was unthinkable. Fast forward to now, and many people wouldn’t blink at it. In the future, I think guests will notice these choices even more and loyalty will be built based upon a brand’s motivation to do better and be better, even in the smallest details. Properties opting for artisanal, locally sourced products, glass over plastic, natural materials, and fewer single-use products will have the upper hand. In many ways, some already do. But I think it will be on a much larger scale and, for many, a make or break when booking their accommodation.
A breath of fresh air
A novel concept: hotels with operational, opening windows! Architects, especially in adaptive reuse, are really focussed on air quality and sustainability at the moment – and it makes sense. We know how important fresh air can be to our mental health and increasing access to this would undoubtedly carry huge benefits for guests, and also for operators. We talk a lot about technology and its role in the guest room, but sometimes it’s the simplest things that have the greatest impact when it comes to comfort and convenience.
Safety as wellness
Going forward, it’s all about wellness, resilience and safety. Safety isn’t sexy, but it’s a huge part of the hospitality environment in 2020 and beyond. While a lot of this comes down to operational implementation, from a design perspective there will be crossover and collaboration with new industries, in new ways. For healthcare projects, we’ve long consulted with industry professionals and, for some hospitality projects, especially landscape, we involve psychologists to understand how we can maximise the use of our spaces. In the future, though, this will be on a new scale: infectious disease experts, food packaging innovators, and beyond.
Five-star hospitality and healthcare
Hospitality and healthcare have been crossing over for quite some time. People want hospitals to feel like hotels – spaces that are comfortable, safe, considered, luxurious and lit to perfection, rather than clinical, stark and daunting. For outpatient experiences, especially longer stays, this change in environment – yet still with all the crucial components of medical care – surely carries positive benefits for mental health and well-being, not only for the patient, but the family too. Now that we’ve all had a taste of what can happen, I think we’ll be seeing a lot more integrated hospitality/healthcare projects around the world.
Mass monitoring and mass customization
When you look at Asian cities, such as Dalian and Hong Kong, their management of COVID has been much more effective and, in part, a lot of that comes down to track and trace. While not specific to the hospitality industry, I think we are going to see shifts in people’s acceptance – either for better, or for worse – of the information they share with service providers. What does that mean for hotels? Instead of sharing your preferences for a newspaper or gym classes prior to check-in, a much more personalised service could evolve – furnishings or provisions in-room could be customised beyond pillows and the mini-bar. For frequent travelers, a much more complete user profile could provide an even more tailored experience for guests. It’s far-reaching but if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that fact is sometimes stranger than fiction.
Creating sound environments
Many of the trends we’ve seen emerge as part of the wellness movement, such as forest bathing and aromatherapy gardens, all rely on a sound, suitable environment. For interior designers, creating a space that’s less tech-heavy and has all the tools to work out, meditate in peace and quiet, and read a book or use your tech in the right lighting is paramount. Hospitality design is all about ensuring that guests have what they need, without sacrificing usability. I think we’ll be seeing a lot more stripped back, flexible spaces in the future.
Words by: Margaret McMahon.
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