James Soane : Designing hotel space

01 : 10 : 2009 Hotel Design : James Soane : Project Orange

Hotel guests are becoming more adventurous and ethically aware, and are altering their sense of space, according to James Soane, co-founder of design agency Project Orange.

Soane, whose agency works with a variety of hoteliers, from W Hotels to Radisson, believes that creating a unique destination is key when working on the ideal hotel space. Project Orange ensures this careful balance by devising a story before beginning the actual design process. The team collects visual fragments that capture and narrate particular themes and ideas in order to create a book that tells a particular story of that hotel and what it wants to achieve. ‘There was a time when there was a manual – customers wanted the same home-away-from-home experience wherever they went,’ Soane says. ‘It became a world of beige.’

But today’s traveller is much more worldly, and expects a new experience upon entering a hotel. An important part of this hotel experience is down to a clever way of designing for the logistics and flow of staff and guests. ‘Function is an understanding of how people use spaces,’ Soane says. ‘You are processing lots of people and air. These logistics need to be considered. But it’s not just cause and effect, and linear in understanding.’

While aesthetics may be the first thing a guest notices, developing the ideal hotel requires more than the skills of an art director. It is necessary to imagine the hotel functioning – with all its potential uses and different types of travellers passing through – and put yourself in the place of all the different players. ‘You have to think about how spaces are used – there are spaces they want to hide and spaces they want to show off in,’ Soane says. ‘The question is about habitation and imagining different scenarios.’

Besides considering the tweaks and adjustments a hotelier might want to make – such as closing off a doorway, or changing the art on the wall – Soane meticulously conjures scenarios that could happen in the hotel, from the perspective of some of its many guests. ‘‘I want to have a cigarette’, ‘I want to have an affair’ – it has to be imagined in the design process,’ he says.

Our top five take-outs

1: Give hotel guests an authentic experience that represents the location they’ve come to visit. ‘People are more adventurous and want an experience that gives them some insight, rather than one which replicates,’ Soane says. No longer is the hotel guest interested in carbon-copy establishments in different locations around the world – the space must be true to its setting and surroundings.

2: Travellers are becoming more aware of sustainable issues, and increasingly understand that they can make a difference through the choices they make.
‘The question of sustainable living is in the public eye and will never go away,’ Soane says. ‘[Travellers] are aware they can make a difference.’ To respond to growing consumer demand, Soane believes that hotels should no longer simply make the sustainable offer an option, but ensure it is part of the standard offering.

3: Small, stylish spaces are redefining the budget hotel. ‘People are prepared to stay in smaller spaces,’ Soane says, ‘but these new spaces have an acceptability about them.’ Where these hotels succeed, he says, is in branding themselves as an entire product or lifestyle rather than just a room in which to stay. The Yotel airport hotel chain and Amsterdam’s citizenM are redefining the boutique luxury experience, for instance, offering the nomadic Bleisure traveller a well-designed space in which to stay during transit. ‘These models work as they are very much serving a purpose,’ Soane says, ‘but it can still be sexy and playful.’

4: Use tech wisely, and not as a complete replacement for personal service. Technological interfaces have grown in popularity among the new breed of express hotels, offering guests concierge services and gift-buying options at their fingertips. But these devices must be as user friendly as they are smart. The key is a clever balance of technological prowess and personal service. ‘The interface is critical, but it doesn’t replace the conversation,’ Soane says. Ensure guests have a choice between the two, and make sure they are able to reach a real, live customer service representative should they want to.

5: ‘The three-star market is the new gold,’ Soane says. ‘It caters for families and it caters for people on a budget.’ People’s requirements at this level are simple, but hotels have not quite been up to scratch, he says. Essentially, customers in the three-star market are after a shower and a clean, quiet room, and they want to pay a relatively small price for it. Successful hoteliers in this market will be clever with their use of space: simple designs, such as a child’s bed that folds up into the wall, can ensure that a lot is done with a little room.

The Fitzwilliam, Belfast The Fitzwilliam, Belfast
The Fitzwilliam, Belfast The Fitzwilliam, Belfast

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