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How COVID-19 Has Changed Hotel and Restaurant Design, According to Experts

5 February 2021
6 min read
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Furniture, decor, and space planning reflect awareness of future needs.


The COVID-19 pandemic has had far-reaching economic effects in addition to the tragic loss of life over the past year. The hospitality industry has been hit particularly hard, with airlines cutting flights and flying half-empty planes, restaurants closing or barely staying afloat on take-out business, and hotels adjusting to fewer guests while at the same time investing in making guestrooms and public areas safe for visitors.

We’ve all seen hotel rooms turned into work-from-home spaces and even private dining rooms. Patios, lawns, poolside decks, and parking lots have become al fresco restaurants. The changes may be viewed as temporary, but will the need occur again? We know that hotels and restaurants are responding in the short term, but how is the situation affecting future plans, renovations, furnishings, and new hotel design?

We turned to Jackie Wright, principal at Pineapple Procurement, for ideas on the topic. Her company, [with staff located] in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Miami, specializes in managing the acquisition of furniture, fixtures, and equipment for boutique, lifestyle, and luxury hotels, restaurants, bars, and mixed-use developments.


Walker Hotel - Tribeca, NY

Increased Emphasis on Hygiene and Cleanable Materials
How has the pandemic influenced Wright’s choice of accessories, decorative items, and furnishings? “[Material] cleanability is more important now [than ever before],” she said. “We’ve seen a reduction in the amount of accessories like bed throws and decorative pillows. [Eliminating certain soft goods that can’t be cleaned as easily] is good from a hygiene perspective as those items were generally not laundered as often [due to the materials being dry-clean only]. From a design perspective, it creates a new challenge — how to create a cozy, residential feel without [luxury materials that tend to be dry-clean only as is the case for] some of those softer goods, how to add color and texture to a room [with more hard surfaces] using other furniture items or [new antimicrobial] materials.”

Floor coverings are an important consideration. According to Wright, “We typically [work on higher-end projects and] see hard flooring being used in most [new or renovated 4-5 star] guestrooms these days. Many designers still consider carpet which [helps with noise control and] is more budget-friendly, but it’s also seen as unhygienic [by some guests], so it will continue to be eliminated [in guestroom settings] more and more. Area rugs are a nice balance, and some even have antimicrobial properties.”

Wright mentioned a recent Pineapple Procurement assignment. The design firm on the project was Avenue Interior Design, and their work encompassed a full renovation of a DoubleTree hotel in Santa Monica, converting it to the West Coast Hilton flagship. The project included the lobby, reception, ballrooms, meeting spaces, restaurant, bar, outdoor dining terrace, and pool deck as well as 289 guest rooms and suites.

Andrea DeRosa of Avenue Interior Design also focused on the importance of choosing materials. “Cleanliness has always been of paramount importance within the hospitality industry, and the maintenance and durability of materials and finishes is certainly key. We are using more (very beautiful!) vinyl for upholstered seating, glass and stone tops on tables, and considering surface finishes, knowing that disinfecting procedures can wreak havoc on finer finishes and materials.”

Fireside Inn - Cambria, CA

Flexibility in Space Planning
Both Wright and DeRosa spoke about flexibility. “Flexibility has long been one of the biggest buzzwords for our clients and for good reason. It allows the properties to reposition a space if the originally intended purpose evolves or the needs change. We see this in abundance within restaurant layouts,” DeRosa said. “While we all love booths, modular components allow for maximum flexibility to comply with distancing guidelines or reduced group sizes. Mixing in various seating styles allows for an infusion of personality and visual interest. Consideration for how interior and outdoor spaces connect is also key.”

Wright discussed examples of using spaces in different ways from their original plans or designs, such as restaurant overflow into lobby areas for dining to allow more space between tables during lunch and dinner, and then returning to lobby space. “Meeting rooms not being used right now have taken on a new life as private fitness studios or “zoom rooms” while many hotels have adapted to the remote working world by offering [work from hotel] promotions for guests who need to get away [from their home office] or enjoy a change of scenery.”

“Designers are looking at circulation patterns in hotels and either increasing the square footage to allow for more space or arranging furniture [strategically] and [coming up with new ways to create low] dividing walls [such as low planters] in ways that encourage one-way traffic flow,” Wright said. “Right now, we see a lot of signs and floor decals, but this will likely go away and become more of a design intention. For example, instead of floor decals, a [floor] tile design, [graphic] wallcovering, or [strategically placed] planters could be incorporated to aid traffic flow as well as to address an element of biophilic design and cleanliness.”

DeRosa pointed out that patrons and guests have been forgiving as hotels and restaurants have attempted to solve the current problems and adjust their interior and exterior layouts for new compliance guidelines. “That being said,” she continued, “Moving forward, we must consciously design for intentional flexibility that will offer the least amount of disruption to the guest experience — and operations — in a time of need.”

Hilton - Santa Monica, CA

Technology Has an Expanded Role
Prior to the pandemic, technologies such as mobile key cards and iPads in rooms for a variety of communication and control applications were being used in some hotel properties. Now, new technologies are being developed, and Wright gave a few examples. “The ability to open, close, and lock bathroom doors without having to touch them using sensors and magnets is possible [in future hotel and airport design]. Voice activated elevators, lighting, window treatments, television controls, housekeeping requests are additional enhancements [are other examples of innovation being explored by hospitality leaders].”

In-room technology in some rooms will include screens that allow guests to select a scene such as a beach, waterfall, or forest to act as sort of a digital window to the outdoors. Other in-room technology could include large screens that would allow guests to attend larger-scale conferences from the comfort of their room without fear of being exposed to illness.

Like many other aspects of living with the pandemic, staying at hotels and dining at restaurants has changed, and for the most part, guests have continued to seek hotel stays and restaurant dinners. DeRosa commented, “The new restrictions on our daily lives have reinforced the importance of the hospitality industry and its profound effect on our health and happiness.”

Author: Patricia Doherty, Travel + Leisure

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