4 Interior Design Lessons from Hospitality

Creating hospitable spaces in multifamily developments will entice more buyers


Embracing hospitality, the art and science of making guests feel welcome, comfortable and relaxed, is mandatory in the restaurant and hotel industries. Establishments that can’t broadcast hospitality with passion and grace don’t survive. Yet builders and developers don’t realize that it is equally critical to create and foster hospitality in residential communities of every ilk.

How so?

In hotels and eateries, guests who feel welcome, comfortable and relaxed enjoy themselves and become a source of repeat business. In restaurants and bars, they stay longer and order more—often high-margin desserts and drinks. Simply put, hospitality spurs sales.

But the stakes are higher for builders and developers. In residential development, hospitality not only fosters interactions between residents and builds community—it spurs conversion. Potential residents or homeowners who feel at home when they walk into a multifamily or condominium building, or the community center of a development, are already on the way to conversion. And they’re certainly much more likely to have a more positive reaction to the model home they’ve yet to see.

So how do you create hospitality in these settings? Famed New York City restaurateur Danny Meyer said, “Hospitality is almost impossible to teach. It’s all about hiring the right people.” We beg to differ a bit with Mr. Meyer. From our work as architects and commercial interior designers for hotels, eateries and multifamily buildings, we’ve found that hospitality starts with a structure’s architecture and interior design.

If a hotel, restaurant or bar is so sleek and chic that its rooms or service areas are uncomfortable, what are the chances that these establishments will be successful? Slim to none. Ditto for residential amenities—from lobbies and community rooms to even laundry areas and storage spaces—that are uncomfortable, inefficient and unappealing. Without thoughtfully and strategically designed spaces, it is impossible to create and foster hospitality.

Our roots as architects started in hospitality, where we’ve designed and built award winning hotels, restaurants and rooftop bars. But in the past three years we’ve worked on major multi family projects and found that lessons learned about interior design for hospitality settings are transferable to residential communities. Our renovation of the Fairfield Inn & Suites in downtown Chicago, a Marriott property focused on offering business travelers efficiency and affordable luxury, illustrates four key interior design lessons related to hospitably that residential builders and developers should embrace.

Make Tech Communal: At a time when technology distances us physically, it’s important to use design to bring us closer to each other. An outlet-studded “media bar” for recharging devices seats four for those who need surface space and turns a solitary activity social. More significantly, the media bar is trim, attractive, maximizes small spaces and can be used in many different environments. While this is in a hotel lobby, we’ve also designed versions for multifamily lobbies and community rooms.

Add Comfort, Versatility and Polish that Pops: A cool, sleek, turn-of-the-century lobby with a resilient but dated Terrazzo floor gets heavy doses of style, warmth, versatility, and comfort from strategically designed and executed furnishings. These include carpet tiles in multiple patterns, a custom sofa and honeycomb coffee table, an eye-catching wall covering, and epic art. The carpet tiles are aesthetically engaging, durable, easy on the feet, and replaceable; the oversized sofa is sports hardy vinyl with a bespoke motif executed in nailheads; a honeycomb table breaks apart into individual stools; and the wall covering adds style and heroic scale to the space. The glass wall couldn’t be replaced but was fitted with multiple video screens. We’ve used all these strategies in multifamily projects.

Maximize Every Nook and Cranny: Tight dining or working space—regardless of where it is, can be maximized with a banquette that increases seating options to accommodate more guests or residents. It can be paired with traditional seating that moves wherever necessary. A mix of materials and hues on the banquette keeps it from feeling aesthetically institutional, as do whimsical lighting fixtures. We’ve used this tactic again and again in hospitality and residential settings.

Make Storage and Service Stylish: Like the elephant in a room, it can be hard to ignore a massive storage cabinet. Rather than let it suck the style and versatility out of a room, we turned it into a statement-making serving station at the Fairfield. The backdrop is actually a giant mural we custom designed and printed directly on a wall covering, while the breakfront is made out of laminate topped with Absolute Black granite to be easy to clean and enduring in terms of its ultimate utility, durability and style.

Jackie Koo is the founding principal of KOO, an award-winning architecture and commercial interior design firm based in Chicago Illinois. She is affiliated with the American Institute of Architects, the International Interior Design Association and the US Green Building Council and is a member of The Chicago Network and the Economic Club of Chicago. For more information, please visitwww.kooarchitecture.com

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