12 Dec

ID Magazine Hospitality Roundtable

Continuing the Conversation with Charlie Turner

Photography by Erik Bardin

When Interior Design Magazine asked that I represent Chambers at their Hospitality Roundtable event in New York City, I was honored. What a delight to sit down and discuss an industry near and dear to my heart with fellow designers and manufacturers who share that same passion. It was a wonderful opportunity to get multiple perspectives and diverse expertise together in one room to discuss the future of hospitality design.

I was happy to see familiar faces and meet a few new ones as well. Conversation flowed, insights flooded from every corner, and the energy was as vibrant as Time Square. And while we discussed many topics, there are a few in particular that I feel are especially important to share.

Topic One:
Instagrammable Moments

As you read this, thousands of smartphone cameras are flashing to capture that picture-perfect moment—whether it be in a coffee shop, in front of street art, or behind a filter. That picture will then be uploaded to social media where an influx of likes and comments will undoubtedly follow.

Today, if social media were a town, Instagram would be that hot new café people can’t stop talking about. The hospitality industry has caught onto this … and recently, they’ve begun to create dedicated spaces for their very own “Instagrammable moments”. These “moments” can be found in the corners of restaurants and hotels next to a sign that reads “take a picture here and tag us!” Some of which even come with a hashtag. Sure enough, if you grab your phone and search that hashtag on Instagram, you’d most likely find the same picture featuring hundreds of different faces. It’s fun and intriguing and certainly a good marketing tactic … but is it good design?

Though Instagrammable moments are currently trending—it’s important to remember that trends are fleeting. Shouldn’t good design be timeless? Instagram is popular today, but with technology advancing and changing as frequently as the weather, there’s no guarantee that it will hold the same value next year. However, good design should. A well designed space needs no introduction. It doesn’t need a sign that reads “take a picture of me!”…it simply warrants that response by being well designed. An interesting and aesthetically pleasing space already screams “you’ll want to capture this!”… but far more important than that, thoughtfully designed spaces should evoke multiple emotions rather than one response.

I believe a picturesque moment should happen organically rather than being forced. And though social media can be a valuable tool for many reasons, design legends of the past have forged awe-inspiring spaces (and moments) that are still visited and talked about today far before sharing a picture on Instagram became mainstream. Creating unmatched experiences and evoking multiple emotions is the foundation on which all good design should stand—and while embracing technology is fundamental in our industry…I hope we never lose sight of what’s important.

Topic Two:
Design Expectations vs. Budget Constraints

This is an issue that everyone in the design world—hospitality or not—can relate to. Clients and their projects come in all shapes and sizes and initial client expectations don’t always align with the budget they present. Sometimes you get the huge budget, but more often than not, it’s much tighter. Regardless, there’s almost always a budget of some kind, which means there is a balancing act between wants and needs and costs and reality. Addressing the reality of this with clients can at first leave them feeling discouraged. It’s understandably a hard pill to swallow. Luckily, many things can be done to alleviate that initial setback.

Incorporating a planning process is a good place to start. With experience in designing luxury hotels, restaurants and spas, I know firsthand how much the private club world differs from other facets of the hospitality design industry. In this sector, we work not only with private club leaders, but their members, too. This means we have to consider hundreds, sometimes even thousands of opinions (depending on the size of the membership) because the cost of the project will ultimately be funded in part by each member personally. So at Chambers, we’re firmly dedicated to a member-focused communication process—often rooted in membership surveys—ensuring support throughout planning and implementation. This allows for fluidity throughout the designing process and then later during implementation.

During our planning process, we develop Rough Order of Magnitude (ROM) costs early on based on square foot for hard construction, contingencies, soft costs, etc. Then, as concepts are later refined, we have a professional cost estimator or local general contractor look at them and provide estimates based on their expertise, the market, economic trends, etc., which helps us develop a very realistic cost. If necessary, this is where we can begin to incorporate lower cost substitutes to obtain a similar aesthetic experience while still staying in budget. And we continue referring to the budget throughout the design/construction process so we can ensure we stay ahead. Stepping back and looking at the project holistically and presenting both foreseen and unforeseen issues to your client during those first few interactions is instrumental and can help set the stage for what’s to follow.

This is another reason why our procurement department is such a valuable asset to us, as we’re able to involve all parties early on throughout the process to make it seamless, smooth, and agile to adjust when necessary. Chambers procures all FF&A (furniture, light fixtures, accessories, etc.) for our projects. Creating a dedicated procurement department allows your firm to be involved throughout the trajectory of your project and helps manage the budget from start to finish. In short, the more involved you are—from every angle—the better off you’ll be.

Topic Three:
How Branding Fits In

The topic of branding came up a lot during the roundtable event. It can be a challenging aspect to navigate, especially when trying to determine a new hotel or restaurants’ direction when one isn’t yet established. Who are they? How do they want their guests to feel when they visit? Do they have a mission statement and have they determined their core values? What makes them different? All of these questions are important to truly understand their brand. Only then can the appropriate design be developed to accurately represent that brand.

Many fellow designers at the roundtable mentioned how important it is to hire marketers and a branding team to work with us; ensuring our client’s image comes through in the design. And yes, I also agree that a marketing team is crucial in any firm. I also believe, however, that this is a skill we as designers should possess. We must work hard to understand who our clients are and what they want their new space to represent.

When people step through the doors of a private club, hotel, or restaurant, everything should flow and work together. The space should immediately makes sense. We as interior designers need to understand the concept of branding to ensure our client’s culture is represented appropriately in our design. Advertising and marketing efforts should complement these interiors as well. Rather than standing alone, every aspect should fit together like a puzzle because as mentioned above, above all else, our goal should be to design for optimal experiences. And if we understand our clients brand then we understand the kind of experiences they’d like visitors to have while in their space.

Again, it was truly an honor to be included in a discussion with so many innovators. I think I speak for everyone when I say we could have easily sat and talked for several more hours. There’s much to discuss about our industry; please don’t hesitate to contact me and continue the conversation.

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  1. Robert Hickman

    Charlie…..so well stated and comprehensive in its thoughts! It is always exciting to share our design lives with our peers to stay in touch with the universal hospitality industry. Thank you for representing Chambers so eloquently.

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