Think Global, Design Local

03/22/2012 By Robert Nieminen

During my first trip to Vegas, I was on a budget. And one of the very first things I learned upon checking in was why you should never, ever visit Sin City on the cheap. Instead of booking myself into a nice hotel, or even a modest one for that matter, I thought my money would be better spent at the blackjack tables, where I would surely be hearing the phrase, “Winner, winner, chicken dinner!” repeatedly, after which I’d be swiftly upgraded to a High Roller suite by a floor manager.

That didn’t happen.

Instead, I found myself wandering the Imperial Palace at two in the morning after going broke, trying to find my way back to my room so I could have a good cry. The problem was that my room technically wasn’t in the hotel at all. It was in the “annex” building, where the door to my room opened up into the parking garage and the sweltering heat outside.

Once inside, I wished I had packed one of those yellow hazmat suits you see in movies like Outbreak. In fact, I thought for a moment that I might actually be in a movie, as this room had all the amenities of the Bates Motel: the ‘60s bed covers, the ashtray, the TV bolted to the nondescript dresser, the plastic shower curtain, and the long sink just outside the bathroom with a mirror that faced the door so I could get a good look at failure (or Norman Bates).

“I remember the old quilt polyester that comes from the planet Uranus,” quipped Andrew Morgan, CEO of the Andrew Morgan Collection, to our Senior Editor, AnnMarie Martin, in her article on the evolution of the guest bed (see article here). As a manufacturer of luxurious bedding accessories (and his family having owned a Fontainebleau Hotel), Morgan has witnessed firsthand the shift in guest room design. Travelers can now enjoy a more personal experience and the same standard of quality they’d expect in their own homes while on the road.

This shift in guest room thinking has extended into hotels’ public spaces as well. Many properties are now looking to their physical location for design inspiration, and the basic brand strategy of many hotels—including the W San Francisco, one of our featured photo essays (see article here)—has evolved from a universal, cookie-cutter approach to a more site-specific mindset, as Stanley Saitowitz of Natoma Architects explains. During the programming phase for the W, Saitowitz’ design team was asked to come up with “a concept that was specific to San Francisco”; the final design features grid-like patterns throughout the public spaces that mimic the Bay Area cityscape where the hotel is located.

Even in places like Dubai and Abu Dhabi, where opulence in the hospitality market was practically an understatement before the global recession hit, there is a move away from the international influences that dominated the booming scene and toward a more localized aesthetic, as Martin reports in this issue’s feature article on the market changes in the Middle East (see article here). The community is experiencing what Nadia Biski, AIA, partner with BBG-BBGM, calls “emiratization,” meaning the locals “are releasing the ex-pats of their roles and responsibilities, and bringing the local people into the roles of authority to take over and take back the companies and run the businesses in the U.A.E.” This has resulted in the local culture being brought back into the aesthetic of hotels, which “gives them a feeling of calm and comfort, because it relates to where they’ve come from and it also helps them identify where they’re going,” she explains.

And as contributing writer Kyle Wroblaski muses in this issue’s Trends article (see article here), “why trudge through airport security and sit on a plane for hours just to stay in a hotel that looks exactly like the last one?” Whether you’re visiting a hotel across the world or just across the country, “you expect to experience a taste of your destination’s culture,” she writes. “Accordingly, hospitality designers are now incorporating local elements into everything from hotels to restaurants to spas, helping to showcase a location’s unique materials, cultures and traditions, and providing visitors with a memorable, flavorful experience.”

Because, honestly, who wants to wind up in another forgettable, out-of-the-box hotel room that is indistinguishable from another one, especially when Venice, Vienna or Vegas are right outside your door? Just remember: you get what you pay for. (And always double down on 11.)