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Healthy Hotel Design

We look at wellness within hotel design and the importance of light quality, biophilia and a thoughtful balance of public and private space.

I was recently commissioned to write an article on ‘healthy architecture’ and so embarked on a research mission to discover how the buildings we inhabit impact our physical and mental wellbeing.

A sense of preciousness over Victorian architecture in Europe has left us with vast, institutional buildings. Long corridors, dark central rooms, too-high ceilings. Purpose-built buildings also have shortfalls, most evident in healthcare architecture. Patients, staff and visitors are all under enormous stress and pressure and often have no way of telling what time of day it is, navigating down windowless, labyrinthine corridors that are squeaky, disorientating and inhuman.

How does this relate to the hospitality industry? Now more than ever, we are conscious of immediate risks to our health and wellbeing, and hotels, as a safe place of enjoyment and sanctuary, should lead the way in healthy interior design and styling. From the micro to macro, I’ve considered different elements from spatial design to those tiny details that have the power to enhance every day activities in a hotel.

INTERIOR ARCHITECTURE

Not every independent hotel or family-run B&B has the budget to commission an interior architect or design firm to overhaul their interiors, but there are some things hoteliers can do themselves by thinking strategically (design strategy, as it happens, is an affordable Hotel Palette service…😉)

We should first consider how each space within our walls are used, and whether they could be better designed for their most frequent use. For example, is your light-filled and lovely entrance hall a place where guests linger on uncomfortable seating during the day? Put some squishy furniture there and stick a coffee machine behind the reception desk. Or does the bar have the best view of the garden, but the view is obscured with heavy curtains and mood lighting? Switch things around and design a guest lounge around the view. Larger spaces could be divided with screens, bookcases or even a well-placed, high-backed sofa to create more intimate and private areas. Create lots of private little nooks with a focus on quality and quantity of light; for example, seating might point towards a window, fire, or huddle around a low lamp. Lamps and rugs will help to zone the space. Uninviting corners will be infinitely improved with sumptuous curtains, a piece of art, statement lamp or a coffee table stacked with art or local interest books.

Common trouble areas in hotels are the long, dark corridors that lead to guest rooms. If it’s not possible to add a skylight or a window at the end of the corridor, the space should instead feel cocooning, cosy and private rather than dull and gloomy. Dark colours and an appropriate amount of wall lighting, perhaps over artworks to create purpose, will help with this. Door numbers and way finding signage made from brass will add shine. Chunky sisal carpet will be help with acoustics. Console tables with lamps, books and artworks will add interest at a lower level, helping to add depth to a long and narrow space.

Under-utilised areas are the enemy of an inviting hotel: spaces without humans feel chilly and develop an odd character. How could these areas be used better? An unloved games room or “family room” (both relics of 80s and 90s hospitality) could become a private dining room (a picnic room for properties without restaurants), another comfortable lounge, bar or cinema room.

A healthy building is one that is made for the activities of its inhabitants. Correct levels of lighting, privacy and visual stimulation all play a part in mental wellbeing and have also been proven to support our physical health, too. Thoughtful design makes people feel respected, and a sense of dignity and respect is a fundamental part of our overall happiness.

MATERIALITY

Spending time in nature has been repeatedly proven to improve our health. Incorporating tactile natural materials, such as wood, wool, leather and stone, into a space will promote wellbeing by bringing the outside in. We spend a vast amount of time indoors so it’s important to surround ourselves with things that have an elemental quality to maintain a connection with the natural world outside.

Copper, brass and bronze have inherent antibacterial properties. These materials are therefore ideal for high-touch areas such as light switches, door handles, door plates and cupboard knobs. You must opt for the unlaquered finish, which will develop a lovely patina over time.

Things that get better with age will add longevity in terms of hotel maintenance. Scuffed walls, dogeared menus and scratched tables go no way towards making guests feel special, valued and respected. In response to the above examples, you could consider panelling or even using sisal on lower walls in areas where suitcases are likely to be dragged against to prevent damage; enclose menus in leather binders that will get softer and more supple with frequent use; and opt for solid wood over laminate tables, as a few knocks and dents will only add character and story.

Sleep is, of course, fundamental to our overall wellbeing, so selecting the right mattress, pillows and bedlinen for your hotel is crucial. And it’s not just about thread count. 100% linen, for example, is a bigger investment initially, but it gets better with age so will last much longer than cotton. It’s also naturally bacteria resistant, dirt resistant, anti-allergic and breathable, helping to regulate body temperature for a better nights’ sleep.

Ensure everything on the bed is washed at the end of each stay – I can’t believe I’m still talking about this, but please please do away with scatter cushions and throws that aren’t washed with the bedding.

PLANT LIFE

Biophilic design has been widely discussed but should be considered within an overall scheme, not chucked in at the end. The health benefits of plants are well documented, but a scabby trailing ivy on a bookcase isn’t doing anyone any good. Work with a specialist supplier who will help you understand which plants will thrive where, and how much maintenance will be required on your part. Scale is also important. A huge fiddle leaf fig, for example, could be the perfect thing to fill and characterise an empty corner, but a diddly hip-height cactus will get lost among the furniture and add nothing. Different houseplants are also good for different spaces and times of day. For example, peace lilies, snake plants and spider plants release oxygen at night, so would be perfect to improve the air quality in the bar or guest bedrooms.

THE DETAILS

I’ve talked about this before, but a great deal thought should be put into the toiletries. Brand affiliations tell guests a lot about your values and the value you place on them, so consider them carefully. In the sphere of wellness, ingredients should have active aromatherapy qualities and be organic where possible. Bramley is a good example of an all-natural brand that has vegan certification, sustainable packaging and a razor sharp focus on the therapeutic properties of plants.

Also look to the minibar. What is the provenance of the ingredients within the products? A Kit Kat and a bottle of Evian is fine, but doesn’t display much thoughtfulness on the part of the hotelier. A jug or carafe of water that has been purified with charcoal or filtered by the hotel is much nicer and reduces waste. Look for products that are locally made with organic ingredients and recyclable packaging. The food offering is the most literal interpretation of wellness within a hotel, so a good mix of healthy snacks and high quality sweet treats is important – guests are on holiday, after all. Provide a choice of tea and tactile mugs, perhaps made by a local potter. It reinforces the power of natural materials and touch. Fresh milk / milk substitute should be delivered in a jug or a flask just after check in, and don’t forget to leave a bowl and spoon near the kettle for teabags.

It’s the simple, thoughtful little touches that turn every day activities into something special, leaving guests feeling comfortable, at ease and cared for. And isn’t that what wellness is all about?

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