Remembering basics

Hotel designers in the gulf are not known for their subtlety, and functionality is being consistently overlooked.

WGD Wong Gregersen Dabrus Architects, COMMENT, Design

Hotel designers in the Middle East are not known for their subtlety. Ornate gold trimmings and marble surfaces are everywhere at the top end of the market - and that is just the bed.

The rise of the branded budget and mid-market properties - such as Premier Inn, Holiday Inn Express, Centro by Rotana and Ibis - are also being adapted for Middle Eastern sensibilities, mainly through the inclusion of extra space.

As IHG's EMEA vice-president for Staybridge Suites John Wagner explained, the company's offering to the extended stay market in the Middle East is expected to have almost exactly the same design as its counterpart in Europe, with two changes: the inclusion of Arabic art on the walls, and each room would be 50% bigger.

But while many reach for the superlatives to describe their latest accommodation product offering, the simple fact is that functionality is being consistently overlooked in favour of aesthetics.

Put another way: guests want a good night's sleep, and they are not too concerned about the colour of the bedspread that helps them achieve it.

According to Wong Gregersen Dabrus Architects' Henry Wong, who conducts an annual survey of common design errors in hotels, the top five complaints of guests relating to their room design are not enough lighting; not enough electrical outlets; fabric and finishing not suitable for hotel use; dirty carpets and cookie-cutter décor.

For me, the issues fall into two main categories - lights and toilets - based on the principal that most people are in a hotel room for two core functions: sleeping and showering.

Having visited many properties across the region, I am convinced that the people who designed the lighting of many rooms never saw the rooms at night.

Switch patterns are often completely counter-intuitive. I once spent 10 minutes trying to turn off the lights, only to have ‘night lights' turn on automatically.

After several aborted attempts to sleep in the soft glow I took the room key out of the switch so it shut the electricity down completely. Of course, then the AC didn't work...

Designers need to think what guests do in a hotel room. Often, because they are unfamiliar with the room layout, they will leave a light on somewhere - perhaps the bathroom - in case they need to get up during the night.

They will also want to read in bed, so should be able to access light switches from the bed itself. But by the same token there is no need for overkill. Very few people need to turn their balcony lights on from the comfort of their own bed.

And the lights should be bright enough for the purpose at hand. It's all very well having mood lighting, but when you are trying to type a report at the last minute in your hotel room, the last thing you want is to be squinting at the keyboard. Finally, the toilet.

In many hotel room toilets these days, guests walk in to find wall-to-wall mirrors giving the illusion of incredible space (and the illusion that you are brushing your teeth with thousands of people that look just like you).

The problem is that there are some bodily functions that you do not need to see yourself doing.

Other guest room designers are opting to ‘open up' the space available by either having glass between the bedroom and bathroom, or having a moveable partition.

In some cases (the freestanding bathtubs in the Ski Chalets at Kempinski Hotel Mall of the Emirates in Dubai, for example), the barrier between bathroom and bedroom is even less.

But while it might be romantic to spend a weekend in a hotel with your loved one, it is certainly unromantic to see - let alone hear - private bodily functions taking place. Not to mention the problems of cultural sensitivities in the Middle East.

So hotel designers take heed: turn up the lights, and leave up the walls separating the sleep from shower.

Chris Jackson is the editor of Hotelier Middle East.

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