Smashing the inner demons of hotel interior design inertia

Bill Barnett, managing director of C9 Hotelworks Company, explores the inflexibility of interior design and a shift away from the concept of four walls.

It’s Monday morning and my thought process has somehow hit the wall. Not literally mind you, but the thought of wearing a helmet and assuming the psyche of a crash test dummy just makes it all worse. My head has been literally spinning around in circles, not unlike that classic case of devil possession in the Hollywood thriller The Exorcist.

My inner demons in this case are hotel interiors and the sad sorry state of the blah blah, same sameness of them all. As my days grow shorter with age and the big sleep comes up on the horizon, I can’t tell you how many days, weeks or perhaps even cumulative years I’ve compiled in design or operational meetings over guest rooms. 

It is too mind numbing for words, but let’s have a go anyway. From legends in their own mind, developers whose famous last words are ‘let’s think out of the box’, onto the Instagram cowboys (and girls) who flood your WhatsApp message box with images of very nice but totally irrelevant pictures of cutting edge boutique hotels from Albania to Timbuktu. Bury my heart in Pinterest.

We’ve put bathtubs in living rooms, removed bathrooms, built in and then minimalised, but at the end of the day, all these years later it’s just like hotel lego and there are still just four bloody walls and a bed (with two or three family rooms for the latter). All those aspirational thoughts go up in smoke and disruption is left to smarter industries like tech. 

What I don’t get about hotels is the finality of interiors. Sure five, seven or 10 years down the track you get a second or third chance – it’s a bit like marriage. But just like marriage, those days, weeks and months leading up to change can be utter hell (note to self, ensure wife does not read this, though readers note this is in fact my third wife).

The dilemma of the process is that it’s pure inertia, and a total archaic stonewalling of the human need to be adaptive, moody, or want different experiences in the span of the time we spend in our hotel room. Why can’t hotels be like retail, where there are often four walls but the areas can evolve by the time of day, season, occasion or preferences? For all its worth hotels today are not similar to the caves humans dwelled in at the dawn of time. Nothing moves or changes. There are dinosaurs outside though, both now and then. 

This theory of mine goes straight on down the line of hotel interiors from the madness of the two-class system of front and back of house (remember when Trump said Mexico was going to pay for the wall?), to lobbies, outlets, and all the rest of these sadly inflexible spaces with their potential unfulfilled. It’s tragic and I have a hard time believing the hotel trade is so incredibly mindless to not change this backward thinking. 

I look at my friends who work in tech, or retail and perhaps I’m blind but they don’t really seem that much smarter than I am. So who’s to blame? Everyone and no one is maybe the best explanation. 

My entire rant here is not just a negative slant on the hotel trade, but it’s recognising the upside and opportunity to disrupt a broken industry. Be it augmented or virtual reality, complexed multi-branded properties or a total shift away from the concept of four walls. It’s time for change, and what better time than a crisis when disaster and opportunity are just a heartbeat away. 

Hey, you, the one in black at the the back of the room, are you listening?

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