Creating a Sense of Place in Multifunctional Hospitality Spaces

Lodging Econometrics (LE) estimates that there are nearly 6,000 hotel projects, accounting for more than 1 million rooms, currently under construction worldwide. With the industry growing more competitive by the day, hospitality designers are turning not just toward high-end guest rooms, but toward multipurpose common spaces that both excite travelers and fulfill a variety of needs and creature comforts while they’re away from home.

Hospitality design isn’t just about designing places; these days, it’s about creating an experience that starts as soon as guests walk through the door, and continues through meals and entertainment, all the way until they close their eyes at night. And it’s about providing unexpected details that give a hotel’s common spaces a strong sense of place—and that get people talking, and even sharing on social media. 

Designers are rising to the considerable challenge, creating multifunctional spaces and “wow” moments in lobbies, meeting spaces, outdoor patios and terraces, pool areas. They’re incorporating both large, conversation-starting architectural details and unusual smaller elements, like furniture and live plants, to enhance the overall sense of place. And they’re including tactile materials that appeal to the senses. These evoke an emotional response in the user, inviting him or her to linger and fully experience the space and the possibilities it provides.

Novel, memorable experiences are especially important for younger hotel guests, who are spending less time in their rooms than older generations. They want to get out and experience their surroundings, but still want a safe, relaxing experience with plenty of conveniences.

At the Novotel in the United Arab Emirates, for example, design firm DRU Consultancy created a sleek and stunning multipurpose poolside lounging and bar area. Guests can kick back or soak up the sun on modern teak-sling-and-stainless steel loungers, arranged with sculptural side tables between for resting drinks, magazines, or even a tablet or laptop. Because there’s ample space around loungers, tables, and architectural elements, the space feels light and easy, and encourages wandering and mingling. And when guests are ready for cocktails, appetizers, and conversation, they can head just a few steps over and perch at the bar’s on high sling-and-stainless-steel stools.

Business travelers, on the other hand, need functional workspaces with outlets and WiFi, plus places to meet with colleagues and clients. For hotel common areas to appeal to this group, they need to have sitting areas for both solo work and small meetings, with sizable tables for spreading out paperwork or devices. And when snacktime rolls around, these spaces need to be close to, or else accommodate, cocktails and working meals. At the Hilton Anatole in Dallas, designed by EDG Interior Architecture & Design, for example, guests can choose outdoor sofas or lounge chairs for brainstorming or networking, all under the warm glow of the hotel’s atrium. When it comes time for lunch or dinner, they can take it inside, mere feet away, to the hotel’s restaurant.

While these examples highlight how two groups of travelers might use multifunctional spaces, the best part of these hospitality designs is that their flexibility suits a variety of uses—from bachelorette parties to corporate cocktail receptions, family reunions, and couples’ getaways. In creating a spatial conversation between people, place, and design elements—such as outdoor tables, shade structures, and accessories—these hotel public spaces assume an important function for the guest, offering fun, comfort, and plenty of moments to remember.