What Is Shap­ing Hos­pi­tal­ity De­sign

Mr. Flo­rian San­der, Founder and Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor of iThink Con­sult­ing Group, dis­cusses the fac­tors that are shap­ing hos­pi­tal­ity de­sign to­day

Portfolio - - IN THIS ISSUE - By Vic­tor Chen

Mr. Flo­rian San­der of iThink Con­sult­ing Group dis­cusses the fac­tors that are shap­ing hos­pi­tal­ity de­sign to­day

The unini­ti­ated might miss the en­trance to Em­ploy­ees Only (EO), billed as a cock­tail bar and speakeasy, in Hong Kong’s Lan Kwai Fong area. It is de­lib­er­ately down­played – its ini­tials worked out like a se­cret code on the mar­quee, a neon sign that can be glimpsed through a cur­tained win­dow no more than a saucy wink to know­ing pa­trons. In­side, the rounded out cor­ners of the re­cessed ceil­ing and mirror frame, to­gether with the Emeco chairs sur­round­ing the up­hol­stered ban­quettes and the alu­minum-edged ta­bles sug­gest Amer­i­can diner, but the woodsy floor and walls, plush red drapes, and dim light­ing bring it a few notches higher. Mean­while, at Craft in Bangkok’s Sukhumvit Soi 23, Tolix chairs blend with the rough-hewn sur­round­ings with ex­posed ducts over­head, ce­ment floor un­der­foot, and ca­ble spool ta­bles ev­ery­where. Roughly a shed, it is the looser ver­sion of its more up­pish sis­ter es­tab­lish­ment, Whis­gars (whisky + cigars), next door. But at Belle’s Room, a cock­tail bar wedged be­tween Craft and Whis­gars, Vic­to­ri­ana has been ap­pro­pri­ated to cre­ate an in­ti­mate sa­lon. The pat­terned wall­pa­per is lay­ered with mir­rors in or­nate frames, old clocks, and cameo por­traits lit up by a hand­ful of wall sconces. It’s not easy to imag­ine all these com­ing from one de­sign com­pany – but they do. The works of iThink Con­sult­ing Group have been turn­ing heads since Mr. Flo­rian San­der – the de­signer be­hind CRAFTTM and play­labTM – founded it in 2009. Es­tab­lished as a hos­pi­tal­ity con­sul­tancy fo­cused on re­search and fea­si­bil­ity, iThink has since evolved into de­sign­ing turnkey hos­pi­tal­ity so­lu­tions, pro­vid­ing end-to-end ser­vices for new projects – from re­search to con­cept de­vel­op­ment, in­te­rior de­sign, project man­age­ment and mar­ket­ing. Be­sides F&B out­lets, Mr. San­der has de­vel­oped well-de­fined the­o­ries about hos­pi­tal­ity de­sign that have in­formed iThink’s projects in the sec­tor. The group re­cently re­con­fig­ured Ann Siang House in Sin­ga­pore into an ex­tended-stay ac­com­mo­da­tion, where Mr. San­der re­worked the in-room ameni­ties, added new com­mon ar­eas, and in­tro­duced a bold new façade. iThink also com­pleted the trans­for­ma­tion of 55 Keong Saik Road, a row of 10 shop­houses, into a 61-room bou­tique ho­tel. “Hos­pi­tal­ity de­sign en­com­passes the con­cep­tion of ser­vice-ori­ented projects like ho­tels, bars, restau­rants, lounges, and cafés,” says

Mr. San­der. “At iThink, we pride our­selves in se­lect­ing ex­cit­ing and unique projects that de­part from tra­di­tional hos­pi­tal­ity de­sign projects. To­day, our port­fo­lio spans from her­itage bou­tique ho­tels and speakeasy bars to kids en­ter­tain­ment cen­ters and re­tail con­cepts.”

Ac­cord­ing to Mr. San­der, ev­ery hos­pi­tal­ity project rests on four fun­da­men­tals: Business as­pect, op­er­a­tions, cus­tomer ex­pe­ri­ence and de­sign. “In our phi­los­o­phy, each of these fun­da­men­tals must not only be well ex­e­cuted but also com­ple­ment each other. Thus, the way we ap­proach hos­pi­tal­ity de­sign cul­mi­nates in a holis­tic con­cept for the owner, the op­er­a­tor and their pa­trons.” iThink pri­or­i­tizes com­ple­ment­ing the pri­mary of­fer­ing as op­posed to over­pow­er­ing it. As a re­sult, its de­signs vary and adapt in a unique way for each of its project – as no two projects are the same. At its in­cep­tion, the com­pany was purely an ad­vi­sory out­fit, de­liv­er­ing any­thing from business plan­ning and re­search to fea­si­bil­ity stud­ies. To­day, this side of the business has be­come a smaller cog in the big­ger clock­work of our turnkey con­cept and de­sign com­pany. “iThink’s phi­los­o­phy is that of trans­for­ma­tional de­sign: We be­lieve that large, open F&B con­cepts are a thing of the past. The spa­ces we cre­ate are smaller, nim­bler, with curves and cor­ners, and are able to ac­com­mo­date spe­cific evolv­ing business de­mands. “Flex­i­bil­ity for the op­er­a­tor is a key as­pect to our prod­ucts. We also aim to cre­ate projects that of­fer clus­ters of F&B ten­ants so guests can ac­cess a wide range of ex­pe­ri­ences within the same space.” Mr. San­der em­pha­sizes how de­sign re­flects hu­man be­hav­ior. “It is hu­man na­ture to want to be taken care of – de­sir­ing nur­ture and crea­ture com­forts is part of hu­man ex­pe­ri­ence. Ev­ery day, peo­ple are mak­ing choices, some con­scious, some un­con­scious, but all of them are a re­flec­tion of who we are and what we like. There are var­i­ous ap­proaches to hos­pi­tal­ity de­sign out in the mar­ket. Ours is one where we try to en­vi­sion the fi­nal prod­uct at its com­ple­tion: how cus­tomers are en­ter­ing the premises, what they see, where they sit, how they feel, etc. Only after think­ing through the en­tire project do we con­sider our de­sign ap­proach.” Im­por­tant ex­ter­nal de­vel­op­ments are also shap­ing hos­pi­tal­ity de­sign. “One of the things we’ve no­ticed is that peo­ple move away from static places. We be­lieve in trans­for­ma­tional de­signs as well as flex­i­bil­ity for the op­er­a­tors of our projects. When business is slow, cus­tomers can ex­pe­ri­ence a smaller, more in­ti­mate space; when business de­mands it, op­er­a­tors have hid­den cor­ners, niches and ar­eas to open to guests. Thus we are aim­ing to adapt our de­signs not only to the op­er­a­tors peak days, but also to our cus­tomers de­sire to al­ways have a cozy ex­pe­ri­ence in our venues.” iThink holds the view that hos­pi­tal­ity is about peo­ple, but does ap­ply tech­nol­ogy where it be­lieves it adds value. “Re­cently, we cre­ated a kids club fran­chise called play­labTM where we use cut­ting edge tech­nolo­gies such as move­ment-based pro­jec­tor tech­nol­ogy, in­ter­ac­tive white boards, on­line li­braries and VR mixed with ‘Old School’, more tra­di­tional ed­u­ca­tional ma­te­ri­als. Kids love it and it is a per­fect com­bi­na­tion of old and new.” Mr. San­der ac­knowl­edges the push to­wards au­to­ma­tion and un­der­stands how some busi­nesses – “fran­chises and any other cook­iecut­ter op­er­a­tions” – can ben­e­fit from such sys­tems. “In our line of clients, the more suc­cess­ful op­er­a­tors ad­just the am­bi­ence of their op­er­a­tions de­pend­ing on the mood and crowd, play­ing with light­ing, mu­sic and en­ter­tain­ment as they un­der­stand that mo­ments have to be cre­ated, not au­to­mated. The evo­lu­tion of light­ing has def­i­nitely been a con­tribut­ing fac­tor to our projects as the light­ing tones and in­ten­si­ties have ad­vanced sig­nif­i­cantly, al­low­ing us to cre­ate an in­ti­mate mood in all of our venues.” In the fu­ture, Mr. San­der be­lieves that there will be a push for tech­nol­ogy. “Some­thing we will see very soon will be aug­mented re­al­ity menu where you can see food prepa­ra­tion as well as the fin­ished dish on your phone. “I fur­ther be­lieve that over the next decade, we will see fu­tur­is­tic prod­uct of­fer­ings such as wire-free charg­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties in­side ho­tels, cof­fee shops and pub­lic ar­eas where gad­gets can be au­to­mat­i­cally charge via Wi-Fi, and you will never need to worry about bring­ing all your charg­ers for your watch, phone, tablet and lap­top.”




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