Category Archives: HD Expo 2014

The New Definition of Luxury

Amy Milshtein

What does today’s luxury traveler want? Interface explored this question during “Cocktails and Conversation” at HD Expo in Las Vegas. Three panelists, David Ashen, principal, dash design, Teri Urovsky, vice president, interior design, Marriott International, and Jon Kastl, principal, Champalimaud, along with moderator Stacy Shoemaker, editor in chief for Hospitality Design magazine, discuss the trends.

All three panelists agree that the definition of luxury has shifted. “Hotels were competing on design but now it’s about service,” says Ashen. The more personalized the better. He points to a recent trip to China where the concierge sent a pre-check in email asking for his room scent and beverage preferences. Kastl agrees that this elevated level of service will be the norm. “Restaurants and mini bars will be agile in catering to guests specific needs.”

While service aims to please the individual, the hotel’s physical design evolves to reflect their specific location. “It’s about experience instead of materials,” says Urovsky. This means that cookie cutter properties will be a thing of the past, a challenge that Urovsky relishes. “All of the Ritz Carltons looked alike for a long time,” she explains. “Now we strive for a distinguishable sense of place.”

To tell stories about the local experience the designers suggest paring down materials and removing layers. “High end design can’t be overwrought,” says Kastl. “Heavy draperies, thick brocades and even fussily packaged bathroom amenities are a thing of the past.”

Don’t get him wrong; luxury travelers still expect luxury finishes. After a day spent touching the glass on their iPads, this group craves natural textures and simple palettes. “Anything to connect the guest to the outside world is good,” says Ashen, who suggests reorienting the bed to face the window instead of the wall. Urovsky points to indoor spaces that flow naturally to the outside, a possibility even if the property sits on the 150th floor. “We use floor-to-ceiling windows,” she says.

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Guestroom Designed by Wilson & Associates. Photography by Don Riddle.

The less-is-more trend is seen worldwide except for one glaring exception, China. All three panelists suggest that you bring the bling to places like Beijing and Shanghai. “They are in their ‘Great Consumerism’ stage,” says Kastl.  Hong Kong, however, remains more Western in its aesthetic.

No matter where they go, the luxury traveler still values health and wellness. Hotels cater to them with spa-like bathrooms, juice bars, local food choices, and fitness centers. “A lovely spa or fitness center adds value,” insists Ashen. But what if sits mostly empty? Ashen doesn’t care. “Everyone likes that it’s there. If you do use the gym, it feels private and exclusive.”

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Spa designed by Bensley Design Studio. Photography by Ken Kochey.

Technology continues to play an important role, but as with design, less is more. If you can hide it away, it’s even better. For instance, people still want a great TV but Kastl suggests hiding it behind paneling so it can “go away.”

“We don’t put the technology in people’s faces,” says Urovsky, who suggests plug in portals that are subtly built into furniture. Tablets that control room temperature, window coverings and the television should be simple and intuitive to use. And say goodbye to the desk. “Who works at the desk anymore?” asks Ashen, who opts for couches, lounges and other soft seating that mimics coffee houses.

But don’t stop there. The future of the high end get away may be just that—a complete departure from everyday life. For example Ashen points to one of his favorite properties, Natura Cabana in the Dominican Republic, ten eco-friendly, beachfront cabins with no radio, television or air conditioning. “It’s a total escape.” Because isn’t the freedom to unwind without distraction the true definition of luxury?

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