Interiors: Old vs New

5th April 2006 (Last Updated April 5th, 2006 18:30)

Hotel interior design is extraordinarily diverse, often reflecting a hotel's own unique philosophy. Trends seem to lie between two extremes: either traditional style or avant-garde interiors dominate design, especially in bathrooms.

Interiors: Old vs New

Whether traditional or contemporary, following a new futuristic style or returning to a classic design tradition of yesteryear, bathrooms are definitely a talking point in hotel design. As Laurence Pidgeon, director of London-based kitchen and bathroom showroom Alternativ Plans, says: “The bathroom has definitely become part of the reason for choosing a hotel in which to stay. These days, they have to be interesting and original. We have moved from the days of traditional marble tops and inset sinks through the efforts of people like Rocco Forte and Olga Polizzi to something that is completely different. The idea now is to really make a statement.”

Pidgeon puts this down to increased international travel. Now that, for example, British customers have seen what one can expect in a hotel bathroom in New York or Paris, they want the same when taking their next domestic break. “Certainly at the high end of specification you have to provide exciting bathrooms that people will remember,” he adds.

CONTEMPORARY COOL

“In the last 15 years, the spa concept has definitely moved into guests’ individual rooms.”

Hotel guests have become fond of the angular taps, large showerheads and neutral colour schemes that have come to typify the contemporary styled hotel bathroom. In many ways these highly minimalist fittings have coincided with a new approach to other areas of the hotel as well. At the Hotel Sezz in Paris, for instance, the owner Shahé Kalaidjian believes the conventional structures of the design and running of a hotel are obsolete. For instance, he favours providing each guest with a personal assistant as opposed to a traditional reception area.

In the bathroom, French designer and Starck protégé Christophe Pillet decided upon ‘a refined sense of luxury where the people not the aesthetics matter’. Such a sense of function over form would have made the modernists in the early part of the twentieth century delighted that their approach to design was coming back into vogue, but quite what they would have made of the double-ended bathtubs, oversize Corian wash basins, grey stone walls and moody lighting integrated into the sleeping area or separated by a simple glass screen, is another matter. The €3.5m Sezz project does have its concessions to decadence, however, with designer chairs populating its lobby and even its own champagne bar, ideal for guests unwinding after a hard day on the fashionista trail.

Dornbracht supplied fittings for both the Sezz and the Swissotel Krasnye Holmy in Moscow, and has also received much acclaim for its atypically contemporary shower, the Rainsky, designed by Michael Sieger, chief designer with Sieger Design, which has a long history of collaboration with the German manufacturer. From its rectangular plate in the ceiling, the Rainsky offers a variety of water programmes from invigorating to relaxing.

At the Swissotel Krasnye Holmy, located in the new Riverside business district of Russia’s capital, the bold new architecture – the tallest hotel in the city at 34 floors – is matched by highly contemporary interiors. As well as the 235 rooms, there are 28 suites, which, in addition to state-of-the-art technology, have been kitted out with private spa facilities including luxury rain showers and freestanding baths.

From the early stirrings of the modern boutique hotel concept, courtesy of the collaborations between Ian Schrager and Philippe Starck at London’s St Martin’s Lane and New York’s Hudson Hotel, the chintz and formal space configuration has been thrown out in favour of open-plan living. Michael Sieger agrees: “Over the past decade, the bathing and sleeping areas have really become combined.”

At the Q Hotel, in Berlin’s fashionable Mitte district, the guest is encouraged to embrace this boundary-less concept as Thomas Willemeit, designer with the Graft studio, explains: “Walls are no longer only a demarcation of the area, but become almost like furniture. Guests are encouraged to be participants in this living landscape.”

SPA STRUCK

The experience of the spa has really heavily influenced the design of the contemporary hotel space, bathrooms naturally included. Mintel research shows that in 2003–04, British holidaymakers spent £50–70m on spa holidays alone, £20m of that abroad. Operators in the Far East and the Indian Ocean are reportedly doing brisk business, as are those in Eastern Europe, whose historic spa facilities are steadily being given a luxury upgrade to match the expectations of international tourists.

Ian Sherman, chairman of interior design and architecture with Corporate Edge, which has a large portfolio of spa work under its belt, with clients including Champneys and Babington House, says: “Hotels have realised that building a spa not only provides a new revenue stream, but increases their ability to sell rooms during midweek and out of season. In the future, spas will match the money generated by room rates and you may see no one building a hotel without a spa.”

In communal bathing areas, products such as the Yin Yang hydromassage bath from Sottini, which has been installed in the Sessions House day spa in Beverley, East Yorkshire, could be suitable for other commercial uses such as in hotels. But the idea of the spa and its wellness-giving properties is not just limited to the shared facilities. As Michael Sieger says: “In the last 15 years, the spa concept has definitely moved into guests’ individual rooms. People increasingly now look for private spa facilities there instead of going into the public area. These will typically be things like steam treatments and chromatherapy.”

The Infinity suite at the Langham hotel in Portland Place, central London ably demonstrates the success of such a concept. At the heart of the 236m² suite is an ultra-deep Sok bath by Kohler, which continuously overflows, creating the sound of cascading waters and also includes a chromatherapy function. Here, water moves through a spectrum of eight colours from relaxing to stimulating at the touch of a button and in addition a gentle massaging of champagne-like bubbles accentuates the therapeutic experience.

There are a number of products in the commercial bathroom market that are ripe for specification by hotel designers. Teuco’s Rectangular Evolution has a steam sauna function, adjustable seat and aromatic herbs dispenser, while the Pharo WellSpring, which is available as a one- or two-seater from Hansgrohe, is a multi-functional steam cabin, comprising a steel shell and moulded acrylic seats with steam and aromatherapy functions, speakers for music and, again, coloured light therapy.

“In winter especially, nothing will thaw you out or restore your mood more effectively than hot water and steam – in the bath or under the shower,” says Cheryl Gurner, director of showroom Bathrooms International. “But the biggest story for this year will be the whirlpool. By that I don’t mean the return of the 80s version – these whirlpools have flat discreet jets and many more of them with self cleaning and drying mechanisms, which give a super-clean performance. The emphasis this year will definitely be on health and well-being.”

“If there isn’t really space for a separate bath and shower, having a whirlpool bath is really like having the best of both worlds,” adds Gill Few, channel manager for the contract sector for Kohler UK. Further evidence of the spa phenomenon can be found at the Isle of Eriksa Hotel, off the west coast of Scotland. Its health centre, complete with large swimming pool and private treatment rooms, offers guests their own private sanctuary. Three spa suites within the hotel overlook a private golf course and the sea. Each suite combines products from Jacuzzi’s modern Aruba, Novello and Allora ranges with an outdoor Jacuzzi spa pool.

PRACTICAL PERFORMANCE

As well as being stylish, the contemporary-style bathroom, with its clutter-free aesthetic and clean lines, is also a practical option. “We are expecting huge growth in modern-looking, wall-hung sanitaryware,” says Simon Spridgeon, product manager for sanitary systems at Geberit. “It gives the illusion of space in hotel bathrooms, but it is also easy to clean. It is easier to perform maintenance and repairs can be made quickly, which is essential in the fast turnaround expectations of a hotel.” To this end, this year Geberit is launching the Kappa50 stainless steel dual flush plate with a cubic, minimalist design.

PLAYING WITH TEXTURES

“We are finding that texture is becoming more important. Glass basins are available in spun glass, cast iron has a real lustre to it and our ceramic products are available in a mixture of matt and partially shiny finishes too,” says Gill Few. At the Pershing hotel in Paris, French designer Andrée Putman has created a simple combination of textures by mixing cylindrical floor-standing glass basins with Corian surfaces.

Over at the Bulgari hotel in Milan, designed by Antonio Citterio and including sinks he designed in collaboration with Hansgrohe, one of the key areas was the bathrooms, or as Citterio would have it, “the room for water and the space for living”, featuring sumptuous large stone baths by Claudio Silvestrin for Boffi. Laurence Pidgeon says this is a typical example of “the bathroom becoming the reason one stays in a designer hotel – for its originality and sexiness”.

John Pidgeon, sales director with bathroom showroom Original Bathrooms, adds: “The materials that are being used are still primarily natural ones – stones, particularly limestone – not so many hard surfaces. Also, I’m seeing demand for larger tiles – up to a metre square, which adds quite a dramatic look. Finally, what would previously have been considered quite industrial materials, such as finishes in concrete or cement are becoming popular.” Cheryl Gurner adds: “Marble and granite are the key materials, in bold colours, with white or cream sanitaryware along with leather used imaginatively, such as the Yoko freestanding washbasin in matt black with stitched leather.”

THE NEW OPULENCE

In hotels at the high end of the market, making a dramatic, extravagant statement is becoming de rigueur. At the Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi, the hotel comprises ministers’ suites, available for the public, and rulers’ suites, available only for kings and rulers of Arabian states. Typical bathroom facilities include an oval bath with whirlpool system; single lever taps in nickel, crystal and honey onyx stone. Influences are also blowing in from the former Eastern bloc.

Call it the ‘Abramovich factor’, but the foibles of the new Russian elite may just have an effect on the hotel bathrooms, demanding more bling for their buck. “It’s a case of ‘from Russia with luxury’,” as Cheryl Gurner says. “There is a small but focused market for overflowing everything with unusual shapes, exotic finishes and jewelled accessories. Bronze is the new gold too, so look out for bronze finishes on brassware coming onto the market.”

SIZE MATTERS

“The standard of fit-out is quite high in hotels these days and the size of the rooms has become dramatically bigger,” says John Pidgeon of Original Bathrooms, which has supplied projects such as the Crazy Bear hotels in Southampton and Oxford. As a result, guests are tending to want to spend more time in their rooms, particularly the bathroom. “Gone are the days of the pedestal basin with a tiny top. Now you want a nice big ‘work surface’, so you have space for all your toiletries,” he adds.

Gill Few agrees. “Washing has become more of a ritual, perhaps inspired by more holistic approaches favoured in the Middle East,” she says. “It is now far more of an emotional focal point and guests certainly like to take their time getting ready and pampering themselves.”

Flexibility in the bathroom is key, such as where there is a glass screen to the shower that folds away neatly when guests require a good long soak. The latest Fresca range from Flair, for instance, is power shower-proof, preventing leakage onto the bathroom floor. Glass screens can also add an architectural layer to a hotel bathroom, such as the Bamboo Box by Flaminia, which sits seamlessly over a flooring surface, or the Eden Slider by Showerlux, which has a contemporary shower enclosure made of flat glass and two central, clear glass sliding doors. “This is perfect for hotel rooms, as it offers optimum shower access and a large showering area, with the sliding doors ensuring the space in your bathroom is maximised to the full,” says Showerlux’s marketing manager Danielle Lillis.

OLD AND NEW COMBINED

“Certainly at the high end of specification you have to provide exciting bathrooms that people will remember.”

If it was beginning to sound as if there was no place for classic bathroom pieces, think again. In the midst of a lot of modernity, there are some nods to the past too. Kohler is just about to launch a range of art deco-style taps. “We are seeing the emergence of more geometric shapes in both furniture and home furnishings at present,” comments Guy Morris, senior product manager for brassware at Kohler. “The versatility of a classic design like the deco handle means that it will sit perfectly alongside a modern suite with crisp angular design, but the clean lines also work successfully with a more traditional suite.”

Gill Few adds: “I think the current style is contemporary but not quite so minimalist – I’d call it a very strong classic contemporary style – it’s far more eclectic and a lot of hotel designers are picking up on it. The Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin is one such example which uses modern materials with quite classic bathroom product shapes.”

At Lansdowne Place in Brighton, the colonial Oriental colour palette – deep red, lacquered wood and cream – is in contrast to the state-of-the-art conference facilities. In the hotel’s 75m² suite, the bathroom has the old-fashioned appeal of a freestanding bath with the twenty-first century contemporary standard of a marble-clad wet room.

Freestanding baths give bathroom design a focal point and from there the style can be developed into either a very stark Japanese bathing concept with wooden shutters and subdued lighting or, with the addition of highly decorative basins and furnishings, into something more retro. Wet rooms, meanwhile, continue to be a staple of contemporary style, perfect for the on-the-go business traveller who perhaps doesn’t have time for pampering.

At the Old Course Hotel in St Andrews, while the adjoining Kohler Waters spa has all the usual treatments of the spa experience, the rooms also have more of a retro flavour, with cast iron baths and classical counter tops. “Because a large proportion of the guests come from the USA and Japan, they expect the style of what they perceive to be a traditional Scottish hotel,” explains Gill Few.

So whether you are looking to the future or injecting a bit of older style, one principle for hotel bathrooms will always remain the same. John Pidgeon puts it best: “With hotel bathrooms, there’s that aspect of combining looking great with commercial durability.”