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The Biggest Hospitality Trends of 2020

18th Jun 2020 | Hospitality

Say so long to Instagram bait: Eight restaurant and hotel designers predict what is in and what is out in the year ahead.

The new decade has arrived with a flourish—and with it a new era of hotels, restaurants, and other creative hospitality spaces. But which trends are designers leaving in the teens and which ones will endure?

We’ll spare you the 2020 optometry puns and go right to the source—the designers themselves—to uncover the upcoming trajectories for the hospitality world in the year ahead. Here’s what seven hospitality design studios predict will be ruling hotel and restaurant design.

The environment is top of mind
Just as we’re seeing a yearning for an authentic—and results-driven—approach to sustainability in residential interior design, the hospitality world is taking its responsibility toward the planet equally as seriously.

“We’re redesigning the structures and objects in our lives in direct response to climate change and in service to a healthier world, and it’s becoming the rule, not the exception,” says Kelly Sawdon, partner and chief brand officer of Atelier Ace (the design team behind the pioneering Ace Hotel brand). “We’re finding that this commitment to environmentally conscious decisions not only pushes the industry forward, but gives agency to guests in choosing ways to travel that align with their own values.”

While Sawdon says that some hotels are leveraging bigger design moves like carbon-neutral paint, biodegradable linens, and air-purifying sculptures, others are incorporating smaller gestures like water-saving showerheads and refillable carafes and water stations on each floor to replace plastic bottles. Others have slightly grander visions—resort brand Six Senses aims to be plastic-free by 2022, and is integrating sustainable initiatives like passive cooling, electric transport, and Earth Labs into each of its new properties.

Just as important will be the presence of biophilic design in hotels and restaurants, bringing nature indoors through large-scale plant installations, living landscape murals, and sculptural flower arrangements. While the positive effects of nature on our general well-being aren’t exactly a revelation, people are seeking that connection more than ever.

“In a tech-dominant world, we have seen a strong swing back to unadulterated, natural materials and organic forms, used in new and nontraditional ways,” says William Harris, principal of AvroKO, a firm that has designed everything from a boutique mezcal bar in Manhattan to the Waldorf Astoria Bangkok. “This consistent return to design thinking using nature as a muse is helping to bridge the emotional and physical gap between indoors and out.”

Designers are layering it on
Along with this return to nature, we’ll be seeing less polished finishes and more nuanced tactile surfaces, through handcrafted furnishings and natural, rough-hewn materials. “Hotels will become a little more relaxed with the types of finishes so that materials have a more honest expression,” says W. Brian Smith, partner at the Studio Tack whose hotel projects include Marram in Montauk, New York, and the Anvil Hotel in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. “They’ll be committing to sturdier, more natural materials that feel heavy and solid under hand and foot. I think we’ll also see less forced uniformity, especially with the use of textiles.”

In keeping with the eco-friendly ethos of reusing and repurposing, the experts predict that we’ll also be seeing a lot of layering in of vintage and recycled objects alongside new ones—a “mixology” of sorts, as Rockwell Group partner Shawn Sullivan, who recently designed the restaurant Chica in Miami, puts it. “Rich environments are trending and achieved through a range of techniques—from layering multiple materials and patterns on patterns to mixing old and new with found objects,” he says.

Self-care is front and center
If the tumult of 2019 taught us anything, it’s that we need to take care of ourselves. “Right now, the world is full of noise pulling our attention in multiple directions at once,” Atelier Ace’s Sawdon says. “Hospitality seems to be moving toward creating grounding, holistic experiences for guests, providing them with mindfulness and elements of self-care.”

Take, for example, Sweden’s new Arctic Bath hotel, a spa and wellness retreat based on the Nordic tradition of open-air cold baths. As well as ticking the self-care box, it also provides that elusive connection to nature while minimizing guests’ environmental footprint during their stay.

And since a core tenet of self-care is honoring your personal needs, designer Karen Herold of Studio K (famous for Girl & the Goat and other lauded Chicago restaurants) adds that it’s high time that hotels and restaurants encouraged people to interact with them however they please. “Over-the-top, hyper-trendy designs can dictate how people behave,” she says. “In 2020 designers should create ‘templates,’ designing in a way that leaves space for people to create their own experiences instead of having something forced upon them.”

We’re reevaluating our relationship with technology
As guests increasingly yearn for convenience and independence, much of the hotel experience has become digitized and executed via iPad or smartphone. “More integrated technology like self-check-in screens and self-check-out billing is limiting guests’ interaction with hotel staff,” says Danu Kennedy, design director of Parts and Labor, whose Pacific Standard Time restaurant in Chicago won a James Beard Award. “Design is catering to this by removing the check-in desk from prime focus and instead putting social hospitality spaces at the forefront of the arrival experience.”

Studio Tack’s Smith cautions that while technology offers all manner of opportunities for innovation, it’s important that the human element of hospitality doesn’t get lost in the process. “Too often hotels rush to provide new technologies without considering the impact it may have on the guest experience,” he says. “Our desire to offer the latest in technology is often at odds with the fundamental tenets of hospitality, which champion empathy and human connection, for example.”

Will Cooper, chief creative officer at ASH NYC, agrees that reduced connectivity is an emerging trend. “I would like to see a reinvention of how to use technology healthily,” he says. “Every time we do a new hotel I propose we don’t put TVs in the room. I think our culture has become so addicted to screens and technology that we forget how to interact as normal human beings.”

We’ll also continue to see hospitality spaces embracing non-digital pleasures, like vinyl records and books (see Atelier Tao+C’s capsule hotel in Zhejiang Province, China, and Atelier Ace’s Maison de la Luz). “There’s a newly ignited appreciation for more analogue objects and experiences,” says AvroKO principal Greg Bradshaw. “Tactile engagement with objects that require one to slow down, and remain in the moment, will continue to be built into interior design as well.”

The Instagram “look” is over
The counter effect of hotels and restaurants clamoring to make their spaces as Instagrammable as possible is a swing in the other direction, toward what ASH NYC’s Cooper calls “decoration proper.”

“The internet and social media have made copying and pasting ‘the look’—be it color blocking or eclectic modernism—so easy that I think we lose individuality and the ability to remember a place because they all look the same,” he says. “In order to stand out, I think you really have to be researched and spend the time on proper details and the nuances of experiencing a space. History is king and knowing what and why you are looking at, talking about, and representing is key.”

Studio Tack’s Smith concurs that many hospitality design references will derive from an individual sense of place rather than what inspires the masses. “I think we’ll be seeing more hotels that feel integrated on many fronts—to their communities, to history, and to the stories they tell,” he says. “We’re going to see hotels actually breaking away from trends and forging their own paths in terms of their style and design.”

Of course, that doesn’t mean that hospitality interiors will be more subdued across the board. Instead, their eye-catching moments will be more well-considered rather than just design bait for social media feeds. Case in point: Though Pierre Yovanovitch’s Le Coucou hotel in Switzerland is, arguably, highly Instagrammable, its irreverent design is a clever riff on the traditional alpine aesthetic inherent to the region.

As such, we’ll likely see the spaces themselves manifest as works of art. “We’re continuing to see more and more saturated environments with intense hues and fearless, maybe even seemingly random, color combinations,” Rockwell Group’s Sullivan says. “Often the lines between art and architecture are blurred.”