Visual Narratives and Contemporary Interiors

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Written by David Archer, Founder, Archer/Humphryes Architects

Archer Humphryes has recently completed three projects in the hospitality sector: The Great Northern Hotel in London , The Sans Souci Hotel in Vienna and Naamyaa Bangkok Café which opened in North London’s Islington in late 2012. The setting for each of these projects is different  – a classic 19th Century Railway Terminus Hotel , a Palatial Viennese residential black in the Museum Quarter and a 21st Century office headquarters building.

While these buildings vary in scale and complexity, from the grandeur lent to the Viennese luxury property , to the compact spaces of the central London hotel and the banality of the glass and aluminium box provided as ground floor retail space in the contemporary development, all three sit firmly within the public domain and the task of the interior design is common to all. The designs developed must sustain and engage with the clientele to provide a back drop that both stimulates and re-assures guests. What has been interesting from the perspective of the architect working on these projects is the need to construct visual narratives that appeal to the user and are as important a part of the experience as the refreshment and service on offer. 

In the case of the Great Northern this takes the form of a glamorous crystal filled railway platform bar with elegant dining above; in Vienna, the Bar is mirror lined and adorned with carved panelling and marquetry floors; and in the case of the Bangkok Café, the central open kitchen creates the energy attractive to diners sitting in a room lined with traditional Thai  bricks stacked with golden deities .

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So, what is a boutique hotel?

Stephanie Briggs

Written by Stephanie Briggs, Steph Briggs Design

A boutique hotel cannot be part of a chain.  By the very definition a boutique hotel should be individual with a strong sense of personality.  Simply adding a stylish design does not make something boutique; the whole concept of a boutique is unique, stand alone with personal touches and an intimate and welcoming setting.  Staff should be able to interact with guests without being made to adhere to company policy and the design should reflect the influence of location, owner’s style or architecture.  And there should be no brand standards.

Today it seems that any hotel with a slightly off-beat interior design decides to call itself ‘boutique’ but the title is as misleading as it is confusing.  It often leads to a disappointing stay once actually at the hotel.  Neither does small constitute boutique.  A hotel can be boutique in a variety of sizes (within reason) but should be thoughtfully designed and managed to create a feeling of individuality. Guests want to feel as if they are staying in a special environment, not a home-away-from-home because who wants to pay to stay somewhere the same as home?  But instead an experience that is inspiring as well as comforting.

A boutique hotel can be designed to appeal to specific tastes or a variety of guests.  It does not need to appeal to everyone but should be aware of the type of guests it wishes to attract and cater for that.  Style is important, inspiration is important and hospitality is paramount!  A boutique hotel is an individual experience and should be acknowledged as such.

How do you brand hotels that don’t fall into the boutique style? Opinions vary on this but maybe the time has come to stop categorizing hotels and allow them to be exactly what they are.  Let’s allow the design and concept to promote itself and stop trying to mould hotels into a category that may not actually reflect what it is. As we have seen from over use of the term ‘boutique’, in today’s hotel environment where guest expectations are higher than ever, such labels are unhelpful and it is only right that hotels be allowed to express their own identity rather than adhere to a definitive ‘type’.