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Be Our Guest: How Hospitality Design Extends Across Industry Sectors

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I have always loved hotels. This love stems from many road trips with my family and anticipating all the fun things we’d have access to during our stay. Growing up, my primary requirements were pools, cable tv and a vending machine, which were almost always provided. My requirements evolved as hotels modernized and I aged – I now expect a hot breakfast, coffee shops, bars and restaurants, lounges, locations, fun bathrooms and unique designs (although, honestly, I still love a pool and some HBO).

The more I travel, the more I look for something different to delight me or reframe how I use my time and space. I also look for this experience beyond hotels – at work, my son’s school, and even the doctor’s office.

What is Hospitality Design?

Let’s go back to the root word: hospitable. To be hospitable is to provide a welcoming and comfortable space and anticipate guests’ needs. Historically, hospitality designers met these requirements by creating cozy, secure, meaningful and delightful places. But as the design of hotels evolved and luxury brands became mainstream, designers had new goals.

Today, hospitality designers meet their client’s expectations through four guiding principles: aspiration, experience, destination and novelty – techniques that architects and interior designers are increasingly adopting in other markets. Let’s examine each principle and how different industries implement them.

This lounge space and coffee bar at Filament Games Corporate Headquarters in Madison, Wisconsin, is an excellent example of how hospitality design influences other industries, such as workplaces.

Aspiration Through Feeling

Form and function are the building blocks of interior design, and I like to think that feeling is another. We’ve all walked into spaces and described them as feeling a certain way. Designers combine materials, textures, colors, shapes, and light and shadow to evoke feelings such as luxury, cool, chic, glamor, and trendiness.

These feelings allow guests to escape their everyday lives – you could be a mom of four with a desk job at an insurance company, but when you stay at the right hotel, you’re a rock star, a hipster or a trendsetter.

Designers also evoke feelings in spaces beyond the hospitality industry. For example, they might use various colors and bright lighting to generate excitement, curiosity and creativity at a children’s museum. They might use a muted color palette and soft, even lighting to develop a sense of calm at a spa. The right materials and finishes in schools can help students aspire to be better learners.

Bright colors and bold shapes create a sense of excitement and fun at the reception desk of Wisconsin Youth Arts Company in Madison, Wisconsin.  

Complete Experiences

In today’s world, it’s rarely enough for hotels to only offer a room to stay the night. Many hotels now market themselves as places to shop, eat and sleep. The design of their spaces must match their brand identities. This creates a holistic – and memorable – experience for guests, where they feel that all their needs are met.

One example of how hotels create more holistic experiences for guests is the transformation of hotel marketplaces from small convenience shelves near the front desk into high-end retail spaces. Guests now have many more options at the hotel store beyond a packet of aspirin or a replacement toothbrush – they can supplement their wardrobe, buy toys for their children, or even purchase the latest mobile device.

Looking across markets, we also see this happening in the healthcare. In these spaces, patients and their families often have access to a large gift shop, food court-style cafeteria, welcoming lobbies and comfortable waiting areas that resemble living rooms. Designers focus on patients’ needs being met through small details like the convenience of charging ports, and feeling relaxed and cared for through furniture, lighting, amenity spaces and finishes. This goes even further in healthcare by offering patients access to multiple health services in the same building and conveniences such as a full-service pharmacy. Many hospitals allow patients and their families to pray in dedicated rooms tailored to their faith.

Living room-like waiting areas, like the one shown above at this outpatient facility in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, help patients and their families feel welcome and comfortable.

Creating a Destination

Many hotels have become destinations in themselves thanks to their thoughtful designs, generous amenities and prime locations. Visually exciting interiors, full-service food and entertainment options on-site, and proximity to other attractions entice guests with the promise of a complete getaway package.

Workplace designers use these principles and transform the office into a destination for employees. Going to work for many now means entering a luxurious, contemporary building with sleek interiors, plentiful natural light, and resimercial furniture. Offices might offer on-site amenities such as salons, coffee bars and fitness centers. Many companies are intentionally located near popular residential communities to reduce employees’ commute time and be near local destinations like dining and entertainment districts.


Trinity Woods in Tulsa, pictured above, consolidates resources and amenities – like a full-service hair and nail salon – for its residents, creating a complete destination.

Building Novelty

Novelty is one of the most potent qualities of hospitality design. Unique and unexpected spaces immerse guests in a one-of-a-kind experience that appeals to their individuality.

Designers achieve this in a variety of ways. They specify bold artwork to enhance the walls. They include fun light fixtures in surprising places. Or they might engage guests by offering interactive experiences with touchscreen displays. These elements resonate with guests because they are often unexpected and, once discovered, cherished. Novelty is what gets talked about, posted to Instagram, and becomes part of a design's unique identity and contributes heavily to the experience and destination of a space. This concept of novelty and delight in designed spaces spills across industries. For example, it has emerged in schools through environmental branding elements like logos, murals, window decals and customized wayfinding. Many schools incorporate these design features because it reinforces their identity, putting school pride on display for their students, staff and visitors. In the image below of Waunakee Intermediate School, the school's values are placed at the collaborative social staircase, resulting in a unique space to study, talk and gather. Focusing on brands and values can be conveyed through various design techniques.

This mural at Waunakee Intermediate School in Waunakee, Wisconsin, is a colorful and fun way of communicating the school’s values to its students, staff and visitors.

A Broad Influence

Traditionally, designers and their clients associated hospitality design with hotels. But today, designers in nearly every industry use lessons from the hospitality market. Whether designing offices, clinics or schools, designers tailor the feeling of space to meet guests’ aspirations, combine services and products to offer complete experiences, and incentivize visitors with convenient amenities – all while infusing areas with novel design elements that create lasting impressions on guests. A home away from home is no longer the exception – it’s now the rule wherever we are.

In what ways are you seeing these values being implemented across markets? Please share your thoughts with me:

Karen Davis, NCIDQ
Senior Interior Designer

Karen is a Senior Interior Designer with EUA working out of the Madison office. She loves to conceptualize designs through story-telling to create a functional space for her clients. In her free time, Karen enjoys venturing outdoors for a hike and traveling to new destinations.