New Brands On The Block

Crafting the look behind today’s chicest just-launched flags means leading, not following. Three buzzy brands offer a master class.

Show and tell. That’s the memo for any designer trying to capture the attention of the “millennial-minded” guest who’s become the avatar for lifestyle hotel lovers across the globe. They’re not brand loyal, and their idea of great design is design they like. Period. There’s no point trying to chase after what they like, so designers need to take the risks to play visual concierge and come up with a look guests don’t even know they want—yet. Here’s how, according to the brands that are going there and doing that.

Hyatt Centric

There’s a long lineage of major chains wanting—and getting—into the lifestyle sector. They’ve taken the best of the edge independent hotels offer and married it to the conveniences of loyalty programs, brand recognition and business-travel-friendly meeting spaces.

Those are the now just the checklist of musts. What’s news for 2017 is the look. Wow styling is a given, but what’s wow to guests at a city-center hotspot like a Hyatt Centric (which currently consists of 13 locales, with several more in its pipeline, though details were unavailable at press time) is neither over-the-top nor overly quiet. Instead, it’s design that works as an inspirational backdrop for their stay, not where the space itself dominates or fails to make them feel at home.

“There’s no kit of parts—no asymmetrical table, for example—that defines the Centric DNA,” says Mari Balestrazzi, vice president, Americas Design Services, Hyatt Hotels Corp. “We have key concepts, like a lobby that serves as a ‘launchpad’ to the destination, but there is no one look. Instead, each hotel reflects its immediate context and neighborhood.”

That puts the onus on the design teams Balestrazzi and her team recruit to offer a concrete take on that philosophy. Regardless of the materials palette, the design has to be a GPS, giving guests the visual lowdown on both the hotel and the city.

In Miami, neutral tones and boldly shaped furniture do play up the beachy vibe of the locale. In Montevideo, Uruguay, the signature element is a stained glass ceiling, where natural light coming through makes a centerpiece that connects the lobby, bar and restaurant.

Yes, it means more homework for designers looking at RFPs for these hotels, but going for the extra credit pays off.

JO&JOE

“Find your Why” isn’t just a catchphrase for keeping New Year’s resolutions. For brands like AccorHotels’ just-launched JO&JOE, it’s a roadmap for a generation of places to stay that overturn conventional ideas of hotel functionality as much as defying tried-and-true aesthetic choices.

That started with going straight to the source for the lowdown on what guests really want—the brand was developed by an international team including students, psychologists, designers, hotel professionals, developers and even Instagrammers.

Number one on that community’s wish list? Ditch the idea of a standard room in favor of a design flexible enough to accommodate apartment-, hotel- and hostel-style stays under one roof. “The spaces were designed to be easily adaptable to each person’s situation and budget, marketing to millennials’ desire for a personalized experience,” says Frédéric Fontaine, senior vice president, Global Marketing Innovation Lab, AccorHotels.

Designers for projects like this are also going to have to battle disruptors, just like hoteliers looking over their shoulders at Airbnb. “The fact that (JO&JOE design firm) Penson never worked for a hotel brand was an important criteria to ensure the disruptive approach and no boundaries of the JO&JOE concept,” says Pascal Locatelli, senior vice president, marketing innovation & project, AccorHotels.

While each property (Paris and Bordeaux are set to open first, with 50 hotels planned by 2020), unconventional twists on every aspect of the space—think green not just on a wall, but also on all the furniture in front of it or lavender washes of color over a sink—work to reinforce the playful, “open house” mentality.

Brands like this serve as a hive for the coolest kids on the block or at the airport—only now, that label refers to a self-selecting group of guests of all ages, traveling solo, as a couple or a group. The good news for designers is that it’s a target market that’s ready to embrace the unusual.

Proper Hotels

Forget about the power of the hotel brand—in today’s world, every guest is his or her own brand, complete with social media accounts and sense of signature style as strong as the written standard in any operator’s book

Where does that leave actual hotel flags? Taking a more subtle approach to identity building, at least if you ask Brian De Lowe, president and co-founder, Proper Hospitality. The essence of Proper Hotels (whose first hotel will open later this year in San Francisco and which already has a residence open in Hollywood) isn’t just about its app—even if it does let guest book a flight—or its hashtag collection.

Instead, he’s looking back to a time when a “proper” hotel’s personality was defined by that of its location and guests. “We are committed to bringing in the surrounding physical and cultural landscape to all its properties,” he says.

Making that happen means tightening down the target psychographic. Proper, like many of today’s hottest brands, isn’t trying to be something for everyone.

“We have seen that our Hollywood Proper Residences appeal to creative thinkers, entrepreneurs and other visionaries working across a range of industries who desire a full-service building that uniquely offers both luxury and lifestyle. Our hotels will similarly meet the unique needs of this savvy and mobile audience,” says De Lowe.

Brought in to design the Hollywood residences was Kelly Wearstler, founder of her eponymous interior design firm, who knew that the design had to walk a fine line between signature experience and too in-your-face branding.

Scalable? You bet—the flag will debut hotels in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Santa Monica, California, and a hotel/residence in Austin, Texas, by the end of 2018.