Best Left To The Experts

Professional interior design advice may seem like an unaffordable luxury to some accommodation managers. However, the ‘finishing touches’ of a refurbishment are just as important as the structural building blocks and the best news is that the design consultant often comes free.

“An experienced consultant taken on board early may do the design work and include the cost in the supply of goods,” explained Jeff Wilken, marketing manager for Interior Solutions Group. “I have also heard quotes from 4% to 10% of the supply cost to cover design, source and cost.

“We do not classify ourselves formally as designers. We are interior decorators or FF&E consultants,” said Mr Wilken. “However there are plenty of interior designers in the industry either stand alone or with architects’ offices”.

Mr Wilken said the most important contribution is designing pieces to fit the scale of the rooms. “The experienced architects and property developers get it right but there are a lot of developers who cut room size and it becomes difficult to fit the required furnishings into a room. Taking this one step back experienced designers can help by getting the room design down correctly,” he said.

“As a case in point we recently fitted out an internationally named apartment resort. Luckily the promoters asked us in early and we almost redrew the electrical wiring plans because power points and light fittings were just not going to be in the right places.”

Media advertising furniture at sale prices can confuse managers when it comes to budgeting for furniture and furnishings. “We are almost always approached with a budget that is inadequate for the task,” said Mr Wilken. “Almost no private person has ever totally refurbished a house or apartment at the one time. We all acquire, inherit or are given pieces on an ongoing basis. So the cost to do it all at the one time comes as a severe shock to some people,” he said.

While the luxury branded hotels may have their own internal design departments that create and source furniture, fabrics and colour schemes to a fairly liberal budget, smaller hotels, resorts and motels can be tempted to cut corners when it comes to décor.

Managers who decide to ‘have a go’ at designing the room themselves often fall into the trap of forgetting who the room is actually for. “The biggest mistake people make is that they tend to design the room for themselves rather than respecting the property,” said Amanda Beazley, managing director and designer for John Beazley and Co. “The correct way to come up with a design is to take into account the location, property type and demographic of clientele. The design shouldn’t be from the heart although, of course, designers do design passionately,” she explained.

“A lot of experience and knowledge also goes into where you place things in a room as this can affect star ratings. You need to know what works in a room layout, where to put the television in order to maximise space,” Ms Beazley said.

“With accommodation properties the products need to be made for the commercial environment so the sofas are constructed in a different way, the fabric selection is different and that runs through every single piece of furnishing from the wall hangings to the carpets.”

Designers have the knowledge to choose fabrics and furniture that is not only commercially viable in terms of standing up to rigorous treatment but will also have longevity. “Most of the large ticket items like furniture, carpets generally have a neutral colour,” said Ms Beazley.

“Different design aspects can be put into the soft furnishings because those are changed more regularly.”

Ms Beazley said that managers don’t always know what fabric works on what furniture. If mistakes are made with the fabric then the design won’t last or the room won’t necessarily come together as expected. Six months down the track a badly designed room could already be showing signs of age. “There is a difference that designers can just add to a room, a flair to things that you might not notice when you first look at it – and those are the things that you pay for that you can’t put your finger on,” she said.

Amanda Beazley described design as being ‘the nice pinnacle on top’ of a room refurbishment process. “When you use a design and construct company they have to be accountable for the fabrics to be commercially viable and stand the test of time,” she explained. “The problem of getting design advice alone is that you need to know where to access those materials, how do you make it all come together,” she said.

Safety is another factor to be taken into account when putting the finishing touches to a room refurbishment. Tables, chairs and sofas can all have protruding edges if placed too close to walkways of rooms and apartments. Entry points need to feel uncluttered and welcoming as well as being safe to walk through.

Ironically, the large room sizes of luxury hotels and resorts are far easier to work with when it comes to design. The hard part is creating a feel of space and comfort when the room size is compromised. Computer design packages are a useful tool for room refurbishments but a little knowledge can be dangerous in the wrong hands and these are best kept for the experts. “There is logic behind everything we design,” said Amanda Beazley. “It is not just a case of picking nice colours. I design with a fairly neutral palette and then add colour to soft furnishings, bed throws, cushions, prints on walls,” she said.

Brian Hull is the first to admit that Australians love plain designs but he believes there is scope for a little more of the adventurous in modern hospitality décor. “Generally managers in Australia love plain – the plainer the better,” said Mr Hull, managing director of Lush Living Hotel and Resort Furniture.

“Basically the furniture hasn’t changed for the last 50 years and I think it can be too plain sometimes. Managers want to put in furniture that doesn’t look much different from the stuff they’ve taken out. I’m not saying you shouldn’t be modern and plain but you can be a bit imaginative and have nicer handles or veneer,” he said. “You could have a plain design of furniture but have a beautiful walnut veneer or European beech veneer or black granite tops to bedside tables that might cost you $25 extra.”

Mr Hull said he also finds that Australian accommodation managers are removed from what is happening in the rest of the world. “If I show people a dark walnut I often get the comment that it looks old fashioned. We seem to have an expensive use of light timber in this country,” he said. Elsewhere around the globe dark furnishings are quite common.

If managers are going to be slightly more adventurous in their design choices, they need to forget what the hotel down the road is doing and think more widely. “I was in China recently staying in lots of hotels and one thing that was common in all of them that they had the desk coming out at right angles from the wall instead of being flat,” said Mr Hull. “In most cases it was glass top desk and there would be a big office chair on rollers and proper desk lamp,” he said.

Mr Hull said he always recommends oil paintings rather than prints on walls – they don’t cost any more and one decent sized abstract or semi-abstract painting enhances a bedroom. “I find there’s a tendency at the moment to have a white throw-over bedcover with a strip of material at the end. So it is just a matter of picking a fabric that looks suitable,” he said.

When explaining to clients what a designer can do for a room refurbishment, Mr Hull said the first thing he tries to get across is that good design is no great mystery. Approach things logically, do them in order and the task will become simple. This is where a design consultant comes in handy. “The first thing to work out is what items of furniture you want in the room,” he said.

Managers shouldn’t even be thinking about colours or fabrics to start with, just creating a list of essential items to go in the room. “That’s where managers get bogged down but basically they all want the same thing. In a motel room they need a bed head, ensemble, bedside cabinets, chairs, table, fridge cabinet – most motel rooms are a carbon copy,” said Mr Hull.

The second stage of design is to write down the sizes of the various pieces of furniture.

“One consideration is what AAA Tourism requires but you must also consider what the paying guests want. Sometimes it is not sufficient to meet AAA requirements; for example a 300mm bedside cabinet is a poky little thing that is neither useful nor ornamental,” he said.

The third thing to consider is the design – furniture style, fabric choice and colour. According to Mr Hull, this final part should only be considered once stage one and two have been completed.

Dave Weatherall, director of Resort Interiors International, believes good design combines artistic and practical talents. Done well, the design of a room brings about feelings of awe, warmth and luxury and makes guests feel this is the place they want to be. “There are so many people who think that they have an eye for colour, style and interior design but the results are very average. We walk into the room and feel nothing – there’s no warmth, no welcoming feelings,” he said.

Mr Weatherall said it is vital that the designers are involved from the very start of the project, throughout the project and are still there at the end to ensure the feel and look the client requires is actually achieved. “Attention to detail is so important to get the right feel and look.

Then an experienced designer needs to look at functionality to make sure the design will stand the test of time,” he said.

Surfaces that are going to get a lot of wear and tear must be adequately protected; surfaces that will have hot or wet goods placed on them need to be able to withstand these variations.

Mr Weatherall said a 3D computer generated render of exactly how the room or public place will look is an extremely powerful tool in helping clients see that their design brief has been interpreted correctly. It also allows for adjustments as required.

“Furniture and interior design are fashion and that is something that changes regularly,” added Mr Weatherall. “Interior designers that are well travelled and well read will be able to help clients by picking furniture trends that are fresh and timeless,” he said.

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