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Do you understand the New Hospitality? The real estate business is trying to work it out. And it’s tricky, because the New Hospitality is almost exactly the opposite of what the old hospitality looked like.
This has profound consequences for the way everything, from workplaces through restaurants to apartment blocks, is designed and built.
Jonathan Clarke is a Director at Arney Fender Katsalidis. His projects include a new Hilton hotel in Westminster and a re-think at The Lowry Hotel Manchester. Jonathan says that the property business is grappling with a new approach to hospitality, which affects every aspect of almost every building.
‘One way to understand this is to say that hospitality isn’t changing, but that everything around hospitality is, as every aspect of life re-orients around experience. So, in build-to-rent apartments, or in workplaces, we’re seeing spaces given by the need to please and make people feel comfortable. And the result is things like cafés and gyms, which used to be in separate buildings, are now being driven together in workplaces or apartment blocks,’ Jonathan says.
Where the traditional approach to hospitality went out of its way to emphasise that some people were entitled to service, and others were stopped at doors or thresholds, the new hospitality tries to provide everyone with a sense of ownership, says Jonathan.
‘You see this in build-to-rent apartments. A good building provides everyone with a sense of ownership and a connection with the space. The same goes for good modern hotels, which provide a sense of homeliness and comfort. Hospitality used to be about creating spaces full of furniture the guest couldn’t quite afford at home, something special, but now it’s the exact opposite – it is about attainability, about comfort that is within reach. And if that means turning up wearing trainers, so be it, because it’s all about feeling comfortable.’
Developers are also on the look out for wasted space and wasted resources. ‘Developers know that amenity is central to hospitality, but some of the quirkier ideas with high costs don’t really produce any useful outcome. Developers know they need buildings to appeal to the non-core audience as well as the core audience – but not at any price,’ Shaun says.
This means weeding out expensive excesses in that lovely coffee bar if it leaves less money is around to be spent on the bedrooms, or workplaces, or kitchen – whatever the core function really is.
Developers and landlords are also keeping an eye on the less glamorous behind-the-scenes elements that contribute to long-term success with hospitality.
Simon Whittaker is leading designer at Orms and one of the people responsible for Crosstree Real Estate Partner’s 266-bed Standard Hotel at Kings Cross. A brutalist former council office block with little to offer modern hospitality, it has been re-thought to meet today’s ideas of what counts as comfortable. This includes some intelligent futureproofing.
‘Developers understand that inflexibility is not sustainable. They know you may have to re-use and retrofit a building any number of times, and that problem grows when you are refurbishing an older building, which may be restrictive in many ways – so you can’t actually do some of the things you want,’ says Simon.
‘Developers say they want flexible space to attract the widest range of hospitality tenants, so that means the right extractors on the roof ready for a kitchen, or a gas supply suitable for a kitchen, in case one is needed. This is the kind of thing developers want, providing the major restriction of the planning system allows them to have it.’
James Dilley heads the hotel and restaurant team at architect, Jestico + Whiles, and is one of those on the front line of the battle for the New Hospitality. His team has scored victories at Aqua Shard, the W Hotel in both London’s West End and the forthcoming Edinburgh St James site, Hard Rock Hotel and also one of P&O’s cruise ships.
‘Hospitality is being polarised. Either places want to be part of the city they inhabit, or they want the city to be part of them,’ James says. ‘So lots of people are asking themselves question about hotel restaurants, asking why you would want to compete with thousands of other offers around them, and not really trying and just becoming part of the cityscape, and others are trying to create a real destination, despite being part of a hotel. You’re seeing this too in shops, which increasingly have hospitality offers or cafés – so much so they don’t actually sell anything. The Samsung shop at King Cross is a good example.’
And, at the same time as many hospitable places abandon the idea of showmanship for something more low key, others are stepping up the theatricality. ‘Everything has become very fluid and hybridised,’ he says.
The result is design that blurs thresholds, and minimises the sense of rules, and creates spaces in subtle institutive ways rather than by erecting rope barriers or posting severe-looking people to police the boundaries.
‘Hotels used to be about status. Now it is all about providing a memorable experience. Most developers know the aim here is to increase dwell-time because the worst thing in any restaurant is an empty seat. Fill the seats, or die, that’s the reality – and a great guest experience, combining good service and a good environment, is the aim.’
The New Hospitality is a world away from the old. But, at the same time, some things do not change. Attentive, well-trained service, care, respect and spaces that foster those values are at the heart of all good guest experiences. Developers are now getting the message
New Hospitality is easiest to grasp by contrasting it with old, traditional hospitality. Once upon a time, hospitality was a special function reserved for special places. You met it in hotels and restaurants, but you were less likely to find it outside those contexts. When you did bump into hospitality is was mostly about telling you how special you were (or, if you were turned away or given a bad table, how unimportant you were).
The physical spaces of hospitality made the same point in a concrete way. For instance, the furnishings would be luxurious (because you deserve it) and the thresholds to hospitality – the doors you walked through, the desks you walked past – acted as barrier divided the valued guest from everyone else. In other words, hospitality was about hierarchy, the mood was de luxe (or was intended to look like it) and the message was quite clear: you are a special person, and we are here to make you feel special.
The New Hospitality is about breaking down hierarchy. The aim is to remove the thresholds that divided special people from everyone else. Barriers are removed or dissolved, and anything that might imply you, the guest, have to live up to your host’s standards are removed. The aim is comfort and quiet attentiveness, not the re-enforcement of the idea that some people are specially identified as welcome guests, and everyone else kept at a distance.
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