Sarah Abdallah on designing hospitality for mind, body and soul

Written by Sarah Abdallah, principal owner at Functional Creative Design 

As a hospitality designer and project manager, it is my responsibility to have a global mind-set and care for the comfort and engagement of guests of all ages and nationalities within a hotel. Hotel lobbies, restaurants, and meeting spaces are the contemporary piazzas of most capital cities around the world. I’ve been fortunate to work independently, and with top hospitality designers such as the Rockwell Group and Tony Chi & Associates, getting to embrace my psychology background and my international viewpoint with brands such Ritz Carlton, Intercontinental, The Soho Grand, Neuehouse, Lincoln Center, and Park Hyatt.

The VNYL, photo by Claire Esparros.

My first task when I am working on a hotel is to ensure everyone feels at home and included. My second task is to create a new and different design story. To create a fresh experience for guests, I get a thorough brief that covers my client’s unique brand story, the zeitgeist of global hospitality trends, and what local craftsmanship, artistry, natural beauty, and local indulgences are this city’s pride and joy.

Engaging the local community

Hotels are where locals meet up for recreation, socialisation, business meetings, and important life events such as weddings, so I strive to understand how a local culture likes to interact and communicate. I think about how I can choose and angle seating that encourages privacy for business conversations or, conversely, how I can open up interaction for a hotel in a city where meeting new people is highly valued.

Community activation can also mean creating opportunities for the hotel to interact with potential customers from different entry points. I might suggest that a hotel with a Michelin-starred restaurant also create a grab-and-go eatery that engages local pedestrians and business travellers. I might incorporate a DJ booth that connects the outdoor and indoor sections of a restaurant, and design with the hotelier a programme that features both local and celebrity DJs that can help activate the space throughout the year, making the attached hotel a destination.

The VNYL, photo by Claire Esparros.

The five senses

I look at the five senses, designing holistic experiences for each guest. The experience starts at the front door, taking in how they are greeted by the doorman, how the heating or air conditioning welcomes them, what they first see in the entryway, and how their eyes adjust to the lighting on a bright or rainy day. I might create a custom scent for the hotel or, if a hotel has an on-site bakery, let that scent gently invite visitors in.

Sight is key. Warm, incandescent light invites more intimate engagement – it reminds guests of sunlight and is more nurturing. I work closely with lighting designers to create the mood that I envision and integrate light not just on the ceiling but on the floors, walls, and to highlight artwork. We look at adapting to the change in lighting from day to night, and whether natural lighting plays the right role in creating the atmosphere we are trying to achieve.

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