The hospitality industry places a premium on so-called “authentic experiences.” Historical architecture and neighborhood ambience, however, are fragile things, constantly endangered by the dynamics of urban environments, with their cycles of change, demolition, and renewal. Hoteliers, and their designers, have to work with and against these currents.
This was the crux of a Think Tank panel at Stonehill Taylor’s Manhattan office, which yielded a dialogue about the difficulties of working in volatile urban markets such as New York City. “[T]o get a site to build a hotel in New York feels absolutely impossible,” said Paul Taylor, president at Stonehill Taylor. And even when you do, “it can be very hard to put soul into a new building,” he added.
At another point in the discussion, the panelists touched on the desires of different generations and how the meaning of “luxury” can differ drastically among them. “Modern travelers,” Christopher Baxter, senior vice president of hospitality at Lightstone, asserted, want “the experience and culture of a specific location.” In this case, “modern” was not deployed as a byword for “millennial,” but encompassing travelers who prize uniqueness above, say, value. “If I’m going to Paris, I’m not going to stay at a hotel just so I can get some more loyalty points,” added Taylor.
It’s the designer’s role to unlock the specifics of a community through careful consideration of what already exists, said Sara Duffy, senior interiors associate at Stonehill Taylor. In this vein, she discussed the strategy of adaptive reuse her team brought to the Refinery Hotel. Located on 38th Street in what was once the heart of Manhattan’s millinery area, the neo-gothic building had been transformed from a hat factory into an office building, at the expense of its period character. “When we first walked into it, we were terrified,” Duffy explained. “We wondered how we were going to bring life back into this space that at one point had tons of soul.”
Acknowledging these challenges, moderator (and Metropolis editor in chief) Avinash Rajagopal steered the panel to its conclusion by proposing that the hospitality model be entirely rethought. The range of reactions to this prompt included paying closer attention to art budgets to the possibility of even eliminating the television in the guest room.
Baxter, meanwhile, returned to the themes presented at the beginning of the panel. He noted how the affordability and authenticity have eclipsed older notions of luxury, entirely upturning the franchise model in the process. New generations of guests “are getting by with less,” he suggested. “People don’t need to be as pampered anymore. They’d rather be on the beach eating a fish taco with the guy who caught it.”
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