The basics of good Hotel Design

Hotels have been evolving over the past few years. No longer are they monoliths of identical rooms with a glittery reception area and a vast overpriced restaurant; they must now appeal to a broader, more savvy demographic in terms of the overall offering and flexibility.

Large hotels will always exist, but most hotel groups are diversifying their portfolio into sub-brands, each with their own identity, appealing to a slightly different market. This is an attempt to compete with some of the smaller boutique brands who are redefining the hotel space.

Customer service and staffing is probably the most important element in any successful hotel. In the COVID-normal era direct contact may be minimised and even greater emphasis placed on wellness and other personal sensory engagement, as now more than ever travellers seek to unwind and relax.


Not just a place to check in or wait for a taxi, the lobby now serves as a workplace for both guests and visitors, and a living area for residents who don’t just want to sit in their rooms. A blended retail experience such as a florist might soften the entry experience and add colour and life.

Ideal offerings:

  • Fast, free Wi-Fi and the ability to charge phones etc. throughout.
  • Ease of check in – self check in, flexible check in/out times, smartphones to replace keycards.
  • A variety of intimate and private seating areas, lounge areas, a fireplace to add to the ambience. A place to socialise, close to the bar and a ‘grab and go’ style offering.
  • Eclectic, luxurious but comfortable.
  • Separate private rooms for business meetings.


Flexible dining options are key to cater for a wider variety of needs.

  • Business travellers or those in a hurry, waiting or just passing through would be catered to by a ‘grab and go’ concept – a café type offer near the entry with great coffee, pastries and packaged items for a breakfast or lunch on the run.
  • ‘Old School Buffet’ – the restaurant that becomes a breakfast buffet may still have a place, particularly with leisure or weekend travellers, but should be functional at all times rather than taking up valuable real estate.
  • The theatre of food – a simple grille bistro offering with visible kitchen activity adds to the life of the dining area.
  • Destination restaurant – fine dining options have often failed within a hotel context but a great restaurant accessed by its own entrance can appeal to all rather than just the hotel guests.
  • The Hotel bar – somewhere to unwind, order a snack in a relaxed atmosphere and be a destination in its own right. Boutique hotels may even offer an honour system with a limited range of wines, bottled items and simple finger snacks.



The first thing most travellers do on entering their hotel room? Check out the view!

Some of my favourite hotels have rooms that are small, but so well designed and fitted out that they are elevated far above a larger run-of-the-mill hotel room. Luxury and quality aren’t just about space, but things that delight the senses, such as a spacious shower with great water pressure and variable heads, a divinely comfortable bed and premium quality bedding.

Of course it’s not possible for every room to have a stunning view – someone will nearly always be looking at the plant deck or carpark. These rooms should have extra attention paid to their layout and interior, so that they remain memorable for all the right reasons.

Mini bars are generally overpriced and disappointing. Free bottled water (filtered and bottled in house ideally) and sustainable products are part of the new Hotel philosophy. Personally I like being able to make a cup of tea in the room so a kettle, cups and a designated space are important.

  • Technology is great – fast Wi-Fi, being able to easily stream devices through a high-quality TV, and easy access to GPOs for charging etc., but you don’t want to have to read a manual to switch off the lights. Basic functionality should be obvious and simple. In one hotel I thought the previous guest had left their phone behind, not having been told this was the device to operate the lighting and room systems.
  • Similarly air conditioning/heating controls should be easy to operate and the units themselves as quiet as possible. The ability to open a window is even better.
  • Built-in joinery – how often do built-in drawers get used? How often do most travellers fully unpack? A decent space to leave an opened suitcase, some open shelves to tuck shoes and space to hang items is often all that is required, rather than a massive closed-off robe. A cleverly designed cupboard for an ironing board and iron, additional bedding and sundries makes sense.
  • The en-suite – again, size isn’t everything – more important are bathroom fittings that are super clean, high quality and work well. A bath should feel spa-like and luxurious. Ideally the shower should have a drench rain head and a hand shower (which also makes cleaning easier). The layout should allow for towels being within easy reach and there should be good space on or nearby the basin to lay out personal toiletries and make up etc. Really important is having balanced and good lighting to the vanity mirror for makeup and shaving. Open plan versus enclosed bathrooms is something of a personal preference. Toilets should always be closed off. Room-type configuration should be considered – guests sharing a twin room may want more privacy than couples.


  • New trends in interior design are moving towards a more decorative, plush and eclectic look. Richer colour palettes but with an emphasis on natural materials and greater comfort in key furniture pieces. Finishes and fittings need to be robust, easily cleaned and maintained. The less to clean the better for staff and room turn-around times. The standard reproduction artwork over the bedhead has hopefully had its day.
  • With modern ways of working via laptops the built-in desk may be somewhat redundant, but can still be handy for in-room dining in a more casual way.
  • Lighting is a key design factor – good reading lights, and nightlight options for the en-suite without switching on everything else makes sense. Lighting scene-setting technology has greatly improved and programmed scenes are great – if simple to operate.
  • Full blackout blinds or curtains are a definite requirement and must be easy to access and operate if there is no provision for motorisation.


While hotel guest needs differ depending on the traveller and whether they’re there for ‘business or pleasure’, the basics of good hotel design remain the same. No matter the project’s budget, every aspect of hotel design should be considered carefully, from the lobby, to the hallways and even the light switches, to ensure guests feel so completely taken care of that they can’t wait to come back.

Adrian Downes is Director of Interiors at Thexton Smith Architecture and Interiors. With 30 plus years of experience working with luxury hotel brands including Crown, Far East Consortium, Langham, Accor and Star Group, Adrian has a wealth of expertise to share with his clients.

Thinking about a hotel remodel or starting a new venture? Give the team at Thexton Smith a call or email for a no obligation chat about your ideas, and let’s see if we can help you get started. We’re approachable, knowledgeable and passionate about what we do.