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Vince Stroop

Pick up any recent article on hotel and restaurant interior design, and chances are you’ll likely come across the term “Instagrammable moments.” It’s a reference to creating spaces that provide the ideal backdrop for that perfect social media post.

But for longtime hospitality interior designer and architect Vince Stroop, a principal at New York-based Stonehill Taylor Architects, Instagrammable moments are a hotel design trend that needs to disappear.

“This first thing people come to me and say now is, ‘We want to have an Instagrammable moment,'” Stroop said. “And, I’m actually tired of hearing of that because that shouldn’t be the basis of design for a hotel.”

For example, he said, “It’s easy to say something like, ‘Let’s throw some crazy sculpture of naked ducks in there and people are going to want to take photos of it.’ But what else? What does that really do for you and for the community? Not much. And if you’re so focused on the Instagrammable moment, then what about the rest of the design of the hotel or that public space? Is it lacking or does it complement or enhance it?”

The best hotels, Stroop said, have design that’s more focused on creating an interactive user experience, but “without being cliché or gimmicky” — something not easily achievable when tight budgets abound, or when disruptors like Airbnb are using design as a main differentiator between its offerings and that of a hotel.

Stroop, who has worked on such projects as The Asbury, the Moxy Times Square (exterior and interior architecture), and Made Nice, the fast-casual restaurant concept from the Michelin-starred chef and restaurateur behind Eleven Madison Park, recently spoke to Skift about where he sees hotel design headed and what he hopes more hotel brands and owners will pay more attention to going forward.

The Hotel of the Future

For Stroop, the hotel of the future is something that’s “more intimate” and more “flexible,” like the IRUS, a conceptual hotel design that he and his team came up with for the annual SLEEP conference in London last November, and which was awarded the grand prize.

Applicants for the design contest were tasked with coming up with a design that would help brands create loyalty, which Stroop said was initially “a head scratcher.” Eventually, however, he and his design team came up with a hotel concept that’s relatively small (13 by 32 feet), “fairly low tech,” and “could be manipulated by the guest.”

Using a “flexible wall system that has the components of a minibar, table, yoga mat, and a stool,” the IRUS design concept would allow a guest to configure his or her guest room space into exactly what he or she wants it to be.

“So, if they wanted to sleep at one end, they could,” Stroop described. “Or if they wanted to move the bed to another side of the room, because that’s where they were more comfortable, to be closer or further away from the window, they could do that. It’s a decentralized, sort of deconstructed way of looking at how you build out a hotel guest room.”

When asked if he sees IRUS could somehow be executed in reality, Stroop said he does see it being used as sort of pop-up hotel that could work in either a rural or urban environment. He also said he already sees the interactive elements of that design being implemented in contemporary guest rooms with the use of peg wall systems and “flexible-type furniture that can be pulled apart to create seating, or pushed together to create a second bed if you need one.”

Airbnb’s Influence on Hotel Design

Stroop also admitted that when he and his team were working on IRUS, they were somewhat “borrowing from Airbnb” or the idea of the “apartment” lodging sector because it’s one where “each room, or each time you stay someplace, can be different and unique.”

He said that with many of his current clients, their instructions are to make “the room itself feel more residential, and to not necessarily have every single room be the same. I’m trying to take the components of what I think has made Airbnb popular — its uniqueness — and trying to insert that as much as we can into our sort of more traditional hospitality design model.”

“It’s something I think people are starting to embrace. We’ve even tried to suggest that each room has different art work, or that each door has some kind of unique feature,” Stroop said. “But, then again, that has cost implications.”

Because hotel owners are developers are paying close attention to the bottom line, Stroop said he has seen them investing more into public spaces, a definitive advantage that hotels can offer versus a traditional Airbnb home rental. But he wonders if — or when — those dollars will be invested in guest rooms once more.

“Creating unique public spaces — predominantly in food and beverage, meeting rooms, social spaces, co-working spaces — is where they’re focusing the money, where they can be different and create different experiences,” Stroop said. “And I think we should, as an industry continue to do that. But in my ideal world, I think more budget needs to be allocated to a unique guest room experience.”

Stroop and his firm, Stonehill & Taylor, worked on the conversion and design of The Asbury Hotel in Asbury Park, New Jersey. Source: Stonehill & Taylor

The Need for Good Design

Thanks to the power of visual social media and the popularity of more design-driven hotels, there’s more pressure than ever for hotels to pay close attention to their design, which translates to job security for Stroop and his fellow hospitality architects and designers.

“Relying on design to sell a particular vision has become increasingly more popular,” Stroop said. “And even though I just bashed the Instagrammable moment, the fact that social media relies so much on visual cues to generate excitement and interest just goes to show that there has to be someone who can design that and create that. In order for people to remain competitive, they always need to up the fame on design.”

But, he added, designers and architects also have a responsibility, to the communities where they are helping design hotels.

“The future of hospitality is definitely trying to create more community awareness, or projects that create community involvement,” Stroop said. “Because designers are so interactive with the community socially, theoretically, we have the blended experience needed to elevate the design of these spaces — to make them work as much for travelers as they do for people who live and work in those communities.”

Photo Credit: Stroop and his team at Stonehill Taylor submitted this hotel concept, the IRUS, which features a flexible wall, for a design competition last year. Stonehill Taylor