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< Back to news 10 November, 2014

The importance of independent interior design

You might have spotted Chris Johnson, our Design Services Manager in Hotel Industry Magazine last month - talking about independent interior design, if you haven't, read it again here...

Achieving an aspirational interior design scheme is often near the top of most independent hotels’ to-do lists but, with increasing pressure and responsibility on the shoulders of general managers, making time for this can be difficult. There are ways, however, for hoteliers to achieve a stunning look and feel on a budget to ensure quality is always front of house. 

With independent hotels coming in a range of shapes and sizes, and housing anything from 10 rooms to 300, a blanket approach to design is impossible, but there are themes that run throughout the industry that shouldn’t be ignored. Hotel refurbishment cycles currently sit at between 5-7 years and, somewhat worryingly, 23% of hoteliers will only refurbish bedrooms/public areas when they begin to look tired; what defines ‘tired’ will undoubtedly differ from hotel to hotel. Without the reliability and stability often offered by a chain, independents cannot afford to give the wrong first impression, whether online prior to booking or when guests arrive.

Times are a changin’ for hoteliers though. The number of hotels that Beacon Design Services and its strategic design partner, Dakota House of Design, have worked with on their interior design has trebled compared to two years ago (in 2012 only 25% of hotels outsourced their design and refurbishment). This is due to a combination of factors including a rising confidence in the economy and a lack of capacity for hotel staff to manage these projects internally.

This increase in outsourced design and refurbishment requirements reflects the greater competition within the industry when it comes to attracting guests who are no longer simply booking direct with the hotels themselves, but relying on reviews from online travel agents. Hotels must look welcoming from the first click on Trip Advisor to ensure that premium rates for rooms can be secured, guest satisfaction is high and repeat custom is achieved.

Hoteliers no longer have the time or capacity to manage such projects themselves, when there are more business critical tasks to consider, and now feel more comfortable in outsourcing design and refurbishment. Many Beacon clients, who have previously managed this work internally, have made the decision that their return on investment is much greater for them when outsourcing their design work, and their time is better spent on running their hotel operations. One of the main disadvantages of managing a design project internally is often the lack of “bigger picture thinking”. Using an external designer will help you plan to attract your future guests, not solely your current demographic. And, while internal projects tend to be more conservative, it is worth remembering that a lick of paint and soft refurbishment can often cost as much, if not more, than a more extreme design change.

The benefits of working with a third party supplier not only solve some of these challenges, but introduce a fresh pair of eyes to your hotel  - a pair of eyes that can advise on not just the aesthetics but things like disabled access, the flow of the rooms and the needs of the next generation of traveller. They should completely understand what it is that guests want and expect from a hotel room – beyond the traditional kettle and trouser press. Décor will also be looked at more operationally, space will be optimised and both national and international influences can be introduced where relevant if a well networked and experienced design partner is chosen. Ultimately, if you get the right team in place, you’ll be on the receiving end of a seamless journey, through any design project from conception to implementation.

The consolidation of purchasing through a limited number of suppliers should also be taken into account when managing your project and deciding on your requirements. Through working with a third party or purchasing organisation you not only benefit from negotiated pricing, but you will usually enjoy longer warrantees with trade quality products, giving projects more longevity. Introducing a timeless design with better quality items, such as linens and soft furnishings, will inevitably mean you will stretch the life of your design further.

Independent hotels, as with any business, cannot afford to give the wrong impression and must offer guests a different experience than their chain counterparts can provide. Here are some key tips on achieving the wow factor on a budget:

  1. Be upfront about your budget

    A lot of hoteliers might be wary about putting a budget on the table due to fear of it all being spent ‘for the sake of it’, or it being deemed too low but, we need to know what we have to work with so we can make appropriate recommendations. There are different ways to achieve different looks and material choices can be altered according to budgets – it’s all about finding the right supplier, the right product and the right price so that the options put to customers are always achievable.

  2. Share your expectations
    You need to choose a design partner who is willing to get under the skin of your business, understand your requirements and respond to them in line with the brief – rather than go off on a tangent in a way that would never be appropriate for your hotel.
  3. Have a plan
    There is nothing worse than changing your mind half way through a design or refurbishment project – and your budget will well and truly go out the window.


The independently run BEST WESTERN Heath Court Hotel understood the need to invest in design and refurbishment, demonstrated by its multi-million pound investment to refurbish the hotel’s reception, bar, lounge and restaurant for the first time in 15 years, earlier this year. Despite fantastic reviews for customer service, customers often commented that the hotel was let down by its ‘dated’ interior design.

The hotel’s reception, bar, lounge and restaurant have now been completely redesigned and refurbished introducing soothing palettes, contemporary bespoke furnishings and clean lines, with five meeting rooms due to follow in the coming months. With the guest experience at the heart of Heath Court, the new design now benefits from full air conditioning along with new, comfortable seating areas and free Wi-Fi throughout, offering seamless connectivity and reinventing Heath Court as the perfect venue for leisure and business guests alike.

General Manager Robert Nobbs commented: “Beacon was always thinking of the bigger picture, not just one wallpaper or one lamp, it was always considered how the whole space would work together, which means we have created a fantastic space. Beacon was a true partner in this project; the team took into account my feedback on whether specific furniture would work within the space due to my knowledge of working here for more than 25 years. The suppliers were also fantastic  - they kept us up to date at every stage, so we were never in the dark about the progress of the project.”

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