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Hotel & Restaurant Interiors: Creating a Design For Life

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Hotel & Restaurant Interiors: Creating a Design For Life

August 25
11:32 2016


Melba lowWhether you’re dusting down the walls, moving the furniture around or ripping out and redecorating, there is rarely a more opportune time than the dawn of a new year to undertake a refresh of your accommodation, public areas, workspace, kitchens or showrooms. However, it’s not always as simple as a fresh coat of paint or a new set of carpets; if you’re planning on refurbishing your premises, there are several crucial, design-led considerations worth taking into account before you begin.

Melba Beetham examines what it takes to get the most out of your business’s makeover . . .

 Setting the budget

Guiding the brief in terms of the ambition of the overall project – from a cosmetic refreshment of your existing set-up to a comprehensive refurbishment of the entire premises – the budget is a key consideration from the outset. Establishing the predicted costs and potential expenditures or contingencies during the early stages allows you to ring-fence certain areas and consider the return on investment you would expect to gain when your project is complete. If funds are spread too thinly, corners will inevitably need to be cut later on and that, in turn, could ultimately affect your customers or end users.

With that in mind, it’s better to spend strategically in a few key areas, or, indeed, to implement a more thorough refurbishment in carefully managed stages. By way of example, I’ve been working on a project in which the client intends to spend a large proportion of their budget on the service counter, the lighting, and the mechanical and electrical fixtures. The plan is to use his existing furniture for the first phase and then, as his business becomes more profitable, to bring in new furniture and fittings. This approach means he needn’t compromise on the critical elements and it allows him to focus on quality, reliability and longevity, rather than trying to cover off everything at once.

Focus on your objectives

Ask yourself what it is you are trying to achieve from the project, overall. From increasing general footfall and extending your customer base, to more specific requirements such as appealing to different generations, demographics or groups, it’s important to find out as much as possible about the customers you’re aiming to attract. Determining the appeal of similar outlets they currently visit – and what they think of them – will give you an indication of what they’ll be looking for from you. Moreover, it could also allow an insight into what interests your customers and what makes them tick, as well as providing some welcome inspiration when redesigning your own business.

That said, it’s important to avoid imitating other venues; customers can be very perceptive in this regard – not to mention cynical – and it rarely works out as planned. Rather, it’s better to build a unique atmosphere around your own business’s virtues, and to develop and improve the popular features of your site. Indeed, if you concentrate on developing something unique and special instead of following the crowd, you’ll have a far better chance of retaining your current customers in addition to attracting new ones.

Similarly, changing the space around you provides a great opportunity to review the ‘mechanics’ of a particular venue. A café owner client of ours is currently in two minds about whether he should offer an exclusive self-service platform, or incorporate an element of table service. Encouraging him to think about how the customer experience differs for takeaway diners and sit-in clientele, we talked through each scenario as I sketched out how the café’s layout could work for each different experience. By mapping out the two different customer journeys through the space, we were able to determine the best layout for that particular outlet. In general, on most projects, I try to ensure the client is making firm decisions as we progress through the design stages. From equipment, materials and furniture, to interior décor, lighting and the overall customer experience, owners are given a rare chance during a refurbishment to step back and really think about where they want to go with the business in the long term. This, in turn, allows them to invest in the areas which genuinely support this vision.

Interior design pic 2 low

It’s all about the package

I believe that customers are drawn to authenticity and can intuit when something feels fake. If you’re looking to refurbish or redesign your business’s premises, one of the worst things you can do is to utilise design trends first seen in other venues without first understanding how they might fit in with your own. A visionary designer I knew from Hong Kong once described this as ‘cut-and-paste design’, and now whenever I see examples of it, this appropriate moniker comes to mind. Broadly speaking, coherence is the core ingredient which encourages people to really connect with a venue. A subtle, nuanced concept, it represents the often subconscious impression that things are knitted together carefully and deliberately. Not surprisingly, it’s the places boasting the whole package which work best, from the food-and-drink facilities and the service, to the location, the staff and the overall environment. The challenge for every operator is to blend these into one unique, deftly executed offering.

The story’s as crucial as the service or product

When building your company’s identity, start with the truth. Ask the questions about what you’re really about, and try to determine the factors which distinguish your business from the competition. Last year I attended an Edinburgh seminar where Marcus Pickering, the co-founder of Pickering’s Gin, described the story of how he and a friend started the 18-month-old company from scratch. Basing themselves at the former Dick Vet School at the capital’s Summerhall,the pair – who between them had no previous distilling experience – restored and converted the premises by hand. Armed with nothing more than an ancient recipe bequeathed to him by a friend of Marcus’s late father, they are now selling their unique Scottish gin around the world. Indeed, the story behind it has become as synonymous with the brand’s authenticity and charm as the product itself. And so, intelligent interior design can effectively act as an expression of the identity of a business through various applications, from spatial considerations, fixtures, textures and fittings, to furniture, materials, colours and lighting.

A professional’s help will pay for itself

It’s the savvy operators placing design at the centre of their business development journey who end up one step ahead of their competitors. Just look at  Qbic and Citizen M Hotel Glasgow 2CitizenM (pictured left); both budget hotel companies which utilise design to add value to the customer experience, they’re relatively new to the market and yet are already reaping the benefits in terms of positive feedback and customer loyalty.

Paul Rinkens, Qbic Hotels’ chief imagination officer (pictured right), believes the true definition of design is ‘to create something with a reason in mind.’Paul Rinkens 4

‘It was our primary consideration when we were formulating the business plan,’ he explains. ‘We worked with multiple disciplines in both interior and product design to develop simultaneous trains of thought. It is a major reason our concept and brand has proved so successful.’

On a personal level, I’m keen to know more about business owners’ perceptions of design, and to find out why they hadn’t previously considered working with designers from the outset. In general, clients have a tendency to perceive design as something of a closed, binary concept, with one recently lamenting that if he didn’t like the proposals, he feared he’d have paid for nothing.

However, it’s simply not like that; indeed it can be an exciting, energising, collaborative process. The early stages are kept very open and flexible, and the direction is established on a step-by- step basis. As part of their remit, an effective designer should be capable of tapping into and encouraging the client’s creativity, using images and drawings to facilitate the discussion and move it along. Ultimately, it’s a way of sharpening the vision of your business to help identify what you really want out of it. By default, this extends to the customer experience of a given space, and why outlets and venues are often described in the context of their atmosphere or ‘vibe’.

People are drawn to places with efficient service and great food, of course, but they also seek out the intangible aspects; those which make them feel good, even though they might not realise it. It’s a subconscious desire. Consequently, as the majority of design is a blend of analysis and intuition, of aesthetics and the subliminal, when something clicks into place it can be a truly liberating experience. And yet, despite this, many business owners fail to enlist a design specialist to develop or refresh their brand and business environments.

Refurbishments are undertaken every day in Scotland without engaging designers centrally in the process, while in the background we as a nation blithely wave goodbye to so many of our talented graduates as they decamp to the South East in search of supposedly greater career opportunities. If we are to grasp the challenge of growing our food-and-drink industry in order to meet the all-important 2020 tourism target – particularly as this is Scotland’s Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design – operators will need to think long and hard about how they reinvent their businesses when the time comes.

Approaching it from a design-led perspective would be a strong start.

Melba Beetham is a commercial interior designer based in Glasgow, and a part-time lecturer in interior design at The Glasgow School of Art. To discover how she can help your business make the best of its premises and assets, call 0141 328 2096, or visit

This article has been edited from the original version that appears in the 2016 Catering Scotland yearbook. To order your copy, email

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Catering Scotland

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