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Designing Holistically

Nature, wellness, sustainability. These are all familiar buzzwords for designers, but what do they really mean? How are designers turning these trends into long-term design approaches? Especially now, designers can use these as not only references but as pillars.

Gala Magriñá, designer/principal of Gala Magriñá Design, walks us through the meaning of “holistic design,” and what this could mean for the future of hotel design and the guest experience.

Why is wellness-inspired design so important now?
COVID-19 has brought attention to health and immunity, in addition to the fact that it has forced people to stay home and in doing so, really look closely at their own spaces. There is a whole new focus on health and wellness across all areas of our life. Since a big part of going back to the new normal will be adjusting our spaces to make them healthier, any hotel that is designed from a health and wellness point of view is going to be ahead of the curve—and those that aren’t, are going to have to move in that direction.

How do you make guests feel safe and comfortable through design?
Soothing color palettes, natural materials, aromatherapy, natural light and air (vs. circulated air) along with bringing nature in have all been scientifically proven to reduce stress, lower heart rate and blood pressure, boost mood and improve productivity. Think about how you feel standing in the middle of the lobby at The Edition Hotel in Miami surrounded by tonal whites, fresh air and plants versus the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas which is dark, massive and has enclosed, recirculated air. Huge difference. I think that with COVID-19, access to fresh air is going to be huge. Pre-COVID-19, we already knew that our indoor air was 90% more polluted than our outdoor air, but now with COVID-19, there is a more immediate need for access to fresh air.

What trends and innovations do you think we’ll see in hotel design?
I think it’s important to note that hotels will have to make temporary changes until we have a vaccine for COVID-19. So, I see the next year or two as a testing stage. Once we have a vaccine, we can then take the data and learnings and decide and assess if those temporary changes actually made the guest experience better and if they should be included in future design or renovations.

With that said, I do think there are a couple of things that we will begin to see in future hotel design. One, outdoor areas (in addition to bringing nature in) will be big, and hotels that already have this will be at an advantage. Two, beautifully designed and well-functioning touch-free technology will continue to expand. Three, I think the mental and emotional impact of COVID-19 and social distancing will be with us for a while, so hotel design will have to look at how to minimize crowds from arrival to departure so that hotel guests feel safe. Essentially, I think a lot of future hotel design will be focused on providing the customer a sense of comfort and safety not only from a design perspective (soft tones, open spaces, bringing nature in, access to natural light and air) but also from a logistics and functionality POV.

Can you expand on “holistic”? How should designers take this approach to design?
If interior design is merging beauty and functionality within a space, then holistic interior design is doing that as well as going beyond that. I describe it as going beyond the 3D world of furniture decor. We look at things like the energy of a building or site (EMFs, negative energy from a previous tenant or person); sustainability and the use of nontoxic materials; mindfulness and understanding the different ways our environment affects us and how to maximize our environments for better support; client goals and things we can do in the built environment to support these; and finally, reconnecting the inhabitant of the space with nature.

And why nature? Not only is it proven to have all these wonderful health benefits, but also because hundreds of years ago we lived in nature. Our lives reflected nature’s natural rhythms and cycles. And today with city living, we are, for the most part, completely disconnected from nature, so we have been cut off from those natural cues that we get from nature and that, in turn, has created a bunch of problems for us as a society.