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WA Members Lend Post-Pandemic Insight

InspireDesign recently caught up with the design professionals of Wallcoverings Association (WA), who discussed their thoughts on designing for a post-pandemic industry. Each of the WA members weighed in on the state of the industry, new product features, trends and possible changes to hotel design. With some hotels housing healthcare workers and with an increased focus on sanitation, how will hotels prepare for guests’ changing expectations without sacrificing design? Here’s what the leaders had to say:

Designing for Cleanliness and Comfort 

Sharon Becker, director of business development, York Wall, said companies are tracking the hotels that are taking in healthcare workers, which come with a host of considerations.

“Are those hotels catering to healthcare workers who obviously need to be nurtured and want good design around them so they can sleep and get some rest?” she asked. “But also, with all of the touchpoints around the hotel, how are they cleaning these hotels? What we’re hearing is no minibars, limited cleaning, the healthcare workers having to put sheets and towels in bags outside in the hallway, one person in an elevator at a time, no breakfast buffets. As we want to reopen hotels and support hotels, what are the needs? That takeaway for us has been the relationship we have with the distributors, working with the designers and the architects—we’re giving the feedback and we have to adjust and be flexible and do that very quickly to support the industry.”

Others felt that as these needs evolve, hotel designers will have to not only meet new cleanliness demands, but entice travelers to hit the road once again.

“I think we’ll see a push for bolder, more exciting design,” said Greg Koeberer, creative director, 4Walls. “Things that maybe used to be more exclusive to the boutique market will make their way into the more mainstream because of some of the logistical restrictions—changes to minibars, changes to services in the hotel. I think hotel owners are going to look for reasons to remind people why they want to travel, why they like to travel, make it more engaging to be in those spaces and what you can’t do physically, you can do visually.”

Koeberer added, “As long as we have the functionality with the cleanability and the antimicrobial features, I think we’re going to see an uptick in a real trend for bold, exciting design to get people excited about travel again once they’re able to.”

Technology Leads the Way

Innovations like antimicrobial, stain-resistant, micro-venting and bleach-resistant technology has already entered the design space, with designers releasing new collections with cleanliness as a focal point.

“I think the focus is going to be on all design as a whole. If [hotels] do use antimicrobial products on the hotel rooms and guest spaces, I think that’s going to be where people feel more safe; they feel like, ‘I’m walking into a space where the walls are protecting me.’ If hotels are boosting up the cleanability, people will feel more safe that way,” said Moneah Ronaghi, marketing manager, National Solutions.

Paula Lewis, EVP, Hytex, mentioned that it’s the companies’ responsibility to educate the public about these features, especially ones that promote sustainability.

“I think now they’re going to need to make sustainability more important—those people who have previously designed that way may have to change their focus,” Lewis said. “You’re passionate about your product, you think about it 24/7, but then you kind of forget not everyone knows our product is made from 100% water bottles. You think about it all the time that you kind of forget that somebody else doesn’t know those things.”

Trends to Watch

Sustainability, cleanability and anti-microbial products all go hand in hand, and it’s no surprise that design trends run parallel. Nature and biophilic-inspired designs are hitting the scene with modern takes on the natural world. Also on-trend are geometric patterns with winks at mid-century designs and metallics.

WA members felt that although the industry will see social distancing enforced, there may be more of a focus on bringing these trends into public spaces.

“My hunch would be that there will be a focus on the public spaces because those are the areas where we will notice the biggest change and where we’re the most inherently uncomfortable coming back to,” Koeberer said.

Becker agreed, noting that hotels have invested so heavily in public spaces in the past few years and that the philosophy of not wanting people to feel isolated in their rooms is unchanging.

“Coming out of this, especially as a business traveler—part of my job is to go out and find what trends are happening—I can’t imagine hotels won’t take that concept and make people feel safe in a public space,” Becker said. “More than ever, we don’t want to feel isolated. Creating a feeling of safeness in a public space is going to be more important than ever.”