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WEB EXCLUSIVE: Designers Share Tips for Decking the Halls of Hotels

NATIONAL REPORT—Keeping a hotel lobby’s Christmas design fresh and eye-opening for revolving guests can oftentimes create additional stress for designers during the holiday season. Each lobby brings its own unique characteristics to the table, and it’s up to the creative mind to interpret those designs and patterns within to create the final product. 

Hotel Business Design spoke with Paul Girard, creative director, The Becker Group (who spoke on behalf of the Willard InterContinental Washington); Gregory Hyder, catering and style director, The Peninsula Chicago; and Jonathan Stas, marketing manager, Waldorf Astoria New York, to get their views on designing a festive lobby that exhibits the warm look and feel of the winter holidays. 

How true do you stay to the lobby’s design style when decorating for the holiday season?

Girard: The most successful designs happen when I visit a property personally and can get a feel for the space. It’s helpful to be able to pick up on small details, such as a tile pattern on the floor or the style of the picture frames on the walls. Walking through the Willard was inspirational in and of itself. The composition of the decor can spring from observing the space and finding the kinds of ornamentation that will complement it well. You don’t want to neglect the setting you’re working with and wind up with something that loses the overall ambiance.

Hyder: The Peninsula’s lobby is very elegant, so it’s not hard to make something look beautiful in this space. We like to play off of the lobby’s soaring gold-gilded ceilings, grand staircases and giant windows overlooking the terrace. From the wreaths hanging in the windows to the lavish garlands, and the majestic 24-ft. tree, it’s all designed to accent the lobby’s grand architectural features.

Stas: The holiday decorations don’t reflect the hotel’s Art Deco/Beaux Arts design heritage but skew toward traditional holiday classics. Hand-painted gold leaves on the holiday tree are visible from the Park Ave. lobby and exterior, and wreaths with gold decorations are consistent with the gold accents in the lobby. We take a very minimalist design approach to match the simplistic Art Deco interior design with a more classic than contemporary feel.

Which types of fabrics and materials are traditionally used for holiday decor at hotels?

Girard: Hotel holiday decor is a different animal than that of decorations you’ll find in a retail setting. Hotel guests will be up close and personal with the elements of the design, versus mall decor, casinos and theme parks, which are larger scaled and placed further away or hung overhead. Ornaments and fabrics for hotels tend to be more detailed and lush, incorporating more intricate textures and patterns. The Willard offered just the right spaces to experience the decor instead of just observe it.

Hyder: We use traditional ornaments in the shape of balls and more interesting finials to give it an old-world feeling. We also use a lot of ornamental mirrors. The larger star on top of the tree is actually a mosaic of gold mirror tiles. By using layers of picks this year, we added a pretty snow-kissed feeling layered over berry red ornaments. Custom, hand-sewn ribbon in a champagne gold color lends a luxurious bridge to the creamy whites found throughout the lobby.

Stas: Evergreens (artificial in the interior per fire code), fresh-cut magnolia, traditional glass ornaments, wooden nutcrackers, and white and gold lights. The centerpiece of the Park Ave. lobby is a 16-ft. tree made of gilded magnolia leaves with 3,000 lights. Lobby banisters and two large wreaths are also made of the same gilded magnolia leaves and lights. The Park Ave. facade of the hotel is decorated with six wreaths (6-ft. in diameter each) that hold 1,000 light bulbs each. The clock towers in the main lobby are decorated with hand-blown glass ornaments. The Towers lobby is also decorated, offering a home feeling around the fireplace and seating area. It takes five days to set up all the holiday decorations.

How do you create innovative designs while respecting holiday traditions?

Girard: After working in the Christmas business for almost 20 years, it can be a challenge to keep it fresh and exciting. I find it helps to be observant of technologies and materials in the world of design in general. I then try to find ways to incorporate them into holiday designs. For example, we’ve been using a popular billboard material of sequined wind discs that reflect light and shimmer without the need for any electricity, but we’ve created classic holiday icons out of it instead of letters. Having the opportunity to create for an iconic property emboldens a designer to reach a higher level.

Hyder: The easiest way for us to innovate is to play with new colors and textures. Some years the changes are very subtle, but guests notice. One of my favorite moments this year was at the end of our overnight setup when a couple of guests came down to the lobby to look at this year’s design. As they discussed the differences between previous years and this year, I realized that looking at the tree the morning after Thanksgiving was their own tradition. Tradition is something that is constantly on my mind when designing the holiday decor at the hotel. Knowing that families will come to the hotel year after year to take a photo of the tree we designed is a really wonderful feeling.

Stas: We always defer to a traditional interpretation of holiday decor with coloration and scaling appropriate for the individual spaces into which the decorations are installed.

—CJ Arlotta