Hospitality Designed for Longevity

A while back, I made a site visit to review two different guestroom prototypes for our client’s consideration. The temporary rooms were constructed with walls, ceilings and floors, and fully furnished. The prototypes were reviewed, one was selected, and just like that — everything in the two rooms became obsolete.

Luckily, members of the design and construction team went home with draperies, a full-length mirror, custom bed, dresser and more. Sadly, the items that didn’t find a home were dumped.

That seems insignificant, but here’s another common story: in about every 7 to 10 years, most hotels will do a substantial refresh of their interiors. Each time it’s the same — out with the old, in with the new — multiplied by hundreds of thousands of rooms!

I started thinking back to all the guestrooms I had designed in the past. What was the carbon footprint of getting all these ‘alternate’ pieces to the job site, just to be thrown out afterwards? Where does it all go after a full renovation? What’s the collective impact for all the hospitality projects around world?

As consumer consciousness about reducing our impact moves to the forefront, we can look to smart design to end this wasteful system.

Buying for quality

Locally-made, quality products, like these Phloem Studio chairs have a longer life and tell a story about supporting the region’s makers.

Typical hotel furnishings and designs will often use inexpensive goods or rapidly made designs to meet short-sighted market gains. Instead, let’s consider the social and environmental impact by partnering with local artisans and supporting small businesses. Our newest hospitality project, the Hyatt Centric Portland, features lounge chairs in the lobby of the hotel by the Pacific Northwest-based Phloem Studio. Their mission is to create timeless contemporary furniture with an emphasis on natural materials, traditional joinery and graceful proportions. It was rewarding to be able to support a local maker and share his beautiful furniture with a larger audience. Not only that, but their heirloom quality furniture is built of solid materials and can be expected to last years.

Trend-less designs

Solid furniture pieces are a start, but hotels will always want to appear fresh and new. Hilton’s Tempo brand offers a real-life example of a sustainable and mindful approach that also keeps up with design trends. They’ve employed a timeline for refreshing their properties using a “10-30-60” metric to guide design choices. The base of the design (60 percent) will be trend-less, classic elements that can withstand the test of time, and are meant to last 16 years or more. Thirty percent is the ‘look and feel’ objects – furniture and tables, lighting, drapery, and other finishes that add warmth to a space. They get switched out every 5-7 years. Finally, trendier elements account for only 10 percent of the overall design. These “microburst refresh” elements can be switched out every 2-4 years and include items like artwork, throw pillows and accessories. Hilton has set the stage for competitor brands to join in on the conversation of extending material life.

Refinishing and rehabbing

Refinishing guestroom and hotel lobby furniture is typically not a first choice (if at all) for a renovation. However, refinishing (repairing, repainting, reupholstering — even repurposing) furniture can significantly minimize a project’s carbon footprint and cost. The bonus: brands can tout a sustainability story at an existing property. Our 2018 River’s Edge project included refinishing existing desks and dressers to match the updated aesthetic, and save costs for the client! Another example comes from world-renowned designer Philippe Starck’s, who sourced thrifted furniture from flea markets for the swanky restaurant L’Avenue in NYC.

SERA’s design included refinishing existing furniture at the River’s Edge Hotel & Spa project.

As travelers and consumers become more aware of their buying power, they are choosing to support businesses that align with their values.

Moving past our throw-away culture benefits everyone in the form of less manufacturing emissions to smaller landfill contributions, but the hospitality industry also has something to gain from a more mindful design: long-term cost savings, sustainable operations that appeal to consumers, and maybe even a more unique product.

Small changes can add up to a big difference!


  1. Cristian Asher says |

    Great thoughts about a really alarming issue! This has been an “invisible” area of terrible waste in the past, and sharing these stories of better approaches and new thinking is encouraging. Looking forward to seeing more and more innovative ideas about where sustainability in hospitality can go!

  2. Walter Currin says |

    Very interesting. I would be curious to know how much of the “refresh cycle” is due to the tax benefit of depreciating the value of your furniture and similar items over (I believe) 7 years. I could be missing something, but spending money like clockwork to get a tax benefit seems strange to me, but there could be a part of the financial picture I do not completely understand. I wonder if this is a main factor getting in the way of designing for longevity, or if meeting trends is a bigger factor.

  3. Gary Golla says |

    Efforts often seem to be focused on unloading items when they are removed As you discuss taking the life cycle view is key. Great article and insights!

  4. Andrea, I’m so glad to see you raising awareness around this issue – thank you!

  5. Julie Gossage says |

    Thanks for sharing! Great article!

  6. Andrea,

    Thanks for daylighting this issue. I like the idea of working with local artisans for all or some of the 10-30-60 portions. As we begin to incorporate circular economy thinking into our projects, I can imagine, not only a lower carbon footprint, but also an enhanced local economic multiplier — the # of times a dollar exchanges hands within the locally defined economy. This is an accepted metric for generating the health of a local economy and the amount of wealth generated for local residents, artisans and others within the local capital web. In addition, it grows the capacity of the local artisan economy possibly leading us toward something called “import substitution” — the ability to begin to export that which we formerly had to import. In other words, through this simple concept we are growing a local economic cluster that could become a source of regional branding, innovation and wealth creation. Bravo!!

  7. Becca Dobosh says |

    Great and illuminating article, Andrea – this is one of the biggest (sustainability) challenges of being a hospitality designer … thanks for the thoughtful and nuanced reflections on a more sustainable path forward!

  8. Great article! Thanks for raising awareness.

  9. Brenda Katz says |

    Great article Andrea!

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