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Hospitality Design


Updated: Apr 13, 2023

By: Doris Hager, Principal of Hager Design International Inc.

It is easy to want to imitate the beautiful images we find for our own kitchen or bedrooms. It's so easy just to point at the image and tell the craftsman, “I want exactly what you see in this photograph.” Replicating the image is imitation and not true design. Designing using inspiration is much more challenging. It is an art and takes expertise, time and refinement.


To imitate is to directly copy the image and design. The space may be a different size and have different structural components, but the intended finished look is exactly the same. They say that imitation is the biggest form of flattery. While this may be true, in the interior design world, it is frowned upon.


Designing through inspiration is to take the essence of an object or a space, and create a new environment or object based on that essence. What this means, is that we recreate what the original object meant to us in a different setting so that it becomes a new design.

We can find inspiration everywhere, in symbols, images, words and nature. The spark of an idea is the result of an inspiration whether visually, audibly or texturally. Following through on the idea requires focus, vision and dedication.

Some examples of inspiration are:


Symbols can be created through graphics, shapes or numbers. For instance, for a First Nations or Indigenous client we took cultural symbols and incorporated them into the Pre-function space through a clever carpet design. The symbols of meaning for the band of arrows, eagles, and bear prints inspired us and we incorporated them into the carpet.


As professional interior designers, we are always looking for new ideas and areas of inspiration for our projects. To convey what we are thinking or imagining to our clients we look at images from around the world that express the feeling that this space should evoke from our client’s customers as they enter their hotel or restaurant. In senior living design, we create an ambiance that conveys the intent on how a resident feels while living in a senior living development.

These images are not used to interpret exactly what someone else has created. On the contrary, they are used to inspire and hold that feeling. Sometimes clever details in an already built space inspire us for our projects, but they are refined to suit each space and they are never exactly the same as the original.

Through the internet we see clever cameos in a small format that the camera can capture. How does that translate to a large hotel? I remember a client for a project in Hong Kong wanted a particular feeling to be recreated from a photo of a living room setting. The challenge was that the space this feeling was intended for was an atrium lobby that was 3 football fields long and 4 stories high. We had to recreate that living room 30 times in size. Additionally, we needed to add a bar and restaurant. To accomplish re-creating the feeling from the initial living room image, we dropped architectural elements from the ceiling and placed fountains to create more human scale.

Rio Verde Pomeroy Hotel, Fort McMurray


Early in our design process we ask our clients many questions, including of course what is the target market, projected revenue etc. Most importantly we ask what the space should feel like. Here are some typical responses we receive:

Modern, comfortable, relaxed yet exciting, inviting and welcoming, inspiring yet soothing, playful, elegant, sophisticated, casual and warm etc. etc.

Using these words, we bring them to a visual state using images which we refer to as “Musings”. These are photographs of interiors from around the world or sketches we created that convey the type of feeling the space is intended for. Through these visuals we obtain agreement from the client’s team on the design direction and can then move forward with creating a unique interior by capturing the essence of the mixture of photographs and sketches.

“Modern” is such an all- encompassing word; to an artist it may mean “Abstract” and to a furniture designer, it might mean “sleek”, while to an accountant it might mean “minimalistic’. The word “modern” conjures up many different meanings for everyone and the musing images narrow that definition to a laser focus which allows us to concept within the same theme throughout the project.

Bicycle Casino, Bell Gardens


We also draw inspiration from other areas, not just other interiors. Nature is a great inspiration with its colors, shapes and textures when used in an interior. For example: the multi- color greens from a moss wall in a doctor’s clinic evokes a calm and soothing feeling to the client there under stressful times.

Or the colors and shapes seen in oil can inspire a hotel lobby wall in a city whose main industry is oil and is very identifiable in its suitable environment.

Rio Verde Pomeroy Hotel, Fort McMurray

These images shared from around the world of the internet are truly inspiring yet mind boggling. One can get overwhelmed and lose focus as the lines get blurred with every image one sees. What was that meaning of modern again? Even we as professionals sometimes lose focus as we are bombarded daily with new images and products, but this is why we use what we call “Musings” that everyone, the client, the operator and the CFO all agreed were the right direction for the project.

We constantly refer back to these ‘Musings’ and refine them throughout the project. This allows us to hold steady to the original inspiration so that the final product feels exactly as intended when we started on this creative journey.


Imitation is easy, it is the verbatim coping of the original image. Inspiration is much more complex. It is the art of holding the focus and deepening the concept by connecting the feeling to the original words that bring about the psychological and emotional experience. As professional interior designers we respect all designs that create a new environment whether with a large budget or with a shoestring. Inspiration comes from everywhere, not just that finished space by someone else but it is all around us. Creativity is endless.


Doris Hager is the founder of Hager Design International Inc. an international interior design firm with hospitality projects throughout North America. Doris can be reached at

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