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Hospitality Design


Updated: Apr 13, 2023

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

As the owner of Hager Design International Inc., some of my clients have shared with me their previous mistakes of hiring an interior design firm because they were located near a project. In the hope to save on travel expenses, clients assumed that the designer would be able to go to site more easily if the need arose. Experienced developers and owners know better, but here are some of the unexpected issues my client’s ran into along the way…

Local Talent is not always specialized

The decision to hire a local designer does not mean that the designer has the necessary experience to handle a large scale or complex project. Interior designers specialize in different areas of design such as hospitality, retail, office or residential design which have different expertise or focus. For instance, Office design looks at spatial relationship of offices and workers and does not inherently understand the spatial relationship that leads to a successful bar or restaurant. Residential design considers a much smaller footprint for their layouts and furniture placement and does not understand the volume studies use in large public areas of the hotel such as lobbies or ballrooms.

Local Talent does not necessarily mean immediate site visits

The hope that the interior designer would be available at a moment’s notice to come to site should not guide the decision-making process. Typically, the need to come to site is not an instantaneous one but rather can be planned by the contractor, owner, project manager and purchasing agent. Even if the interior designer is local, this does not mean they can drop everything and show up on site. If it is a small firm that has several projects on the go, they will often not have the resources to address any issues on the same day.

Most often any immediate issues can be resolved via digital conferencing or through proper shop drawing reviews. If the specialized interior designer is not local but is located near a major international airport, they should be able to get to site within the next one or two days to resolve any emergency issues. Good planning and project management typically avoids emergency site visits and therefore, site visits can be planned in advance. Proper shop drawings supplied by the contractor and purchasing agent catch any misunderstandings before they design elements are built.

Local Talent does not necessarily mean “Full Service”

Our design firm came across a situation where the local interior designer engaged by a client could deal with some cursory space planning and specifying materials, however the designer lacked any experience on how to prepare details needed for the project; details such as millwork drawings, proper FF&E specifications and performance writing. The client reached out to us to finish this work, therefore needing two firms to complete the job versus one – doubling the talent and the fee in this case.

As well, just because one is local does not mean they understand performance requirements by the hotel or brand. Often interior designers who are inexperienced in hotels believe that the brand is a ‘by-the-way’ approval process just for concept, not performance. This is simply not the case. The brand is heavily invested in the performance of the design, details and materials as they often operate hotels and want to protect the reputation of the brand. Delays are caused by the interior designer not fully understanding and underestimating the influence of the brand on the decisions around the design and performance of the hotel. An experienced hotel interior designer has brand knowledge and allows more time for discussion and brand input in their presentations and approval process.

Hire the right talent

In today’s society, technology greatly assists interior design firms with communicating with our clients. Most of the time, travel is only required twice in the life of a hotel renovation (initial site survey/meeting and punch list), so make sure the firm you choose has the right experience, the ability to meet your deadlines, is brand approved and will complete all of the items required such as a full drawing and specification packages.

Hiring a true professional hospitality interior designer that brings their contacts, current experience with brands, manufacturers and materials can save money and time. They would also bring with them new concepts that are not seen yet in the market. These new concepts would set the project apart from the competition and therefore transfer directly to the bottom line and ROI. These designers have access to the latest and newest ideas, concepts and products that are constantly evolving through their research and access to new information available through their networks and suppliers.

With all of these considerations in mind, travel costs are inconsequential compared to the cost of replacing materials that fail within 6 months or re-designing a public area that doesn’t perform. In closing, its best to select the firm with the best talent most suited for the project versus focusing on physical location.


Doris Hager is the founder of Hager Design International Inc. an international interior design firm focused on the hospitality industry with over 35 years of experience in North America. For questions about your upcoming project, please contact our firm through the online form on our website

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