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Hospitality Design


Updated: Apr 13, 2023

By: Doris Hager, Principal of Hager Design International Inc. There seems to be some confusion between the roles of architect and interior designer. These two fields are mostly independent but inter-related professions. Each professional does work on their own projects but more complex or regulated projects require a collaboration between the two disciplines whether in-house or through outside consultants. No longer can either the architect or designer alone fulfill and perform both functions easily to today’s standards or regulations on larger scale projects. Each role has become so complicated that each has become a specialty. Each needs the other to make the job work.

THE INTERIOR DESIGNER – the string section

Interior Designers are no longer the decorators from the 1940’s or 60’s. Professional Interior Designers now are accredited and those belonging to a professional association are required to continually upgrade their knowledge through approved courses. Knowledge of building codes, fire ratings of walls and materials, accessibility rules and regulations are all part of the hospitality or commercial interior designers “need to know criteria to be considered a professional Interior Designer. It is shame that it is not illegal to call oneself an Interior Designer without the proper education, practical experience and NCIDQ certification, therefore contributing to the confusion around interior design. On the flip side it is illegal for someone to call themselves an architect without the proper certification and degrees. Interior designers can work on many projects without an architect but as the size and complexity of the project grows an architect is required. As members of the orchestra in the string section, the interior designer creates the flow, the harmony and rhythm and the music can be soothing or invigorating depending on the tempo.

THE ARCHITECT – the conductor

Architects are responsible for the building shell design and form and how it is situated on the land, conforms to local bylaws and set-backs and encompasses all municipal requirements for the Development and building permits. They rely on structural engineers to verify the integrity of the structure. On larger projects code consultants are engaged to ensure all exits, paths of travel and egress etc. are followed to all applicable federal, provincial and local building regulations. Spec writers are used to ensure each item can be tendered to maintain the design integrity and performance of the materials. Interior Designers to make the space cohesive and comfortable for the target market to come back time and time again.

Both the architects and interior designers creative passion takes the client’s vision and turns it into reality. Their primary role is to ensure that this vision is maintained with integrity yet functions as it is intended and fits within it’s surroundings. Architects develop the framework for the space that is to be created. As lead consultant they become the orchestra conductor. Based on their concept an image is established with the exterior that forms the basis of the interior. What is the persona of the building and how does it function and perform? An architect can also design the interior but as interiors have become more complex the vibe created by great the interior designer can make a project successful.


The conductor guides the orchestra, in this case the architect. They gather the assembled team of consultants, communicate deliverables and establish communication parameters. They are the keeper of all information and ensure that all documentation is kept well coordinated, updated and consistent. As the key figure s/he is responsible for ensuring the designer’s and other consultant’s information is incorporated into their drawings and specifications. They handle the contract administration and ensuring during the construction the physical elements are aligned to create the design intent of the building. Basically, creating the shell for the interior to take hold and shape.

The orchestra is only as good as the conductor. Without the conductor each instrument (in this case the consultants) would play out of beat and harmony and the result would be painful to hear and possibly financially hard to bear.

If the architect does not listen or incorporate the designer’s or other consultant’s information correctly or adequately there could be possible problems. Things we have seen are; industrial fire hose cabinets in a grand ballroom feature wall, telephone and electrical outlets in fully upholstered walls in odd locations. These elements are coordinated by the designer but the ultimate direction and forms for instructions to all consultant and trades in larger project run through the lead consultant. Cost overruns and time delays can be ultimately the end result if this information is not fully incorporated – or off key music.

The string section, in this case the interior designer, ensures that the inside is harmonious, flows and functions as envisioned. They become close partners with the architect and are very intricately connected. The designer, upon cue from the conductor, takes the persona of the building and ensures that this persona is consistent in the building. Constantly re-evaluating the functional elements of the design and marrying them with the image and persona. They enhance the initial vision through creative and functional space plans and work with the structural integrity of the building. The professional designer takes the client’s requirements, the end users desires and creates an interior design vision that is harmonious with the exterior and the intended market. Always in their mind is what makes the spaces beautiful, intentionally useful yet fully functional.

The Orchestra

Of course there are many other members playing music that make up the orchestra. The structural, mechanical, electrical engineers. Code and kitchen consultants, seismic and geotechnical engineers etc. Together when properly tuned and aligned they all are major contributors to a great project and orchestra.


Successful collaboration:

A $10million renovation of 445 room hotel with all public areas including lobby, restaurant/lounge, ballroom, meeting rooms, model room, guest corridors and rooms. Team was established early on since this was a renovation that the lead consultant would be the interior designer. Architect was supporting professional to meet code, permit and site requirements. There was great collaboration between the two professionals and the end result was a Project that was delivered within 17 month time period $150,000 under budget.

Challenging relationship with all consultants:

$150 million dollar new build and renovation of convention center with hotel tower renovation. Interior designer was brought on by client while project was under construction. Architect resented the designer being brought on to fix the lack of concept in the interior. Designer instructions were not incorporated into overall documentation, information was not made available to designer for coordination, strong arm tactics were required by the designer to ensure most important elements were incorporated. Result, project over budget and timelines, frustrated client, a GC not prepared to help coordinate, other consultants not interested to verify their documentation. In general broken communication due to lack of respect within the team.


When two separate professional firms – architect and interior designer share similar philosophies and work ethics the project benefits all around. The music is harmonious and the orchestra is finely tuned. However, when the two independents do not agree or share different work ethics the struggles that ensue affect all. The orchestra is out of tune and it causes stress all around.

The two need each other, yes they can make music independently but when in tune they can make a great symphony instead of just a single melody. Effective communication verbal, written and drawings mixed with mutual respect and trust for each other’s profession as professionals is the basis. Stir that up with true passion for their respective disciplines and dedication to the client and project make up a successful orchestra. An understanding that both are required to make it work will result in a harmonious and potentially award winning project within budget and timelines.


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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