Mr. Bell

Development & Construction

Two Decades of Wall Coverings - What 20 Years in the Business Teaches About Quality and Value

By Rollin Bell, Founder / CEO, PCM Construction

According to USA TODAY, hotels will spend a record $5.5 billion on renovations this year. Travel and tourism is already the world's number one industry and continued growth is expected for the next decade. The industry has reached an all time high in spending for renovations and it's important to be ahead of the curve. It takes a continual effort to maintain and update your hotel's design, with some hotels renovating every two years. By distinguishing your property with design, you can create an image that puts guests at ease. Design is a key differentiator. And renovations can pay off. Re-inventing your hotel is not as difficult as some might imagine. Travelers' expectations of how hotels should be maintained are on the rise. In order to boost your profits, you must first give your property a boost.

If your hotel is 'behind the curve,' it might be time to start thinking about revitalizing your design. In addition to what you typically think about when you consider renovating, it's also important to reflect on the present condition of your wall coverings, especially in high-traffic areas such as your lobby. Creating an inviting lobby is crucial. It's an extension of your company's identity and, if it's a successful design, it can work to keep your employees and guests happy and loyal. People are usually willing to pay higher rates in exchange for a positive guest experience.

Wall coverings are a key element in the design of your hotel. Wall coverings help set the tone and style for your facility. And now that wall coverings have made a substantial comeback after a downturn in the mid-90's, they are once again back in vogue.

Going Green

Green design is an important part of today's hotel renovation projects. The green trend means more than simply using recycled materials, it also means using products that have less harmful manufacturing techniques. Companies are gauged by EPA compliance, therefore making designers more cognizant of eco-friendly methods and products. The end user knows if it's a 'green' product, so more and more designers and architects lean towards environmentally safe materials. Unlike government buildings and schools, hotels are not subject to strict regulations, but designers and architects are increasingly specifying 'green' products for paints and glues to enhance the air quality in their facility.

Additionally, 'green' materials and construction practices can help reduce exposure to chemicals and other pollutants that present health problems. Those affected by pollutants like asbestos should find a trusted mesothelioma law firm for a consultation. With the use of environmentally friendly glues and other products, hotel executives can minimize the impact of renovations on guests with allergies or chemical sensitivity issues. Certain glues and paints are extremely toxic for the human body, even after they have dried, and many of them continue to contaminate the air long after the renovation. In order to avoid this health hazard, many hotels have begun using eco-friendly paints and glues.

From a designer's standpoint, recycled materials can be more fun than traditional wall coverings. Recycled materials can include glass, rubber and stone. Building texture and patterns from used materials gives a unique identity to your hotel.

Look & Feel

Commercial trends are influenced by residential trends. Many hotels are moving toward a residential look and feel. Keeping the customer comfortable sometimes means designing your hotel the way your customer would design their home.

What most people don't realize is that wallpaper is not made of paper anymore. It's made of vinyl or natural fibers and sometimes even cork, grass cloth or silk mixed with vinyl, plastic or glass. Because hotels need a Class A Fire Rating, it is important for your designer to understand your needs and specify products that meet the regulatory standards. All the materials used in wall coverings must meet certain specifications for wear, serviceability, cleanability and toxicity. Make sure that you hire a designer who is aware of these factors.

Aside from the technical aspects, wall covering should also meet a certain style standard. Among the biggest trends right now are hotels going back to the natural look, which includes wall coverings made with silk, string, glass and cloth. Many hotels are finding that whatever was in vogue 20 years ago is now making a return.

When thinking about color schemes, think about your location. Some locations have a particular color scheme already established, like Miami, Charleston or Williamsburg, for instance. But on most accounts, color schemes have more to do with the design of the building than with the climate. When choosing fabric, it's a different story. Northern climates tend to call for wool and other heavier fabrics, whereas warmer climates require breathable fabrics like cotton and silk. Another significant factor to consider is that fabrics and accessories are expendable, whereas changing your wall and floor schemes is more costly.

Keep in mind that hotel design closely follows fashion and home design. Some designer brands sell everything from clothes to interior paint, and it's not a coincidence. Walls and floors set the tone for the design. Accessories and furniture are the final touches. Most hotels will change the furniture before they change the walls. Make sure you choose a wall covering that is compatible with different styles of furniture.

Keeping it Clean

When you are considering updating your wall coverings, it is important to think about color and style as well as cleanability. How much time do you intend to spend on cleaning? You will want something that meets your design standards and is also functional and serviceable. Vinyl, for instance, has a high cleanability rating, is relatively inexpensive but is not always as attractive style-wise.

From a design standpoint, you want something that creates awe. If it doesn't stand out, then it's not worth the money. Also, if you expect to renovate again in five years, you want to make sure you specify a product that will last the determined period of time. Designers often tell me that people grow tired of things before they wear out, but high-traffic areas, in particular, often wear out faster than expected.

Because hotels are almost always in a state of constant remodeling, it's important to choose your style and stick with it. If you go with a traditional style, you will still have to renovate, but if you specify products that can stand the test of time, you can stretch out the time between renovations and keep costs down. Some hotels that are trendy expect to update their design every few years to keep up with the trends and not appear dated. In which case, these products don't necessarily need have a high wear rating.

The Cost of Style

When considering cost, remember that certain parts of the hotel require different things. Hallways to the kitchen might do well with a less expensive, more serviceable textured paint, while your lobby and common rooms need more work, because they get more attention. It's always necessary to take into account your budget. Designers and architects know this one first hand. What are you trying to replace? How environmentally friendly are you expected to be? What about serviceability and cleanability?

After you decide what style you want, now it's time to specify the product. The biggest tip here is: Never downgrade. When replacing wall coverings, as with any renovation, always specify products of the same quality or better than what's already there. When I hear hotel owners say, "Why bother renovating?" I always point out that building costs are higher than renovation costs.

Looking Ahead

For a more detailed analysis, I invite you to consider talking to an expert in this field. Keep in mind that most construction companies do not have a design staff. Other firms are equipped with an in-house design staff who are there to help you every step of the way. Companies who integrate construction experts and architects with designers tend to produce stronger end results.

As the renovation trend grows, use this guide to start thinking about how you can ensure the success of your hotel. Make sure that the communication between the designer and hotel managers is solid. And remember, details are crucial. In most cases, the guest will remember the details along with the overall feel. By updating your facility and leaving a positive impact on each guest, you are creating the competitive edge every hotel needs.

Rollin Bell is founder and CEO of PCM Construction, a full service general contractor serving the Washington, D.C. and Baltimore regions. PCM provides interior construction and other design/build services. Mr. Bell is a 2006 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year finalist and serves on the board of BAPS Imagination Stage, an organization committed to making the arts accessible to all children regardless of their physical, cognitive or financial status. He is a contributor to several charities including The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Mr. Bell can be contacted at 301-595-3700 or Extended Bio... retains the copyright to the articles published in the Hotel Business Review. Articles cannot be republished without prior written consent by

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