Color du Jour?

Oct. 30, 2003
Trends, Not Fads, Direct Successful Color Selection in Hospitality
Conflicting needs in today’s society are making design choices in the hospitality industry more difficult – and more critical – than ever. Of course, people make lodging and restaurant selections based on a myriad of reasons. Lodging might be needed only as an overnight stop or for a few days during a business trip. In the case of resort hotels, the lodging facility might be selected as a vacation destination. Restaurants, too, can fill a variety of needs, from social to business to romantic. In any of these cases, interior design is an integral component that helps define the brand of the establishment, while conveying non-verbal messages about the facility – including its mood or ambience and its concept.Specifying decorative products and finishes has always meant a delicate balancing act among budget, aesthetics, maintenance, and longevity. For example, in lodging establishments, lobbies and guest rooms are the primary focus because visitors spend most of their time in those areas. As part of the complete design concept, color selections are critical because of the psychological impact they may create. Colors in the warm section of the color wheel have been shown to have strong appetite appeal, making them good choices in food and beverage environments. But not all colors are right for every establishment. The bright, energetic colors typically seen at fast-food restaurants are seldom used in formal dining restaurants. Hotels catering to the younger set may use daring color schemes, while hotels targeting mature guests might select bright contrasting colors as the ability to perceive subtle shades often diminishes with age.As competition in the hospitality industry intensifies, success becomes increasingly harder to achieve. Therefore, it is more important than ever before that concept and design selections be made intelligently and with specific purpose. Because the goal is longevity, it is best to steer clear of fads, which come and go quickly. Trends that serve as direction indicators are a better tool for the facilities professional.The Mood of Society is ChangingThe far-reaching effects of September 11 continue to influence choices in recreational activities and venues. Business in the hospitality industry has slowed in certain parts of the United States as people have refocused on family. In addition, the economic downturn resulting from 9/11 has many watching their wallets. Often, today’s consumers are looking for lodging and dining facilities that offer environments that feel safe, secure, and home-like, while others may be looking for an escape or to feel uplifted. On another front, the globalization of society is expanding the creative palette.What’s happening in the marketplace? Themed and cultural/ethnic properties are on the rise, as are design-oriented hotels and restaurants. Boutique hotels are also on the upswing. To stay competitive, traditional hotels and restaurants are updating their classic looks and adding upscale amenities, or they are redesigning themselves. Smart specifiers are first to point out that in any design/concept development effort – for a new facility or established facility make-over – you should first determine who your target customer is and what kind of facility will appeal to that target group. These professionals also pay close attention to location, because what goes well in New York City may not float in Phoenix. Once these particulars are nailed down, good color selections will help drive the design concept or theme.Long-term and short-term trends can be used to good advantage throughout a design concept. Plan to specify short-term colors for items that will be replaced or redone regularly, such as accent items and paint. Expensive furnishings and floorcoverings that will only be replaced every five years or more should be based on long-term trends. While the fashion world sees a color palette change about every two years, the interior design palette has a slower cycle, changing every three to five years.Color Trends Address Diverse NeedsCurrent color trends are diverse, but not unexpected, given society’s current desires for wanting security as well as a need to escape. It almost seems as though there was a fork in the road. Some took the safer path, while others pursued a more adventurous route. On one hand, warm and sophisticated rich shades – such as true reds, olive greens, purples, chocolate browns, and golds – are on the rise. Neutrals remain popular, but in more natural shades instead of plain white and gray. These trends appeal to the customer or guest looking for comfort and security. On the other hand, vibrant colors inspired by different cultures and geographic locations – such as South America, Asia, and the Mediterranean – are popular, too. These appear to be the colors of choice for themed establishments catering to the young and those customers looking for excitement. Continued interest in nature is apparent in the addition of more air and sea colors to professionals’ color palettes. These colors represent tranquility, water, translucency, and reflectance.Examples abound of how such trends can be used to guide color selection. For instance, at Sandy Lane, a world-famous luxury resort in Barbados, interiors professionals combined sophisticated colors with rich-looking materials, and then counterbalanced the opulence with casual, textured natural fabrics. To target young people, the designer of Hotel Biba, a boutique hotel in West Palm Beach, FL, created a ’60s-era atmosphere with a daring palette of colors that included lilac, melon, and celery. The developer of Porches Inn, a boutique hotel in North Adams, MA, took a slightly offbeat approach and used bold colors to give a contemporary look to the 19th century mill workers’ homes that make up the hotel. The Saba Blue Water Café in Houston reinforced its aquatic theme, creating an underwater environment with blue walls, metallic surfaces, and a large double-sided aquarium.Technology, of course, has an influence on society and design trends. Advances in color research and development go beyond metallic finishes these days, providing more options for the inspired professional. Because of technological breakthroughs, color is no longer flat; it is three-dimensional and has greater depth. Developments in technology allow hues to be combined, thus creating special effects, which vary in luster, luminosity, pearlescence, and iridescence.Finally, don’t forget lighting’s role in color selection. Different types of lighting will affect the perception of color and brightness. Some facility owners are changing the atmosphere of their establishments by choreographing different lighting schemes at different times of the day. For example, a family-friendly café during the day can be transformed into a nightclub after dark by implementing an alternate lighting scheme.No matter what type of facility it is, keep in mind that color can help create and reinforce a concept or brand. Be aware of current industry trends, but always remember geographic location: Colors that look great in warm tropical locations won’t necessarily produce the same results in cold, gray northern climates. Colors can be used effectively to create a wide range of moods, as well as define spaces and make it easy for guests at large facilities to find their way around. Use color to play up architectural details or define styles, such as traditional or contemporary. And colors can be used to create themes or reinforce cultural or ethnic concepts.Every facility is unique. By making appropriate design and color selections that speak directly to the targeted clientele, facilities professionals and designers will be able to create an environment that satisfies consumers’ tastes.Sheri Thompson is director, Color Marketing and Design at The Sherwin-Williams Co. (, Cleveland.

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