Disappearing desks in hotel rooms

NEW YORK • Do you think most hotel rooms have spacious, old-school desks, the kind that invite long hours of working? And bureaus with a half-dozen drawers? Well, perhaps you have not stayed at a hotel lately.

Travel blogger and consultant Ben Schlappig, 26, has spent many nights in hotels, so he knows first-hand about the changing design of guest rooms and is not happy about it.

"I'm a millennial, but also an introvert," he said.

"Hotel executives are building everything around millennials now and they expect all millennials to want to work in these hip communal lobby spaces or in bed."

Sometimes, he said, there is not even a functional work space, such as a table and a comfortable rolling chair, with proper space for a laptop.

Closets, too, are being eliminated in favour of hanging racks, he said.

Still, millennials - even extroverted ones - may not be to blame for rooms that have started feeling more space-age than familiar.

According to Mr Michael Suomi, principal and vice-president for interior design at Stonehill & Taylor, an architectural firm that works with Marriott, Hyatt and other hotel brands, the changes are aimed at keeping pace with the needs of all business travellers.

"Since the advent of the iPhone and iPad, how business travellers interact with their spaces has changed significantly," he said. "In the past, people would travel with briefcases full of documents. They needed a lot more space to work."

Those days are long gone, he said. So, too, are most trips that last longer than a day or two because of technological changes, including online meeting tools such as WebEx.

As a result, rooms are being redesigned, often every six months.

The lack of closets in new chains such as Moxy, a Marriott spin-off now open in New Orleans and Tempe, Arizona, reflects research showing guests often do not bother to unpack anymore, said Mr Suomi.

But there is another reason closets are becoming scarce. "A room can start to feel small when you put a closet and a dresser in," said Mr Ron Pohl, chief operations officer and senior vice-president for Best Western.

But the feeling of smallness in modern guest rooms may be less the fault of closets than of the fact that they are actually shrinking.

Guest rooms that were 350 sq ft five years ago at what Mr Suomi called the "big three business hotels" - Regency, Hilton and Marriott - are now often 275 sq ft. That, too, is a response to evidence that time is mostly spent elsewhere.

Guest rooms at new boutique hotels are even smaller, at about 200 sq ft. That leaves little space for traditional furnishings.

Ms Stephani Robson, a senior lecturer at the Hotel School at Cornell University's SC Johnson College of Business, said business travellers should expect to experience certain design flaps as hotel chains try to figure out how their customers use the rooms.

"We're going to see more tensions in the next few years, like with the desks, as hotels try to capture smaller and smaller slices of the market," she said.

"What I think is going to happen is there will become a different brand for every niche and you'll become loyal to the brand that gives you what you want."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 01, 2017, with the headline 'Disappearing desks in hotel rooms'. Print Edition | Subscribe