As more hotels shift from a mindset of selling beds to selling experiences, thoughtfully-designed shared spaces are becoming increasingly critical to guest satisfaction. These areas of the hotel seek to provide guests with an interesting and functional space for check-in, dining, working, relaxing, and socializing. From the type of furniture to the number of power outlets, the right design details help guests feel comfortable and inspire them to hang around. However, design plans for lobbies, restaurants, and meeting spaces that focus solely on how a space looks and feels while ignoring how it sounds can deter guests from lingering. Poor acoustic design can create a distracting sound environment, driving guests away from a hotel to seek other meeting, eating, or working spaces.
John Stein is the president of Kirei, a company that creates building materials made to be visually interesting, functional, and environmentally friendly. LODGING spoke with Stein about how hoteliers can plan for acoustic design in open and shared hotel spaces to create an attractive environment for guests.
How can hoteliers design a space with good acoustics?
Walk into your space with new ears. Think about guest experiences. Think about staff experiences. Look at your reviews, and see what people think of your space. And then—when you’re designing or redesigning—talk about it early because you have to budget for any costs involved. If you’re considering a renovation, certainly talk about acoustics with the designer, or bring in an acoustic consultant. Many hotels don’t know that their space is louder than a chainsaw. We get these all the time when we go to restaurants and other places to measure the sound and find it’s 70 to 80 decibels, which is comparable to a leaf-blower level of loudness. Acoustic consultants can really do a good job of giving you insight into your acoustic space and talking with you about usages. In an open lobby, that means making sure you don’t have sound bleed from the bar over to the coworking area or check-in area. Those are all areas that could be influenced.
What strategies mitigate sound bleed in an open space?
You can absorb sound or you can mask sound. Some people use sound masking to layer sound over the existing sound, but the problem is that’s just adding more noise. The first thing you want to do is try to absorb some of the sound from the space before you use sound masking. Sound masking is great to keep the space from being too quiet because that is also a problem. You don’t want to sit and whisper in the space—you want to be able to converse without hearing a pin drop or worry about other people eavesdropping. You can keep the space completely lively, but tune it so that people can still sit on a couch in the lobby and have a conversation. Sound-absorbing panels can help. That strategy is as old as buildings themselves—different materials have different sound absorbing possibilities.
What’s the future of acoustic design?
The future is considering acoustics. Too many people don’t consider acoustics. Visual privacy and acoustic privacy are also two very crucial elements. We have developed a series of privacy screens that enable you to see through them but also protect you visually. That means you can see that people are over there, but you can’t read a credit card or hear them talk about sensitive issues. If I’m having a personal or professional meeting, you can hear that we’re having conversation, but you can’t hear exactly what we’re trying to say.
Photo: SpringHill Suites by Marriott Fort Worth, Texas